Who Watches The Watchers?

4 Mar

South African President Jacob Zuma June 2012In the context of the Bradley Manning case, it’s fascinating and responsible to ask how the American intelligence bureaucracies work. It’s not an attractive picture. As readers might surmise, I’m opposed to the sort of small-f  “fascism” – for lack of a better epithet – and I view the opinion, that there is a kind of information that citizens do not need to know, as problematic. Nate Jones offers reasons why unquestioning faith in “securocrats” is not prudent.

There’s a lot of revealing factoids in Jones’ stories. One is “Able Archer

In his memoirs, [former president, Ronald]Reagan, without specifically mentioning Able Archer 83—he states earlier that he cannot mention classified information—wrote of a 1983 realization:

“Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did … During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike … Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us.”

Not that I have gone soft in my post-intelligence career. It’s that, I would surmise, professionals who deal with information on topics like defense and politics without a good way of injecting humility into the process can become condescending and self-important. Obviously, humans can be savage, but they also can make errors. Often, humans are just limited by their social relationships. What conservatives extoll in markets is just as necessary in intelligence work – competition. Those who don’t believe humans can deal with sensitive topics are probably themselves complicit in their own career shenanigans or just like to feel their own waist-level, rearward-facing source of power. We can have that debate about when to debate all sources of information without endangering lives, and in the process empower citizens to be more responsible. For some inexplicable reason intelligence agencies choose to select certain “dumb humans” for clearances and exclude others based on a securocrats’ judgment and the questionable conclusions of IQ tests and a lie-detector machine.

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