:: The Official Re-election Site for President George W. Bush


The Bush-Cheney team has put out a new ad called Intel. It shows that they are finally recognizing that this is an area in which Kerry is terribly vunerable.

One can understand why the Bush administration would be cautious in citing intelligence issues as a reason to vote for them. "Intelligence failure" has been an all-too-common phrase in the last few years, and while the Bush administration is not to blame for the worst failings of the intelligence services, they have exacerbated the problem in certain key respects. The Bush administration can't be blamed for the fact that the CIA got nearly all our Iraqi agents killed in a coup attempt in the late 1990s; they can't be blamed for the fact that the CIA/DIA didn't keep up ties in Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union. We saw in the released President's Daily Briefing the fruits of that -- the information was based on old UBL speeches, 'media reports,' and the like. This was what the CIA could come up with: open source intelligence that you or I could dig up in Nexis.

The fact is that the services had blinders on by 2001, and rebuilding HUMINT networks in particular takes a lot of time. It takes time on both ends: in the sharp end, it's hard to recruit and keep secret your agents; and on our side, it really takes decades to build up the sort of deep and intimate understanding of a foreign culture and its personalities that drives the best HUMINT.

So, these are problems that couldn't be fixed overnight. They stemmed from bad decisions made many years earlier, but which echo with particular resonance in the intelligence community.

On the other hand, Bush didn't help matters much. To his credit, he started doing what Clinton had not, which was taking very regular meetings with the DCI. He took his briefings seriously, and -- as we know from Kessler's book, The CIA At War -- came into office with advice from Bush Sr. to keep the agency close.

In spite of that, the President seems to have fallen prey to serious intelligence failures. Some of these were pre-9/11, when the whole Federal apparatus fell down on the job. State approved visas in plain violation of its regulations; the CIA didn't deal with foreign warnings about some of the terrorists; the FBI didn't deal with CIA warnings. Bush could not be expected to fix these sorts of massive systemic problems in a few months, but the greater problem is that he doesn't seem to have noticed them. "Why don't we have anything on this bin Laden that isn't several years old and from the press?" should have been a natural question.

The Iraq war intelligence has been thoroughly explored, and there is no reason to go over it again here. As all investigations have discovered, the intel was widely believed worldwide, and there were good reasons for believing some of it. Still, there are honest questions about why we haven't seen more of a shakeup in the services. "We were waiting on the 9/11 Commission recommendations" doesn't cut it with me, especially since key recommendations are bad (e.g., the 'intel Czar').

So, for all these reasons, one can see why Bush might be careful about mentioning intelligence as a reason to vote for him. Even for those matters in which there was little he could do, the President bears some responsibility for answering to things that happen on his watch.

However, it is plainly true that Kerry is worse. Indeed, it's one of the only things we can really know about Kerry for certain.

I've been having this discussion with a young liberal I know from Del's Here are the relevant bits:

I mention Stansfield Turner in the clip. Will asked me to look into how 9/11 changed his views, if it did. I should have mentioned this earlier, but I have looked up Stansfield Turner's writings since 9/11. The University of Maryland has a selection, if you're inclined to see for yourself.

I'm afraid that I have to report little if any change from the retired Admiral. Now, Turner is a nice fellow -- he broke our intel services not out of malice, but because he felt that HUMINT is by its nature unethical, and he wanted a fully ethical CIA. So he focused on signals intelligence -- SIGINT -- and gutted the HUMINT-based clandestine service, as well as firing lots of our best officers.

His recent papers discuss HUMINT, but invariably include lots of what I would call "warnings" about it: 'it often fails,' 'it isn't moral,' and the like. He also plays up SIGINT in his current writings, saying it's underestimated as a source of intelligence.

One can't object to his tone, or even to his motives. It all sounds very nice, and I don't doubt that he really believes it. But, at the last, he's wrong -- and he's wrong in a very deadly way for the United States of America. I must report that my investigation has left me more certain than ever that he can't be trusted to run American intelligence, and that the Kerry campaign, depending on his advice, can't be trusted with it either.
Will asked me for more information about SIGINT and why it wasn't an answer:
SIGINT means "signals intelligence." It is the intelligence that can be gained, for example, from monitoring cell phone conversations, internet transmissions, and the like. It's not that I'm against it -- it has its place -- but it's not the solution Adm. Turner would like to believe.

