I did an hour long radio interview with Jeff Bushman a couple of evenings ago and will post a link to it once its on YouTube. At this point Alan has been able to read through much of the galley copy of Shadow Warfare that I’d sent him and among other things we explored a couple of the things that stood out to him.
One of the points that repeats itself over and over again in the book is that in terms of covert action, different government agencies are often in considerable conflict with each other and that can lead to both dysfunction and mission failure. Most readers will immediately think of the State Debarment’s embarrassment at the UN over the Bay of Pigs or perhaps the conflicts between CIA and State in Laos, but perhaps most especially in Vietnam. In South Vietnam, from the earliest days the CIA compromised and most likely doomed State Debarment initiatives towards a compromise government. More recently the specter of Colin Powell being hung out to dry at the U.N. over extremely poor intelligence analysis (well OK, not analysis but “agendas”) comes to mind.
What doesn’t come to mind but what Shadow Warfare highlights is the number of times that the situation reversed itself, when the State Department, Secretary’s of State and National Security Advisers moved forward with covert actions that the CIA consistently opposed as unwarranted or doomed from the beginning. That happened on a number of occasions during the Nixon and Reagan Administrations, ranging across both Latin America and Africa. What emerges from such conflicts is that the best intelligence analysis in the world can easily be neutered by worldviews and agendas being carried forward by the principals at the Cabinet level. The reality is that when a Cabinet officer has the ear of the President and the President’s endorsement, intelligence analysis begins to swerve to a supportive view – its much like the President going to the Attorney General and asking for a legal opinion to justify an action he has in mind. On occasion, and more so in certain administrations, an objective legal opinion comes back. But more likely, and more recently, what is produced is a legal justification. In SW we review some of the opinions that Eisenhower got that actually convinced him not to do certain things; we also review opinions given to G.W. Bush which were rather obviously simply “enablers”.
Another point that Alan and I discussed is that in the 21st Century, we have moved to the point at which much of the legal code supporting covert action in the war on terror has become a real issue. That code is based in the National Security Act of 1947 – clearly formed and justified by the Cold War military confrontation with the Communist bloc. It seems pretty obvious that the context of the terror threat in the 21st Century is different, yet there seems to be no Congressional move to revisit fundamentally critical legislation, and legal code that now is quite questionable as applied to acting military personnel, not to mention a host of government security contractors. Conflicts over issues of preemptive action and mass domestic surveillance could be addressed at its most basic level with new national security legislation. – “could” being the operative word.
Of course Shadow Warfare deals with a host of actions at the operational level and there is plenty of detail about trade-craft and personnel, but it also raises a number of fundamental issues and questions that are very much contemporary and should be subjects of media and political dialog….sandwiched in between detailed latest entertainment world coverage of course…