(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2014", please click here.)
Congress recently passed a new budget about the same time that President Obama laid out his plan for reforming the intelligence community. Unfortunately, as others have written, they missed a huge opportunity to declassify the “black budget”, the part of our annual spending which goes to intelligence, opening up the dark intelligence world to the bright, cleansing sunlight of transparency. Like most people in the intelligence game, they continued to pretend that Edward Snowden didn’t leak that same black budget six months earlier.
Today we continue debunking the myths about intelligence related to Edward Snowden’s leaks. (Find the previous post here.)
Myth 4: We need that funding because the world is more dangerous than it has ever been. Again, in James Clapper's words:
“Today’s world is as fluid and unstable as it has been in the past half century...”
General Clapper again relies on an emotionally-compelling reason for increased spending. He doesn't provide facts, data or evidence--the logically/rationally compelling reasons--to increase intelligence spending. As we’ve covered before the world is, if anything, safer and more stable than at any time in history. Not even in proportional terms, but in real world terms; less people die each year from armed conflict, including terrorism, than at any time in history. This is due to rising global incomes, the spread of international institutions and the general decline of violence in the modern and contemporary periods.
Yet General Clapper said the opposite.
Further--and we need to write about this more--no rational foreign policy or national security expert could reasonably claim the Cold War was less dangerous or unstable than today. If anything, the Cold War motivated both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to oust unfriendly dictators, which is why the rate of civil wars (and terrorism) skyrocketed.
Myth 5: This spending keeps you safe. I could provide an explanation of logical fallacies, but I think I’d rather have Lisa and Homer Simpson demonstrate for me. After a bear sighting in Springfield, Homer says:
Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
[Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]
It would be funny, if the intelligence world didn’t snooker the the Washington Post with the same logic:
“The United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence during that period, an outlay that U.S. officials say has succeeded in its main objective: preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack in the United States.”
Of course, officials can say that; they just can't prove it. Over ten years, what amount of spending would have allowed a terror attack? $100 billion? $200 billion? Clearly, if we had spent a trillion dollars, that would have prevented another catastrophic attack as well, but since a terrorist attack didn’t happen, we didn’t need to spend an extra $500 billion.
We’ll have more in future posts, but in the mean time, I have a rock that prevents terrorism. Anyone want to buy it?
Myth 6: Terrorism is our gravest threat. No, that's still nuclear weapons possessed by states. Terrorism is more likely, but less serious. The Washington Post, again quoting from the document, wrote, “In words, deeds and dollars, intelligence agencies remain fixed on terrorism as the gravest threat to national security." Though intelligence officials believe that terrorism is the gravest threat, that doesn’t make it so. This myth shows how the intelligence community--even in secret--can’t accurately identify threats to the country.
Myth 7: The CIA is understaffed/underfunded. For this, we go to past On V contributor Matt Bradley via email:
“I thought this was the case. Yet, the CIA's budget has exploded, and as the article rightly points out, it now is a paramilitary force.”
Myth 8: Technology will save us. The Washington Post again:
“The documents make clear that U.S. spy agencies’ long-standing reliance on technology remains intact. If anything, their dependence on high-tech surveillance systems to fill gaps in human intelligence has intensified.”
I've said before that President Bush's biggest missed opportunity was the chance to really improve language training across America to help with human intelligence. He also could have allowed more immigration to provide a pool of foreign experts. He did neither, and the intelligence community never really strengthened their human intelligence collection capabilities.
Why not? Economics. Intelligence-contracting companies make more money off of fancy tech than training people to learn Arabic. Yet somehow the Post and government officials think this reliance on technology could be a good thing. Think tanks funded by defense contractors want Americans to think this too. Americans--led by their imagination of innovation in Silicon Valley--are also prone to buying this. As the IC"s own report cards show, human intelligence gaps can't be filled through tech, no matter how hard we try.