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Still Broken: A Recruit's Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon Hardcover – February 12, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Graduating from college with a degree in Middle East studies, Rossmiller joined the Defense Department's Intelligence Agency in 2004 and soon volunteered to join a DIA unit in Iraq. He vividly recounts his six-month tour—the physical misery of the environment and the frustrations of feeling his work rarely made a difference. Good intelligence, he explains, begins with people on the spot (in this case usually Iraqis), who take risks but supply information that is often fragmented, out-of-date and even self-serving or false. Analysts, such as the author, tease out useful data and deliver it quickly to fighting men. Hobbled by clueless superiors and their turf wars, as well as ignorance of Iraqi culture, DIA units, including Rossmiller's, witnessed American forces repeatedly acting on poor or outdated intelligence. They killed and arrested plenty of genuine insurgents but also killed, arrested and infuriated many innocent Iraqis, which crippled their efforts. Back in Washington, Rossmiller discovered the agency under pressure to provide good news for the Bush administration. Superiors regularly rejected his analyses of Iraqi politics as too pessimistic. If repeated rewrites lacked an upbeat conclusion, superiors inserted one. That his predictions turned out to be correct made no difference. This intense, partisan arm-twisting devastated morale, resulting in an exodus of agency experts, including the author. Rossmiller gives a lively insider's view of the petty and not-so-petty politics that affect the intelligence our leaders receive in their efforts to pacify Iraq; it is not a pretty picture. (Feb. 12)
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Advance praise for Still Broken
“A. J. Rossmiller has given us a crucial piece of the Iraq debacle–a bottom-up, insider’s account of how the U.S. intelligence community has been twisted by politics and paralyzed by bureaucracy. Still Broken is also a powerful personal story of how a smart, well-educated, and patriotic young American tried to serve his country, in Iraq and in the Pentagon, and became disillusioned by the rank incompetence at the heart of the so-called ‘Global War on Terror.’ And while Rossmiller demonstrates, repeatedly, that his taste in music really needs an upgrade, he also proves to be an engaging, skillful, and funny writer.”
–Joe Klein, Time political columnist
“A gripping ground-level view of the exasperating journey of a brave intelligence analyst trying to serve his country at a time of cherry-picked, slanted, and downright deceitful intelligence. As he debriefs detainees, plans for raids in Baghdad, and offers apolitical Iraq analysis in Washington, his conscience never fails him, even as the leaders of his country do. It is one thing to decry ‘politicized intelligence,’ and another, deeper thing to live, as Rossmiller did, with the devastating consequences of ideology and ego run amok.”
–Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem from Hell
“A. J. Rossmiller is a truth-teller, a rarity today, and the title of his book–Still Broken–is the succinct truth about the U.S. intelligence apparatus. That apparatus is not only failing, but it is failing catastrophically. To understand part of the reason why, read Mr. Rossmiller’s book.”
–Lawrence Wilkerson, Pamela Harriman Visiting Professor of Government at the College of William & Mary, and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
“A. J. Rossmiller has emerged as one of the most insightful and sophisticated foreign-policy commentators in our country. He combines a passionate patriotism and irreplaceable real-life experience with the U.S. military in documenting the profound corruption and ineptitude driving our Iraq policy. Rossmiller served his country nobly during the war, and does so again with this important and moving new book.”
–Glenn Greenwald, author of How Would a Patriot Act?
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Don't get me wrong. A lot of what the author says about mindless bureaucracies and infighting rings true. But some of it doesn't...like when he talks about a captain (an O-3, not an O-6) he worked for who was still stuck at that rank in his forties. Well, having served at that rank in the Army, I can say that that couldn't have happened unless the officer entered the military at an age older than average (maybe he was enlisted first). My case was pretty typical...I pinned on captain's bars when I was 27 (and I was not a water-walker or anything). The idea that someone could stay stuck in that rank for over a decade is silly. He would have gotten separated from the service (particularly since his "time in grade" would have been in the 1990s when the services were contracting).
Also, I would dearly love to know what the people who the author served with and worked for think of him. Rossmiller provides redacted copies of his evaluations as proof that he was a very good employee. To an outsider, those might seem proof of exactly that. Yet I've been around long enough to know that they don't mean very much (someone who is incompetent, a jerk, or an oddball can still get an evaluation that sounds very nice). Maybe Rossmiller was a flake and a malcontent (I've met more than a few people like that in the IC). Maybe he was a dedicated employee who got roughly handled by the system. You can't tell from looking at personnel evaluation forms. You can only get that from people who have firsthand experience working with him and managing him.
This isn't to say the book is worthless. It gives an interesting "worm's-eye" raw recruit perspective of one office of one agency and one part of the intelligence war in Iraq. But for another reviewer to state "If the SecDef and DNI Could Read One Book, This is the One" is just plain foolish.
