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27 February 2006

The bane of politics

The fine fellows over a GroupIntel have an interesting set of practical recommendations for de-politicizing intelligence. Unfortunately, we feel that the most damning aspects of politicization are internal in nature, not a function of improper meetings or relationship. Those improper relationships are however the contacts that tend to produce the kinds of leaks that are most damaging – but these happen most often with the recently departed members of the community who have abandoned their oaths. It is the tongue, heedless of the spinning wheel.

However, it is the unvoiced assumptions, the unexamined positions, and the hardening of mindset which has so damagingly introduced explicit politicization into the community. It is those decisions taken without reference to the elected officials – whose opinions could at least be said to represent the will of the people, whether advisable or not in questions of intelligence matters – that has created the shadow of an unelected component that exercises policy judgment rather than merely an advisory capacity.

To some extent, the bleedover into policy and action is inevitable, especially in a wartime environment. The mix of operational activities such as planning and tactical level support alone would virtually ensure that the old ivory tower model of the distant and detached analyst is fast fading. In fact, your authors have argued on behalf of more closer ties between these worlds for some time now – not on the basis of politics but on the need to shorten kill cycles and achieve rapid effects within selected target environments. This is a fundamentally different relationship, though, than the strategic level policy debates which are now raging.

All of these issues are manifestations of a community undergoing a serious crisis of change. It is no longer enough to simply hold forth a model which others have abandoned or corrupted and debate in abstraction. It is not enough to challenge the old orthodoxy in a few Studies articles in the hopes that some good might come of it. We have come to the fundamental questions of intelligence reform – and they may best be answered in the manner of the Confucian official who serves a bureaucracy which has lost the mandate of Heaven: to be a cork floating untouched in a sea of raw sewage. It is the cultivation of the person – the individual choices made by officers and analysts to eschew politics and pursue truth no matter what the nature of the relationships their job has thrust them into, that will solve this dilemma.

From this light, our colleague’s recommendations are an excellent starting point. More yet must still be done in order to effect what will be deeply personal changes at an individual level across a wide enough number of persons to make a difference.