Command and Control on 9/11

Without getting too far ahead of myself – or the availability of Surprise Attack – I think it’s germane to my last post to comment on the 9/11 photo series which has just been released. Those releases provide us with numerous candid photos of various national security principals on 9/11. A great number of the photos are of VP Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice. The photos can be found at the links listed here:

One interesting comment I’ve seen is that Cheney’s expressions and demeanor suggest the sort of self-control and possession that is desirable in a leader during a crisis. Such photos can indeed become iconic, in recent years the classic image of LBJ alone at a large board room table, head downcast and apparently weeping has been used to portray him as something of a victim in the Vietnam combat. Being a bit more of a skeptic or perhaps just less charitable in regard to national command responsibilities, I would submit that actions actually speak louder than both words and photos.

In terms of understanding or even relating to what Cheney and other national security leaders were actually doing on 9/11, the photos are somewhat useless outside the context of a timeline, time stamping each photo and more importantly a full understanding of what their operational roles/actions should have been during the attack. That would also allow us to compare them to what their counterparts were doing during other national security crises.

It is also important to know where the individuals actually were when the photos were taken.  I’ve already seen some commentary on how little communications and command/control equipment appears in the Cheney photos. Unfortunately the commentary is written as if the VP were in the White House Situation room at the time, which has evolved to the point that it can serve as a command center – and that is most definitely not where either Cheney or Rice were. In terms of actual operational locations, the photo series includes no images at all from the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon – the appropriate place to find the Secretary of Defense, at least while the attacks were ongoing and the threat potentially active. It also contains no photos from Air Force One, equipped to serve as the true center of Commander in Chief activity during such an attack. Based on the new photos alone, a viewer might even conclude that President Bush was actually involved and active personally involved in his role as Commander in Chief during the initial period of the attacks and threat – which would most definitely not be the case.

In terms of true value, images showing the actual front line of national defense would have been far more interesting. That would have included the NMCC, the Situation Room were terrorism adviser Clarke was actually trying to manage a response, the Northeast Air Defense Center (NEADS), NORAD battle control in Florida or NORAD headquarters in Colorado. Of course such locations don’t have staff photographers – fortunately for us some of them do at least maintain audio tapes of operational events and despite a great deal of hesitance those tapes eventually became available. That allows us to cross reference the actual national defense of the day to the recently released photographs, a very educational exercise.

I think you will find the new photo releases interesting, they add to photos of President Bush at the school in Florida which have been available for some time.  I also think you will find them especially interesting once you get a chance to relate them to the analysis in Surprise Attack.

LBJ on Nov 22 1963

One of my long time interests has been behavior of Vice President Johnson during the hours immediately following the attack on President Kennedy – an attack which at the time could not have been known to be limited to an action against only the President. There has been a good deal of speculation, including some of my own, that Johnson’s actions were not what should have been expected of the Vice President. Others have suggested that there was a broader pattern of national security failure.

One way to test such speculation is to actually compare the response of the people at the very top of the national security chain of command during major crises, including events that would have produced fears that the nation itself might shortly come under attack. To do that effectively it’s necessary to really dig into what the plans and preparations for such crises have been and to study their evolution over time.  As it turns out there are ample incidents which do allow comparison, beginning with at least two instances under President Eisenhower when he was informed of an apparent, incoming Soviet attack on the United States. I’m not talking about some quickly resolved NORAD alert, but presumed incoming atomic bomber strikes which were tracked and monitored over several hours.

An even more direct comparison can be made concerning the Vice Presidential and national security response to the shooting and near death of President Reagan. One of the most dubious parts of Johnson’s response to President Kennedy’s death is his apparent ignorance of his responsibilities as Commander in Chief and his conduct in taking over those duties on November 22. Of course if he had prior knowledge that a Soviet “decapitation” attack was not actually in play, it would provide an explanation for what appears to be a dereliction of duty on his part. Some have painted the brush even more broadly, pointing to similar failure to act by the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser and other senior officials – indicative of a conspiracy involving one or even all of them.

The question then is how their actions compare to those of their counterparts during other crises, including President Reagan’s shooting or the attacks of 9/11. It is possible to explore that question in detail, even to the point of comparing events on and communications from the Presidential and Vice Presidential aircraft during major crises. I tackle those comparisons in Surprise Attack and while I’m not going to give away the conclusions I can say I found doing the research absolutely fascinating. The comparisons in the book apply not only to Johnson’s performance but to that of other positions, specifically that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Adviser and beyond that to the Presidential military aides.

