Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why We Need Spies

By Alan Caruba

In West Point and military academies around the world, a book written two and a half thousand years ago is studied. It is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu and it deftly spells out the difference between victory and defeat.

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

On the topic of spies, Sun Tzu wrote, “to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition, simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” He then names five classes of spies. “Be subtle! And use your spies for every kind of business.”

The lesson from 9/11, published in the Commission report that followed, was that while the U.S. had a fairly massive espionage and counter-espionage community, they were not effectively communicating with one another. Part of the problem was a legal “wall” that had been put up between spymasters and law enforcement personnel.

A series, “Top Secret America”, running in The Washington Post, was initially decried as giving away America’s secrets regarding its intelligence gathering community, but as the report points out, it took two years to put together and was based “on government documents and contracts, job descriptions, property records, corporate and social networking Web sites, additional records, and hundreds of interviews with intelligence, military and corporate officials and former officials..”

If Dana Priest and William M. Arkin were able to access such information, then you can be sure that intelligence agencies in the nations of both our allies and enemies have already done so. The recent exposure of a Russian sleeper spy ring should be a reminder, not just of the bad old Cold War days, but that such spying goes on all the time by every nation.

Despite the initial displeasure expressed in some circles, I think the two reporters (Priestly is a Pulitzer Prize winner) have done the nation a favor. Consider the following:

# Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

# An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

# Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, “creating redundancy and waste” according to the series. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

# Some 50,000 intelligence reports are published each year by security analysts.

Anyone who has to process a lot of information every day knows that too much information is almost as bad as too little because it is virtually impossible to reduce to an “actionable” level where response time may be a matter of hours.

And, yes, there probably are too many government organizations and private companies generating “intelligence.”

The Christmas underwear bomber is an example and, of course, the failed Times Square bomber, another, when the system does not work as hoped. The terrorists who are targeting the U.S. only have to be lucky once. The intelligence community has to get it right every hour of every day.

All these intelligence gathering and analyzing operations reflect the fact that the world is a very large place with lots of individual nations and lots of non-state terror organizations.

So, maybe, a little redundancy is not so awful? It is always useful in any situation that involves making war and the West is locked into a very long war with Islamic fascism and other enemies like North Korea, the dictatorship in Venezuela, the Russians as always, and the Chinese who have an enormous, sophisticated espionage operation.

Reading the Washington Post series, I was reminded of a famous quote of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) who said, “A nation can survive its fools, and even its ambitious, but it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable for he is known and carries his banner openly, but the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself…”

“He rots the soul of a nation. He works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city. He infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.”

Wise words and a warning as timely as the morning’s headlines.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


TexasFred said...

One of my readers that knows a bit about my background suggested that I write regarding this “Top Secret America” story...I had to decline...

Sun Tzu is one of my favorite authors. He knew from where he spoke...

LarryOldtimer said...

It has been more than 50 years since I was in USAF Intelligence, so I guess I am safe in at least addressing this subject.

I was trained in collecting, collating and disseminating Intelligence, so I know where the valuable intelligence comes from. Nothing can replace HUMIT, that is, human gathered intelligence data, or intelligence agents "in the field" (spies). It used to be that sources for much of this data were not high ranking (in society, government or military) individuals. A good many of the sources were what could be called individuals with an unsavory character, that is, criminals. High level members of organized crime typically know more about what is happening in an urban area from almost any standpoint than anyone else at all, for instance, and if they are confident that they can't be traced as the source, they will sell that data for cash. Prostitutes have clients who talk a lot, and let slip valuable intelligence data, and under the same terms, will sell the data for cash.

President Carter, by executive order, forbade our field intelligence gathering agents from having any contact with "unsavory" sources, which harmed this nation horribly. He was a fool.

Intelligence gathering is without doubt a hard and often nasty business. But it must be done in whatever fashion which will yield the maximum amount of sound intelligence data, by whatever means feasible.

Our nation's continuing to be a sovereign nation is dependent on intelligence data. Sound intelligence data also is a strong preventative of war.

Yes, we do indeed need spies.

Ronbo said...

I'm a decorated veteran who served in U.S. Army Military Intelligence and CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) for twenty years.

In those Cold War days I was one of the most trusted and least suspected of American citizens. Today I'm one of the least trusted and most suspected of American citizens.


I think Cicero had it right in the his quotation. If you were very loyal to the Republic in your youth and traitors have taken over the government, it only stands to reason that you will be carefully watched, or imprisoned, since your existence is a threat to them.