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Monday, December 12, 2005

The Black Market of Intelligence

In Cambridge, we toss gently around the idea that there simply *is* no more military intelligence in the United States. By which we do not mean to impugn the IQs of the respected operators. Rather merely to point out that the CIA and its ilk have, despite their immense mapping strategies, networks, and mechanisms for collecting data, remarkably little oversight how that data is analyzed. As a result, there is remarkably little intelligence analysis in a concerted fashion. 500 analysts write a report on their country every day; scarcely any mechanism exists for sorting those reports into anything useful.

What exists, rather, is alongside this collection-machine, another machine for changing outcomes: a propaganda machine. This machine actually does depend on some cultural knowledge and some understanding of the cultures at stake. As a result, this wing of intelligence must actually be outsourced to young, freelance Oxford graduates with humanities degrees and little experience in the military or politics, as the article below begins to explain. Humanities graduates understand the value of visual propaganda.

What neither Oxford graduates nor CIA has grasped is the value of reliable sources of authoritative truth to social stability in democratic society. As Paul Fussell wrote about soldiers in the trench warfare of the first world war, superstition and myth spread like wildfire in a climate where there's no reliable source for information; if one thing might be true, anything might be true. If anything might be true, then the angry Zawahiri - inspired Jihad press might just as well be true as the American press.

If the CIA has indeed entered the game of sewing mythic fabrications, they had better realize that their game has no zero sum and does not tend in the direction of reasonable outcomes, democratic societies, or well-behaved populaces: disinformation breeds more fanaticism and world views of a medieval to barbaric shape.

Lincoln Group dealings unmasked:

The recent disclosures that a Pentagon contractor in Iraq paid newspapers to print 'good news' articles written by American soldiers prompted an outcry in Washington, where members of Congress said the practice undermined American credibility and top military and White House officials disavowed any knowledge of it. President Bush was described by Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser, as 'very troubled' about the matter. The Pentagon is investigating.

But the work of the contractor, the Lincoln Group, was not a rogue operation. Hoping to counter anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, the Bush administration has been conducting an information war that is extensive, costly and often hidden, according to documents and interviews with contractors, government officials and military personnel.

-- Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwa, "Military's Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive," New York Times


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