I can also say that certain of Johnson’s activities on November 22, 1963 were impossible to compare – and for readers of Someone Would Have Talked, I refer to the calls from Presidential aides to Texas on the evening of November 22. What would be most revealing, and something someone should undertake, is a study of the phone calls and contacts made by Johnson immediately following the Tonkin Gulf incident and the attack on the intelligence ship Liberty. The question being, was it routine practice for Johnson to initiate major cover ups for any incident in which he failed his duties as Commander in Chief. I have gone down that trail to a certain extent and some of that is discussed in the book; there is a much expanded story to tell though, of that I’m sure.

Ample Warnings

The Publishers Weekly review of Surprise Attack is in and it gives an insightful overview of the book.

Rather than simply repeating the review here, I’d like to pick out some of its observations and elaborate on them a bit. For example the review notes the book’s analysis is “detailed, technical, and pessimistic”. Readers of my other works won’t be shocked about the “detailed and technical” characterization, that’s what I do. It would be meaningless to write about surprise attacks without examining the mechanisms and practices of warnings intelligence, about nuclear deterrence and MAD without discussing the SIOP, its evolution and the stances of various presidential administrations in regard to nuclear warfighting. It would be equally wrong to analyze the events of 9/11 without going into the evolution of American air defense, NORAD air defense exercises in the period of 1999-2001 and the ROE in place on September 11, 2001.

The alternative would be the similar to political commentary on which presidential candidate would be the best choice to respond to a “bolt of the blue” wake up call at 3 am in the morning, when the writer offers no insight at all on the nature of National Command Authority or shows any ability to differentiate the appropriate chains of command for various types of threats – from overseas embassy attacks to cyber warfare strikes. As far as the reference to “pessimism”, perhaps. The history I trace is not particularly encouraging, especially in regard to institutional memory in Washington D.C.  Still, there are fixes and I spell a number of them out in the book. And if you are not familiar acronyms I just used, I guarantee you will be if you choose to delve into Surprise Attack.

The review mentions the book’s discussion of “mirroring” and that is an immensely important concept, not only in regard to Cold War history and the development of military industrial complexes but to contemporary events. In particular, events of the Eisenhower Administration provide a tutorial very relevant to today’s confrontations with an assertive Russian Federation, and a warning on how even exceptionally good intelligence work can be overwhelmed by political realities. Studies of that same era demonstrate how we ended up with a 10,000 nuclear warhead inventory – when 200 weapons were initially perceived as sufficient to totally destroy the war fighting capability of the Soviet Union.

Another point the review mentions is that neither lack of warnings nor even assessments of incompetence are sufficient to explain some of the worst losses of American lives. What emerges decade after decade, from the Philippines in 1941, to the attacks on the Liberty and Pueblo and on to the terror attacks on America in 2001 is that the most fundamental issue is one of “ownership”. Ownership was exercised in regard to the Bojinka airliner plot of 1995 and the Millennium threats of 2000 – those attacks were interdicted. Ownership was not exercised in 2001 and the planned attacks of 9/11 were carried out.

It should also be noted that the Publishers Weekly review conveys the impression that Surprise Attack might have just a touch of attitude – while I would maintain that I worked extremely hard at being objective and factual, I can’t completely deny that assessment.

Deep Political Action


OK, so I sort of ripped that title off from my friend Peter Dale Scott. But I think it provides a very valuable context in which to view the complexity of how very high level American policy decisions – and by that I mean the worldview and attitudes of the movers and shakers at the NSC level of any given presidential administration – are translated into foreign policy “interventions” overseas. I use that phrase in regard to post WWII foreign policy because the actual practice of foreign policy which evolved after the national security acts and legislation at the end of the WWII decade significantly transformed American foreign policy practice. Before that matters were much more direct and “deniability” was not a serious consideration. You can start with examples such as the Barbary Pirates, move on to Commander Perry and Japan, through “gunboat diplomacy” in the Caribbean and Latin America and to the Great White Fleet. Presidents passed their messages to the State Department for delivery and to the Navy as required.

Of course I’m exaggerating a bit for effect, but to a large extent the genesis of today’s practices began in the years immediately prior to WWII as perceived foreign threats exploded and the Roosevelt administration realized that the America had become something of a second class military power (actually in some areas, such as its Air Force, it ranked far lower). That sort of position tends to lead to covert and clandestine practices and in Shadow Warfare we illustrated how that happened before the war in support of Nationalist China and after the war against Red China.

