Given my recent series of JFK related posts, newer readers of this blog may not be aware that I tend to research and write more broadly than on the political assassinations of the 1960’s. It’s true that I am involved in some pretty focused and intense JFK related work at the moment but my overall interests are in the areas of the intelligence communities (primarily American and Russian), national security issues, and what is broadly described in the military as command and control (C3 / communications, command and control) – if you want to be really contemporary it’s now C4 / communications, command, control and intelligence. Never can have too many acronyms…
You will find those interests, and my work on them, in my books Shadow Warfare, Surprise Attack and most recently Creating Chaos – which focuses on American and Russian political warfare, including information and social media warfare. Given high degree of strangeness in current events, and the mix of hybrid and political warfare that had become very real, I’ve moved into paying more attention to the present – essentially wrestling with an attempt to put today’s events into some sort of historical perspective. If nothing else, to evaluate how bad things really are at the moment. I’m also pondering a fourth book in the national security series, which would deal with the pitfalls of military assistance – but sales of these types of titles are not great, publishers want something more sensational and penetrating the media world with a new history book, unless it’s a tell-all of some sort or a memoir of a Washington figure (lots of people writing those books at present, heavy competition) it’s a very hard to convince a publisher that it’s even a break even investment.
So, for the moment I’m going to do a few posts on contemporary issues. One of the most obvious of those relates to the subject of national security – “threats and warnings” and how they are being handled in Washington D.C. That is now quite different than how they are being handled in NATO, which is generally elevating its game, while Washington has largely retired to the dugout (I want it to be an early spring, hence the baseball metaphor).
Over the decades of the Cold War, the American intelligence community developed some very refined modeling, statistical and pattern analysis techniques to estimate and report on potential national threats. Arguably the best summary of those practices are fond in Anticipating Surprise; Analysis for Strategic Warning, by Cynthia Grabo. To make a long story short, those techniques are accurate enough so that most real national security threats – from Pearl Harbor, to Korea, on to the abortive Millennium terror attacks of 2000 and the successful attack on America in 2001 have been detected and profiled by the intelligence community. Threats identified, specific warnings given and the chain of command briefed at the level of the National Security Council and President (for Pearl Harbor that would be the Departments of the Army and Navy and the War Department). In most instances specific warnings were also given to field commands…as with Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, the Korean theatre and in later years the respective domestic agencies such as the FBI.
The reasons why many of those warnings failed are summarized by Grabo in her work and I’ve expanded on them in Surprise Attack, taking them beyond the Cold War into more contemporary examples. And it turns out the failures to respond to the warnings are not “conspiratorial” but rather involve very basic human factors and systems failures. Often failures of basic command and control. There have been some successes but unfortunately the tendency – from administration to administration and president to president, has been to duck the blame and as an alternative to expand the overall system (the most far reaching example of that following 9/11) to put in more layers, a bigger bureaucracy and in doing so produce more room to ignore or at least not take focused action on real threats.
The reason I seem to be obsessed with this problem at the moment is because the current state of threat and warning intelligence in America is literally worse than it has been since before World War II. And the problem is not in the intelligence collections, analysis or warnings – it is now better than it ever has been, technologically verging on the spectacular. In contrast American national security in terms of command and control is dismal, perhaps not at its worst but comparable to 2001. In one respect it may even be worse than it’s ever been.
Those are clearly some very strong claims, in the next post I’ll work on giving some factual and historical support for my opinions.