There are some civil liberties concerns, to start with. You can imagine how much it would please the average European to discover that his phone calls are being monitored by CIA or NSA (as it is sometimes rumored that they are).

Also, the "signal to noise ratio" is a difficulty. Briefly, how do you know which phones to listen in on? Well, you don't, unless you've got a tip from the HUMINT field. If you're relying on SIGINT primarily, you end up listening to a whole lot of people's conversations about their shopping lists. At some point, you have to hire extra analysts to analyze all this "noise." It's expensive, and the chance of catching the one piece of "signal" is small no matter how much you spend on it.

Turner likes SIGINT because he thinks it's relatively moral. Nobody gets hurt if the government listens in on private conversations (right, Vikingas?). HUMINT, on the other hand, involves lies and spying. It involves, frequently, breaking the law. It's immoral and it means dirty tricks.

However, finally, it's the only thing that really works. As I suggested above, even SIGINT works a lot better if you've got tips from HUMINT to focus your SIGINT efforts. The same is true for all the other forms of intelligence too (e.g., OSINT -- "open source intelligence" -- is more effective if you know what to be watching for. It suffers from a similar 'signal/noise ratio' problem).

Finally, you've got to be willing to get down and dirty as a regular, day to day sort of thing. Intelligence doesn't work any other way. That's unhappy, I agree, but it is the truth. If you want to know what killers are doing, you have to win their trust and get them to tell you. You can't do that except with dirty tricks, and a lot of stuff we'd really rather not do.

But the alternative, the only alternative, is not knowing what they are doing....

I realize you probably made your mind up a while ago, and a man must vote his conscience. Still, for what it's worth, I couldn't vote for Kerry and his team. I honestly think it would put the republic in danger. I don't doubt their good intentions -- as I said, Stansfield Turner is a kindhearted fellow who only wants to be completely moral in our dealings with the world. It's hard to fault that.

At the last, though, I must fault it. I think we all must. I see no alternative, in spite of the failures and the failings, but to vote to re-elect Bush. I won't hold it against you however you vote -- a man must vote his conscience. But this is how I see it, for what it is worth.
Will finally asked if, aside from Turner's position as a senior advisor to the Kerry team, I thought there was reason to believe that the Carter approach would take hold in a Kerry administration:
There are reasons to think that the Carter team will be more important in a Kerry administration than they were in the Clinton administration. Clinton kept their members at arm's length, allowing Carter to serve as a member of a delegation to Haiti during his administration, but not otherwise putting him front and center. Neither Carter nor his fellows played any important role at the 1992 convention.

Kerry, on the other hand, gave Carter a prominent speaking role at the convention. Kerry, unlike Clinton, gave Stansfield Turner a seat on his senior policy staff. Turner's role during the Clinton administration was a professorship at U. Maryland, not a policy role.

There are two reasons this is important. The first is that there is a power struggle in the Democratic party, between the DNC (Democratic National Committee) faction which the Clintons represented, and the faction composed of those to the left of the DNC. In the two-party system, it's usually the centrist faction that enjoys greater success with the electorate. The preference for Carter's wing of the party over Clinton's is not to be ignored.

The other, and more important, reason is that the government is currently talking loudly about establishing an 'Intel Czar.' In the 1980s, the main reason we were able to respond to the Soviets in Afghanistan and elsewhere was that intel was bifurcated. The CIA was wrecked -- Mr. Turner had seen to that, as we've discussed. However, the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) duplicated a lot of the CIA's functions from the military side. They started the program in Afghanistan, which the CIA took over later.

The DIA and CIA would both fall under the new Intel Czar, if it is in fact created. (For the record, I oppose the notion. The 9/11 Commission is just wrong on this point. The bifurcation is beneficial, as it gives us two separate views on what goes on worldwide; too much centralization will cause an increase in "stovepiping," and therefore worse intel failures).

If that Czar is Stansfield Turner -- already on Kerry's senior staff -- or someone operating on Turner's theories, we'll see a breakage of American intel at all levels. There won't be a DIA to save us this time; the DIA will be broken too.

That's the gamble, and the odds are in favor of Kerry approving just such a breakage. I can't take that chance.
I don't recommend that gamble to anyone. The Bush ad mentions several reasons to be concerned about Kerry and intel, but there are more serious reasons too. We can't afford a Kerry administration. The risks are too great.

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