Which leads me to the point of this post – that American foreign policy has become a very complex mix of covert political action (dollar diplomacy – read bribes to individuals and groups), covert military activities as required, overt military activities (military assistance programs and joint officer and armed forces training programs) and overt dollar diplomacy (foreign aid and loan packages). In fact it has often become so complex that the different elements begin to act independently of each other and sometimes at cross purposes. Most often it’s the State Department official positions being subverted by covert activities but at times it’s actually the reverse, with State driving the CIA or the military nuts….or getting things so tangled (as during the Contra period) that both CIA officers and military officers were disciplined or charged for going against headquarters directives and Congressional legislation.

That’s why the sources used for the Foreign Policy book that I recommended in my last post lean heavily to Foreign Military Sales agreements and the Arms Export act:

The bottom line is that you really can’t tell what our real foreign policy is from looking at Administration press releases or at State Department policy papers (not the public ones at least – the ones you get to see 20 or 30 years later are the real story). You also have to wait at least that long to get the real story about covert and clandestine operations…..unless a Congressional inquiry pushes it out more quickly. Still, you might get a little feel for the scope of that from the following:

Or from the very interesting set of tables in the Foreign Policy Perspective book:

The point is that the neither the CIA’s political or covert actions efforts really give the full story of any administration’s deep political activities, CIA operations are more exciting, perhaps more intriguing, but the devil is in the details and until you get into the hard core of our military and aid programs, you really don’t have the full picture.

It almost makes me yearn for Teddy’s “Great White Fleet”, at least then you knew exactly what message was being sent to whom.

CIA Political Action

Before I jump into the political action, for those who have followed my research and writing into the “political” murders of the 1960’s – JFK, MLK and RFK – I want to say that I certainly have not lost my interest in in them. As with State Secrets by Bill Simpich, I will blog on any research that I see as truly new and relevant. For example William Law has an updated version of his work on the Bethesda autopsy coming out this year and hopefully Gary Murr will be publishing some truly new and relevant work related to the JFK murder. I will report/comment as their work becomes available. And if anyone has any specific question related to my own work in those areas, I’m happy to respond to it via email or post on it here if that seems best.

With this post I hope to encourage interest in a broader factual knowledge of American Cold War foreign policy and in particular the use of the CIA for political action in “regime control” (not necessarily “regime building” in the immensely expensive fashion the United States nation does it these days – with the generation of huge construction and security contracts and massive impact on the Federal budget – but the much lower profile, deniable “cash diplomacy” programs that the CIA conducted for several decades beginning immediately after World War II. In Shadow Warfare Stu Wexler and I focused on the CIA’s covert and clandestine paramilitary activities through that period, digging deeply into the names, practices and tradecraft of such operations.

We intentionally took a pass on the much broader practice of “political action” as carried out by the Agency – of course in a number of instances when dollar driven regime change or the more subtle efforts of DOD military assistance programs failed, the next step was regime change/coups so of course we did cross the line there and trace the evolution from political to paramilitary action in many interventions. Still, the reality is that political action was far broader and more pervasive than shadow warfare, across the globe and on all continents including in Western Europe. Without a full grasp of that history, it is particularly hard for the post-Cold War generations to understand the extent to which America and its foreign policies are so deeply mis-trusted around the globe. Of course that is not to say that the Soviets did not also engage in similar extended global meddling over the same decades, earning their on level of mistrust in some nations.

However, much of the Soviet (and later Chinese) manipulation was effectively disguised under the cover of communist and socialist political movements, with ideology rather than simply dollars as the prime driver. With so many indigenous communist movements, even if small, Soviet engagement was often seen as much more purely political, and “home grown”. They were also much more effective at courting and engaging neutral governments, and far more politically sophisticated in doing so than the United States – Viet Nam being one example, India another.
Fully appreciating where the United States is today in international relations requires a firm grounding in the history of both its political and covert operations overseas – over decades. The good news is that there is a very useful resource that complements Shadow Warfare (actually it came first). The problem is that it’s a book, and a very expensive book. But the good news is that the authors have put a good deal of its content online, enough so to give even a causal reader a good introduction to the breadth of American political operations over the decades. I would encourage all those interested to give their web site a look; a good number of the interventions listed in the chronology actually open up to descriptions of the named operations and that provides a great summary for those who don’t realize the scope of what was actually occurring. The book is expensive but for browsing the web side is superb and actually lists a great number of deep sources for research.