So "Still Broken" isn't a good title. If the book gets a paperback edition, I would recommend something like "Twenty-three months at the Intelligence Circus: a Raw Recruit's View." It would be a lot more accurate.
Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I don't work at the DIA and I never worked with the author.
Coda: for people who are really interested in reading about the Intelligence Community's myriad problems I strongly recommend:
Spying Blind by Amy Zegart
Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11
The September 11 Commission Report
The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Indexed Hardcover, Authorized Edition)
The WMD Commission Report
The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction: Report to the President of the United States, March 31, 2005
And for a foreign perspective on intelligence failures, you can read
The Watchman Fell Asleep: The Surprise Of Yom Kippur And Its Sources (Suny Series in Israeli Studies)
As an avid reader of books dealing with the U.S. Intelligence Community and with Iraq, I picked up Rossmiller's book with high hopes - hopes that were soon dashed by the time I was about a quarter way through his story. Where to begin?
First, Rossmiller's tenure with DIA was so brief (less than two years), it makes one wonder why he sees himself fit to pass judgment on his previous employer. As I read Rossmiller's story, I was reminded of equally ridiculous books by other novices of the intelligence profession, such as Lindsay Moran's Blowing My Cover and T.J. Waters' Class 11. While Rossmiller gave his DIA career a fair chance before he decided it wasn't for him, it still wasn't long enough to justify his public critique of the entire agency, its leadership, and its operations. Since Rossmiller was a tiny cog in a large machine for a brief iteration, I cannot fathom why we, as readers, should want to hear his opinions and observations about an organization which he clearly holds in contempt and which he only briefly experienced before resigning.
Next, Rossmiller is also uniquely unqualified to offer commentary on the conduct of the Iraq war, but that does not stop him from doing so - constantly - in spite of his lack of military training and experience. Rossmiller, who hails from a purely academic background, spent a comparatively brief 180 days in Iraq (I personally have 18 months cumulative experience in Iraq, but I don't consider that a substantial amount of time considering we've been there for over five years). He also spent his deployment living and working at Camp Slayer, which is among the most sheltered of operating bases in which to be stationed and is by no means representative of the standard of living or degree of safety experienced by most of our forces in Iraq. Rossmiller writes that during a portion of his deployment, while assigned to a Direct Action Cell, his analysis and targeting packages led to the capture of insurgents by an action arm. I sincerely thank Rossmiller for his contributions here and it demonstrates something Rossmiller himself seems hesitant to admit. More specifically, in spite of the extensive chaos that is historically inherent to ALL military operations (and not just inherent to U.S. military operations in Iraq), little "diamonds" of success can always eventually be squeezed from the coal. Although this never happens as often as we would all like, and although we see tangible results only after what feels like an inordinate amount of time, effort, frustration, and energy have been expended at the micro level, it's how wars are eventually won at the macro level.
Rossmiller got a small taste of this, but didn't stick around in Iraq or in the Department of Defense long enough to realize that the system, for all its waste, insanity, and imperfections, does eventually produce results at a strategic level. Rossmiller basically failed to realize though his short tenure that although the U.S. government (including the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community) is a bloated, inefficient, and, yes, broken mess, it can strike with the power of a broadsword once the effort is made to swing it hard enough in the right direction. Rossmiller, a low-level employee from an ivory tower background in the midst of all this, only saw long hours, bad bosses, incessant paperwork, stifling bureaucracy, and imagined political conspiracies before he walked away and declared the whole system bankrupt. In short, although there is plenty wrong with the intelligence community with plenty of room for improvement, I would still argue Rossmiller never really saw the forest for the trees.
Next, the most repetitive theme in Rossmiller's book is the persistent diatribe that many of the frustrations he experienced both in Iraq and in the Pentagon were the direct fault of George Bush. Not enough computers in his shop? Blame Bush. Not happy with the changes his superiors made to his reports? Blame Bush. His supervisor was a moron? Blame Bush. I lost track of the number of times he hurls direct blame at the Chief Executive for his job frustrations, as if Rossmiller and his analytical office should warrant even an iota of direct attention from the White House. On a related note, since Rossmiller is so fond of accusing his entire chain of command of being politically biased in favor of the Bush Administration, he seems to have neglected to conceal his own strong biases against the same throughout the course of writing his book. This lends his whole story an air of imbalance and leaves the reader feeling that Rossmiller, instead of offering an exacting and neutral analytical assessment of what ills the DIA, is merely perched on a soapbox and grinding an axe for 236 pages.
Finally, although Rossmiller hands out copious amounts of blame, he at no point accepts fault for anything himself. Rossmiller also inserted copies of his DIA performance evaluations in the book's appendix, I guess to demonstrate he was a competent employee. Again, being a new to the U.S. military, Rossmiller is apparently unaware that the only thing required to receive a glowing performance evaluation is a pulse.
In closing, avoid this book at all costs. If you want to read a much better, well-balanced critique of the U.S. intelligence community, please read Ishmael Jones' The Human Factor.