A.J. "Alex" Rossmiller exposes the weaknesses and failures of politicizing our intelligence structure in his new book. A writer on national security issues for AmericaBlog, AJ has been must reading for me since he joined John Aravosis' team at this excellent blog. AJ joined the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) after college and spent six months on duty in Iraq. Following his tour he went to work on the Iraq intelligence team in The Pentagon.
"Still Broken" is his personal story. Intensely personal in some areas, something I thought sometimes distracted from his message, it did an a personal touch. His tale of how our critical intelligence structure was broken by Bush Administration officials, the military hierarchy concerned only with pleasing Secretary Rumsfeld, and his riveting telling of what it was like serving in a war zone is recommended reading.
Rossmiller's basic message is one of political leaders interfering in intelligence analysis and forcing changes to fix the intelligence around the policy. I kept thinking about the Downing Street Memo released by the British which detailed how the Bush Administration had made up its mind about war in Iraq and was fixing the intelligence to match their failed policies. Alex's tale arrives later but shows this same mindset remained and was pervasive throughout DIA. Analysts were constantly being told they were "off message" and forced to change their reports. Often these were changed higher up the food change and differed completely from the expert, professional analytical conclusions.
For example Ales wasn't allowed to use the term "civil war" when, in his opinion, that was what was happening in Iraq. "Off message" is a political term, not an intelligence one. It means a campaign has drifted away from the message it is conveying to the public. He also expressed surprise and dismay at the constant stream of lies being told to the country which were diametrically opposite what their intelligence had established.
The broken system resulting from these failures meant valuable analysts, people in whom we invested much, left government service. Rossmiller is but one example. Morale plunged, working conditions were abdominal with not even enough computers for the staff. Some of this can be written off to Pentagon bureaucratic incompetence but remains inexcusable. With a war going on and people's lives at stake those working on the intelligence didn't even have a permanent location or regular access to information systems.
If you want to understand why our intelligence system failed us and why it continues to do so read "Still Broken." Then contact your representatives in Washington and ask what is being done to correct these problems. A few excerpts:
"What I did see was broken policy, created and blindly supported by DoD and White House leadership against all rationality and common sense." (page 78)
"It is also possible, however, that the environment the Bush administration has created, in which loyalty is the ultimate virtue and officials at all levels are afraid to report unwelcome information up the chain of command, has infected the intelligence community. If approval depends upon telling supervisors what they want to hear, or if careers rely on giving "good" news, then the culture of corruption and atmosphere of fear created by the Bush administration has crippled our intelligence efforts. Similarly, if intelligenc eis adjusted due to ideological considerations-because some officials place loyalty to their political allies above loyalty to facts and reasoned assessments-that, too, would cripple the intelligence process. If those elements of conscious unwitting intelligence manipulation were the cause of the unremitting adjustments to analysis in my office, I have even more serious concerns about how senior analytic and managerial positions are awarded and maintained." (page 158)
"This kind of behavior begins at the top, and many in the office blamed an administration that disdains accountability and rewards ineptitude." (page 158)
"The bad habits created during the lead-up to Iraq were being reinforced rather than corrected, causing great potential harm to America's security and the U.S. intelligence community. I started to wonder whether my very presence represented tacit approval of a system that I recognized as broken." (page 159)