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Thread: How Presidents are Manipulated by “Intelligence”

1. I’ve been having a side conversation with a retired former covert ops pal about the spinning of intelligence for political purposes.
2. It is a subject of significant importance in understanding many past “foreign ventures,” as well as how we perceive potential adversaries (which shapes national security policy and investments).
3. Was there sufficient fact-based intel to justify Bush 43’s Operation Iraqi Freedom? Was the intel about Syria that Obama used accurate or skewed to service political needs of the moment? Is the intel on current potential adversaries accurate? These questions linger.
4. The premise of my pal and me is that, while raw intel from “national technical means” is generally accurate, human intelligence and the summaries and conclusions made by analysts and senior personnel in the intel agencies are frequently massaged for a whole host of reasons.
5. Here is my pal’s commentary on the subject based on his direct and personal experience.
6. I would argue that there has been a common practice of poorly informing the president or willfully altering Intel and the common practice of massaging Intel until it is old news and then - once the report has been "peer reviewed" finally about two to four weeks late ….
6A. … allowing it to be put into the President's Daily Briefing. Presidents are too often manipulated by their staff and the Intel community.
7. This happens many ways. One is through non-reporting. MANY times I have reported on observations or collected information that would be of great importance to national leadership that are of a fleeting nature ….
7A. … (but not fitting into the accepted feeling of good expectations about a particular situation or series of events – not PC, in other words).
8. And upon submitting the report at the embassy/station for review and release, I was told that "we're not reporting THAT" or "THAT isn't going to be released from THIS station."
9. It seems that upwardly-mobile CIA/State Dept officers depend on never rocking the boat to ensure smooth waters for the promotion boards to sail on. Such refusals to report important data from the field lead to uninformed decisions down the road.
10. Further, upon return to the US and verbally reporting the same information, I would be shot down as there was NO REPORTING FROM THE FIELD TO SUPPORT MY OBSERVATIONS. How’s that for circular B.S.?
11. CIA intel reports (I can’t speak to DIA or other Intel agencies) are passed around for peer review like a college paper for grading and approval.
12. This gives non-expert analysts (on the given subject) the ability to delete segments of a report or even torpedo the entire report simply because they do not understand the nuances or do not believe the supportive reporting or first person observations.
13. It is difficult to get across the enormity of the YUUUGE amounts of important intel that does not move forward due to sinking by peer torpedo. Happens. All. The. Time.!
14. AND, this includes reporting that could reverse the "informed opinion" made by a senior intel person who had shot his mouth off in front of important folks and refused to be publicly exposed as having been wrong.
15. In my opinion, such was the WMD-in-Iraq call. Upon being asked to comment on the same photos and data from human sources that brought about the invasion in 2003, I and a couple others with REAL WMD experience just laughed it off as silly.
16. There was NO hard evidence of current WMD production or capacity to produce and NO avoidance of huge stocks of the old stuff left over from the Iran/Iraq War.
17. The joke was on us though: important people had already bought into the fake evidence, and so the invasion went off as scheduled.)
18. [FWIW, I was involved in Dr. David Kay “Iraq Survey Group” in Baghdad in 2003. There was nothing – ever – that suggested more than random left-overs from the Iran/Iraq conflict – and not much of that.]
18A. [Oh, BTW, when Dr. Kay departed Baghdad for good, he was one pissed off puppy.]
cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITI…
19. Another way that raw intel is skewed is through the use of “options.” When there is a crisis in process or brewing, the President asks for a list of options to consider for action.
20. [Note: folks who are experts at emergency response are not the folks who end up being elected to the office of POTUS. That makes them susceptible to persuasion based on “other considerations” – usually political.]
21. Yeah, these lists are cooked and limited to the options that his staff WANT or can at least understand. The best stuff – the truly innovative and effective stuff, and the stuff that would enable more effective leadership - is usually NOT ON THOSE LISTS.
22. Politics effects the list more than the best option that would lead to the most effective action.
23. Pick a hurricane, civil disturbance/riot situation, security on the borders, whatever. Effective presidential leadership is choked out and thrown aside for the cooked options lists more effected by personal gain via political spin than sorting out the problem.
24. Most big problems have simple solutions (a lotta work - but resolutions along simple lines and concepts). In addition, the options NEVER seem to address the required battle field prep of open and effective public explanations of the processes and operations underway.
25. The fact is that a president is a CEO, not a subject matter expert (SME), and he MUST have folks on his side who can communicate clearly the reason for what is happening, as well as the associated time-frames and compounding variables.
26. This effect was most easily seen in the Bush 43 administration where VP Cheney and Defense Sec’y Rumsfeld only provided Bush with their cooked lists of options.
27. [Another aside: I think Trump has a better BS detector and, although does not always communicate well on ongoing ops, he does better than most at reaching out past the media to get things out to the public that need to be said. He does a good job at “info operations.”]
28. Anyway, presidents are often not advised properly, and this is a stupidity, greed AND Deep State issue. In the present environment, a presidential misstatement or a goofy call on an international issue may make good fodder for the legacy media to use in their attacks.
29. But, it is the system itself that causes dumb calls to be made. To complete that circle, the legacy media are responsible for a lot of the bad info moving fwd or the echo chambers that amplify the bad info. Haven’t we seen that on just about EVERY issue over the past 2 yrs?
30. One of the worst categories of options presented typically has to do with proposed variations on “rules of engagement.”
31. “The Rules of Engagement (ROE) are those directives that delineate the circumstances and limitations under which United States (US) forces will initiate and/or continue combat engagement.”
32. The previous quote is from a USMC handout at The Basic School on the Law of War and Introduction to Rules of Engagement. The complete handout can be found here; it’s a great read especially for those unfamiliar with ROEs:
trngcmd.marines.mil/Portals/207/Do…
33. As to the ROEs, this is a hot button issue for me. I have absolutely NO good regard for any senior officer that would not put his/her/its career on the line to support their troops, and ROE is the prime destroyer of moral and mental health in our military since 2002.
33A. The most basic ROE is when to pull the trigger. Same issue being discussed for some police forces in the US these days. Most of the politicians picking those ROEs have never had to decide when to pull the trigger - either in the military or as a law enforcement officer!
34. That shitbag Petraeus (followed by Tommy Franks) is at the top of my list of senior officers who ought to be handed over to the troops who suffered under his ROEs. Not his ROE you say, but rather handed down from above for political reasons? That's a point of view.
35. But to my point of view, he did not fight to get good ROEs in place, which makes him a willing, weak-willed link in the politicized chain of command that failed our soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq!
36. Bottom line: whenever human beings are involved in any intel, military, or foreign policy endeavor (or, indeed, anything!), there are going to be considerations made for purposes beyond the specific issue at hand.
37. And the law of unintended consequences always comes into play at some point! Corrupted intel leads to bad battlefield strategy and ultimately the guy in harm’s way who is expected to carry out the mission pays the price.
38. The biggest reason I can think of to stop electing career politicians, especially as American presidents! Politicians view the rest of us as pawns and means to their own personal ends. President Trump pulled the scales off a lot of Americans in that regard! ///The end.
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