It would be fascinating to see such an analysis of Soviet foreign policy and political action operations. Such a study might have emerged, bits and pieces did. However with Mr. Putin in charge, we are unlikely to see the deeper and darker side of Soviet foreign relations in the foreseeable future.


Over the past twenty five years I have studied, researched and written about three murders, the practices of “political” assassination, the investigative practices of the FBI and various police departments and national security practices relating to deniability – both in regard to operations security for cover/clandestine actions and the protection of sources and methods (and careers via CYA) after the fact.

Generally I’ve found career and political CYA to be as significant a historical factor as true security. One of the things I’ve learned in those 25 years is that the blanket term “conspiracy” is very overused, actually explains little and because of that true conspiracies don’t receive the attention they deserve. My friend Peter Dale Scott, a poet by heart and nature, understands intuitively understands the value of words while I wrestle with them in the more clinical context of historical and cultural analysis/synthesis. In an effort to address the problem, Peter coined the term “deep politics”, an immensely important term which describes the interrelationship between commercial/private interests and government decision making – especially at the highest political levels.

Deep politics is the way the world works and has always worked, it would be naive to think that personal and corporate financial interests do not consistently attempt to drive government policies based on their self-interests – and commercial concerns. Stu Wexler and I visited areas of deep politics and their influence on various presidencies in Shadow Warfare. In doing so I began to get a much clearer picture of the fact that deep politics are “complemented” by what I would call “deep crime” and “deep money”. Just as respectable businesses and moneyed individuals try to drive national policy to their own agendas (and yes that includes various “complexes” from the much discussed military/industrial complex to newer associations such as “big pharma” or “big healthcare”) there are groups engaged in illegal activities and individuals engaged in questionable global business transactions who actively suborn individuals and “game” legitimate activities. While “deniability” is key to their activities, it’s really all about making or investing money, rather than manipulating long term national policy or strategic military/trade positions.

Personally I’ve found using the term “conspiracy” to be increasingly unproductive – to some extent because a great number of folks have begun to use it as if it were synonymous with “government conspiracy”. While I have a healthy respect for the ability of both administrations and agencies to engage in deniability and media management, I think calling that sort of activity “conspiracy” not only obscures its actual practices and methods but can cover up actual conspiracies. Unfortunately I don’t have a good phrase to describe it – or not one nearly as good as Peter’s “deep politics” – so I generally fall back on simply calling it “damage control” when I think it’s truly security related or “CYA” when I think it’s primarily career or political.

Which is why I write about the Kennedy assassination conspiracy separately from the national security level damage control and agency CYA that prevented a true investigation of the crime. Stu and I made the same distinction when evaluating the MLK and RFK murders; both which involved true conspiracies and were followed by activities at the national and local law enforcement levels which prevented exposure of the actual conspiracy.

All of which leads me to the point that there are very real and very dangerous conspiracies that need attention. And for what it’s worth that does not include radical Islamist attacks, which would be better termed and addressed as warfare rather than individual acts of terror. What I’m talking about is very real domestic conspiracy, which Stu and I tried to address in The Awful Grace of God and which Stu has gone on to pursue and write about in his new book on the subject. If you want a look at what real conspiracy looks like I encourage you to read the following:

….and if you really want to dig into it, get a copy of Stu’s new book:



Benghazi Entanglement

The full Benghazi story has been at least somewhat obscured by the political jousting which continues around the attacks of 2012. In Shadow Warfare, Stu and I discuss a number of indications that a major CIA operation involving both weapons interdiction (aimed at both Syrian and Trans Saharan weapons flow) and weapons procurement (routing deniable Soviet weapons to favored anti-government Syrian groups) was in play. Those operations were dealt a serious blow by the killing of the American ambassador and the exposure of the CIA operations base in the “annex”. I revisit Benghazi again in Surprise Attack, dealing with issues of diplomatic facility security, the actual attacks and what is can and cannot be done to deal with such attacks in the future.

