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Breakdown: How America's Intelligence Failures Led to September 11 Hardcover – August 25, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
From the bestselling author of a scathing indictment of Clintonian foreign policy, Betrayal, comes an unbalanced but revealing expose on the mistakes, misdirections and blunders behind "the most damaging intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor." Gertz supports his argument that the intelligence community has "lost sight of its purpose and function" with interviews, news clips and almost 100 pages of government documents, some partially classified (a National Security Agency report reproduced within contains little but the date and the designation "TOP SECRET UMBRA"-the rest is "withheld at the request of U.S. intelligence officials"). He points a very stern finger at the FBI, the NSA and the CIA, "where preservation of the agency's budget takes precedence over its performance." In one confounding case, Gertz writes, veteran CIA field agent Robert Baer was investigated and nearly prosecuted by the FBI for planning an assassination of Saddam Hussein; when the CIA discovered their jig was up, they left Baer out to dry. But while the insights into a government overrun by bureaucracy can be fascinating (and infuriating), Gertz seldom assigns any blame toward either George H.W. or George W. Bush's policies in the Middle East. He saves his condemnation, instead, for the Clinton administration (again). This one-sided portrayal may leave the critical reader feeling as if only half the story is being told, as Gertz's strong conservative bent distorts what could have been an important and well-informed look at the terrorist disaster.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The hottest reporter in town...he breaks dozens of big stories every year... -- Washington Post
What he's uncovered is shocking. He's done a great service for the people of this country. -- Rush Limbaugh
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There is little doubt that mature bureaucracies in general live to preserve the bureaucracy rather than serve the original purpose for which they were created. Gertz does a good job of illustrating this point as it relates to the various intelligence agencies. As with most other books I've read on the subject the CIA seems to be the best at this game while dismayingly ineffective in gathering intelligence about enemies.
Gertz also does a good job discussing the politics of intelligence and tracing the impact on the various agencies over the last 40 years. I thought his criticism of republicans in particular was interesting and compelling.
At the end Gertz discusses potential improvements. But by that time I was left pretty much convinced that there is probably little hope for these agencies to ever be effective in their missions without complete overhaul and that is unlikely. There is not much favorable about the new homeland security department either.
If the United States and the American way of life must depend on the Intelligence agencies as convincingly portrayed by Gertz in this book then there is little chance of the oldest democracy surviving another millennium.
If this book forces policymakers to think, and makes it possible for the public to get very angry about the various failures of intelligence that contributed to 9-11, then it will be in the running for most patriotic and useful book of the year.
The author leaves one aspect of the 9-11 failure untouched--although he makes references to Democratic and to Republican policymakers, what he does not tell the American people is that intelligence failures do not occur without very substantive policy failures of two kinds: first, policy failures where the intelligence professionals are gutted, abused, intimidated, and generally prevented from being effective. The Director of Central Intelligence usually serves as the policy representative to intelligence in carrying out these abuses, rather than as the intelligence representative to policy. The second failure is one of "inconvenient warning," where solid professional intelligence estimates are set aside and ignored because the politicians don't want to be bothered, don't think it will cost them with their domestic constituencies, and are not truly committed to long-term national security. This is a bi-partisan problem--until the American people appreciate the connection between voting, policymaker character, and intelligence success, we will continue to get the government--and the intelligence community--that our citizens deserve.
Gertz concentrates on weaknesses in the Clinton administration's management of the CIA and the FBI (some of which are very real) to make repeated ... political points. If you need a fix of anti-Clintonism and you don't know much about the US intelligence community, this is your book. You will not gain much insight into the problems of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and clandestine operations but you will have that frisson of excitement of hating Clinton all over again.
For the rest of us this book is a disappointment. It is clearly rushed, only modestly integrated and lacks any significant insight into US problems with HUMINT in specific or terrorism more generally. Gertz's best points are politically barbed in preference to creating insight into the role of HUMINT and special operations in a democracy. Furthermore Gertz is captured by his sources that to the insider eye clearly lean institutionally to the technical side of the intelligence business. The result is a series of sweeping generalizations about the analytic and HUMINT side of the intelligence business and relatively benign acceptance of the basic health of the technical side.
Gertz's conclusions are an enduring theme in muckracking and academic literature on US intelligence. They are not novel and implicitly accept the basic distribution of resources that run heavily to the technical intelligence. I would agree with Gertz that radical organizational reform is required in the intelligence community but I don't think he goes far enough. Radical reform focused on producing an intelligence community oriented on the new post-Cold War security environment must extend to the technical side as well and needs to be accompanied with major shifts in the allocation of money.
"Breakdown" does have some useful tidbits about the events prior to Sep 11. But the bulk of the material is already known and well explored in the press....