Beyond both those topics, the question is whether or not Benghazi indicates a major structural change related to CIA practices. There is no doubt that CIA personnel have become increasingly “embedded” in military campaigns. We saw that early on in Afghanistan and we continue to see it with CIA personnel being assigned to Joint Task Forces. What was once a strategic intelligence organization has become more and more tactical, with personnel forward deployed into what are effectively combat zones. To some extent this indicates the extent to which real time intelligence has become part of contemporary, non-state war fighting.

But then there is Benghazi. Historically, CIA personnel (intelligence, counter intelligence and political action officers) were routinely deployed within State Department facilities, under State Department employee cover. Placing “spies” in Consulates and Embassies is an ages old game, played by virtually every nation. However there was great caution taken to separate operational and paramilitary staff and provide different types of covers for them. Commercial covers have been common, military assistance and advisory covers have been popular and of course there are other government agencies such as USAID. These days everyone suspects NGO’s to host a variety of intelligence types, depending on who is really providing the funds for their activities.

Great lengths were taken to locate CIA operations well away from diplomatic facilities, you can trace that from the CIA operations in Tibet, through Mexico City, and on to operations in Angola where officers were not even officially allowed to cross the border. All this may have been a form of gamesmanship but the efforts to keep operations covert and deniable were quite serious and the tradecraft to accomplish that was extensive.

Yet in Benghazi, the CIA ran an operations base several times larger than the American diplomatic mission, located within a mile or so of it and according to Congressional testimony from the CIA Chief of Station, there were even plans to consolidate the facilities. All of which is much like painting a bull’s-eye on the diplomatic staff – especially if said staff does anything at all to support the CIA’s in country mission. In Libya you had the State Department admitting it was attempting to control arms flow out of the country and the CIA doing exactly that and likely more secretly. As far as we can tell it appears that Joint Task Force Trans Sahara personnel may have been working out of the State Department mission in the capital and we know that an unarmed surveillance drone was flying over eastern Libya at the time of the attack. DOD personnel had also performed some security missions in Benghazi. It is no surprise that the paramilitary contractors performing security at the CIA base (using State Department cover) have said that the Annex was well known to militants in the city and that the attack on the Annex appeared to have been staged at one point from an adjacent house. Yet when the attack came, it appears that AFRICOM, the command with military responsibility for North Africa was not aware of the CIA annex location, even those certain DOD and Joint Task Force personnel were.

All this raises the question of whether Benghazi was an example of exceptional “entanglement” between CIA and State or whether it illustrates a sea change in standard Agency practice – as CIA intelligence personnel become more and more operational. Perhaps it was an exception, reflecting the Libyan ambassadors personal in country experience and connections. If not, it illustrates how far the CIA is being taken off its original course as a Central Intelligence collection and analysis function and shows the risk of closely coupling operational intelligence and diplomatic missions.

Surprise Attack Kirkus Review

The first pre-publication review of Surprise Attack – from Kirkus – is now out and those interested can read it directly from Kirkus:
Rather than just repeating it here, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide some further information about points which are noted in the review.
The book begins with a study of not only Pearl Harbor but on the intended simultaneous Japanese attack on American installations in the Philippines. While there were multiple commissions and official inquiries into the Hawaiian attack, there were none on the Philippines strikes, which did not go according to plan and actually occurred following several hours after the Hawaii attacks. The weather delays in the Japanese Philippines’ attack allowed extensive warning and orders to prepare for attack and execute the standing war plan against Japan. All the Pacific and Pacific Rim installations – from Alaska and the Panama Canal to Hawaii and the Philippines were already under advanced war alert and had been since late October. In particular the Philippines had been specifically warned that it would be the target of any Japanese surprise attack. There is a general knowledge of the strategic value of the American fleet which had been deployed to Hawaii but much less of the strategic bombing force that was being built in the Philippines, in a major effort to at least delay any Japanese military action. Yet with hours of warning, including specific orders not to let the bomber force be destroyed on the ground, that is exactly what happened. The very complex and intertwined story of warnings and failures for both Hawaii and the Philippines is explored in what I think is a unique fashion in the book.
Surprise Attack also digs into elements of the warnings intelligence and “fear factors” in the first years of the Cold War, exploring areas generally not examined in conventional history books. One of those is the extent to which the American military became convinced that Stalin and the Soviets were very actively engaged in both aggressive and risky psychological warfare but also in aerial reconnaissance over the British Isles, American bases overseas and very possibly over America itself. The first post war intelligence group – CIG – offered that estimate to President Truman and later Army Air Force Intelligence conducted a highly covert and extremely serious overseas collections effort based on leads that the Soviets were deploying German jet and missile technology and it was followed by early Air Intelligence “estimates of the situation”.  There was also a frenzied intelligence effort partly based in information that the Soviets were building a massive fleet of “flying wing” jet bombers – to be used in support of a western surge by the Red Army across Western Europe.
The Kirkus review touches on several areas relating to the book’s focus on the evolution and performance of National Command Authority and efforts towards civilian control of the American military – efforts both successful and critical during both the Berlin and Cuban crises under JFK and unsuccessful and costly in terms of American lives under the military micromanagement of LBJ and Nixon/Kissinger. Equally importantly the review does not mention (after all Surprise Attack has ended up being a 500 plus page book) the book’s analysis of how civilian national command authority has performed during decades of crisis and attack – a very important (if depressing) subject and an examination that I think is relatively unique to Surprise Attack.

One of the reasons the book is so long is that seven decades of history allows patterns to emerge which are not easily visible in individual events. And a considerable portion of the book is an effort to evaluate those patterns against both recent history and current events. It becomes a great deal easier to see what tools and tactics work in terms of both warning and preparedness – and even in command and control while under surprise attack. In that regard, Surprise Attack delves into the details of the national security response following domestic events such as the assassination of President Kennedy and shooting of President Reagan, to overseas incidents involving American intelligence collections ships (from the destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf, to the Liberty in the Mediterranean and the Pueblo off North Korea).   From there it advances to the warnings intelligence and the defensive responses to the World Trade Center bombing, the Millennium plots, the attacks of 9/11 and the more recent attacks on American diplomats and facilities overseas, including those in Libya. There are some hard lessons to be learned from each of those crises, the book pulls no punches and that section will no doubt be more controversial than the Kirkus review suggests. My intent was to make the examination factual enough and objective enough to push past the agendas, politics and yelling to some substantive assessment and even recommendations. Suggesting, of course, that I must be an eternal optimist.

9/11 CIA IG Report

Late last week the CIA released its Inspector General report relating to the 9/11 attacks. It may be found at:
Since I cover the subject of 9/11 attacks in considerable detail in Surprise Attack, in this post I’m going to focus on the report in regard to the value and issues with sources of this type. However in the interest of blatant salesmanship, if you are interested in 9/11 and planning to order Surprise Attack go ahead and pre-order it now, you don’t get billed in advance and it helps convince Amazon, Borders, etc. to place a reasonable initial stocking order. I plan to post the first book review – from Kirkus – in a couple of days but it is still “embargoed” at this point so I will save that for later.
On the CIA IG report, first it’s important to keep in mind what it is and what it’s not – which is actually very well stated it its introduction. It is not a comprehensive CIA self-examination nor does it examine the overall performance of the intelligence community, although there are a few comments in that regard. It is actually a specific response to the Joint Congressional inquiry and the joint commission’s report (referred to as the JI report in the CI study). Specifically it was supposed to assess and report on accountability issues within the Agency – bottom line being that it should identify performance failures and lead to management action related to individuals determined to have failed in their duties. Of course the CIA IG can’t actually make that happen, all they can do is report and then senior CIA officers have to respond. And indeed the CIA IG did call for accountability boards to be convened and individual performance acted upon.
Amazingly enough (sarcasm noted), that did not happen, no boards were convened and as far as is known no personnel actions resulted – all in all the same result that followed the CIA IG report on the Bay of Pigs fiasco back in 1961. At least during the Iran Contra / Oliver North mess, certain CIA officers were determined to have been culpable and disciplined – even though many of the related legal consequences were overturned by Presidential action.
Beyond that, the CIA IG did find and report on a variety of “systemic” failures within the Agency, in particular its CT group. It would be useful to know what those were however the report notes that they were identified and reports on them were forwarded internally to the management of the sections involved – they are not part of the report itself. I write a good bit about such things in Surprise Attack, in particular the process by which such reports either make a difference in future operations – or don’t. Actually there some good contemporary examples of where IG reports make a difference, as well as some consistent and ongoing failures, documented by the IG groups themselves.
In regard to the overall value of the report for historical analysis – factually its valuable and to a large extent accurately factual, but only in terms of the limited context of the Agency. In terms of the much larger subject of the attacks, if read by itself it would be very incomplete and even misleading. For instance the CIA IG says that it cannot identify a single point of failure – which is a questionable statement, undermined even by remarks in the report itself. It is far more questionable if you know the full story of the CIA, FBI, NSA, FAA and the Bush Administration principals. The report is actually compelling in its discussion of warnings and threat indicators surging prior to the attacks – but does its best to be politically correct in qualifying its language and offering certain comments which could be used to support disclaimers given by highly placed officials following the attacks. If you have the rest of the story it’s easy to cut through that and the reality will leave you gritting your teeth.
Perhaps one of its worst sections is its discussion of aircraft as weapons. What it says is accurate enough; what it doesn’t is far more important. Once you factor in the Bojinka plot, the FBI warnings, the NORAD exercises and the activities of Clarke’s NSC counter terrorism group, the whole artifice falls apart. Apart from more teeth gritting, that leads to the conclusion that one of the most systemic failures that should have been noted is that the CIA was truly not functioning as a Central Intelligence Agency, proactively correlating threat and indications information and translating it to operational warnings – domestically. Perhaps due to its history and charter it focused on threats overseas, leaving the FBI to deal with domestic issues – which is another story indeed. There is even an argument to be made that its overseas focus delayed warnings that could/should have been given domestically.
Bottom line, read the report, its good context and background, actually it’s what it claims to be, which is a very limited and focused effort to identify failures within a single Agency. Now if we had the equivalent internal inquiries from a Justice Department IG, an FAA IG, a NORAD IG, a NSC IG or if there was such a thing as a National Command Authority IG.…


Well I’m back after having spent a week on the final print/proof edit and corrections for Surprise Attack. One of the things that makes the job so agonizing is the end notes, in particular the number of end notes which I include with links to the original source document. The objective of that is twofold, first conceptually it lets the readers check me out to see if I’m cherry picking or otherwise misrepresenting sources. Second, hopefully the sources will be of value to students or others who want to take off and pursue certain topics for their own research, papers, etc. Still, it takes up an agonizing amount of print space and that’s not something that most publishers are happy about; fortunately Counterpoint has been very tolerant.

Which leads me to the gist of this post – and that is whether anybody really reads the references or for that matter how many people truly read sources of any sort these days. I have to say that I often hear discussion of subjects that make it clear that folks are speaking to what they have heard on their preferred news source or from their favorite editorial source – but in many cases where I’ve actually read source documents on the subjects, I know what is being stated is either really incomplete or considerably slanted.

I know that is true for historical events and as my work on Shadow Warfare and Surprise Attack moved into contemporary events I find it far more true there than it should be – in researching Surprise Attack I found that to be true in regards to distant events but also relatively recent events such as the 9/11 attacks and even the attack on Benghazi. Now the caveat there is that of course I don’t expect the full story to necessarily be in official inquiries – but to my surprise I have found far more than I might have expected. For example it’s amazing how much high level detail on CIA operations is contained in State Department documents – and not just high level but details on budgets, logistics, internal political debates, etc.

For example, if you want to find out about CIA act ivies in the Far East, say in Tibet, check out the documents in this series: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, China, Volume XIX

Or you want to see details of say CIA meetings related to the Guatemala coup, recorded not by the CIA but copied and preserved in State Department files:

CIA Memorandum to Deputy Director of Plans,, July 22, 1954, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Retrospective Volume, Guatemala, Document 279, Meeting between Mr. Joe Montgomery and Mr. Corcoran and Col. J.C. King, Chief CIA Western Hemisphere.

Or let’s say you are interested in CIA covert action:

Note on U.S. Covert Actions, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964-1968, Volume XII, Western Europe, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian

There are Foreign Relations documents for the other global regions as well. Of course if you want dirt on the State Department – oh let’s say during the Kissinger era – you have to look elsewhere. A great starting point for that is the National Security Archives.

My point is simply that you can really get a feel for personalities, debates, objections, and of course obfuscation by reading source documents. And when you move into national security, as I have with Surprise Attack, there are whole new realms of available data – a good deal of which contradicts much of what is said in the common, daily conversations that I hear.

I think many people will be really surprised by much of what is in Surprise Attack. I know I was when I did the research. But the good news is that all of the references are there and you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s true that some are fairly esoteric and if you want the book you may have to do inter-library loan – but a great many are reachable through links in the end notes. So – I hope lots of you read the book but that at least some readers actually take the time to do some homework on the sources – it would make all that editing pain just a bit more bearable.