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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with people on the spot (in this case usually Iraqis), who take risks but supply information that is often fragmented, out-of-date and even self-serving or false.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ignorance of Iraqi culture, DIA units, including Rossmiller's, witnessed American forces repeatedly acting on poor or outdated intelligence.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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Top Customer Reviews
Well to anyone familiar with DIA, his conclusions appear remarkably on the mark. Since its creation by Robert McNamara, DIA has been an agency in search of a mission. Although designed to be the military equivalent of CIA, DIA has never been able to acquire the cache' of CIA although it has also managed to miss most of the notoriety as well. The personal of DIA are an uneasy mix of military and civilian intelligence professionals under the often erratic management of military line officers and a few civilians of often dubious qualifications. DIA management is at best a mixture of competent and incompetent officers and civilians at all levels. This in large part is due to the Byzantine selection and promotion processes common to the IC as a whole, but exacerbated at DIA by the need to have a large number of military officers at field grade or higher in most senior positions whether or not they are qualified. Further, like the rest of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), DIA makes the fallacious assumption that all analysts of a given grade are identical so fails to recognize good analysts from bad. And it is certainly true that analytic judgments are often warped by the pernicious practice of letting rank trump facts or by elephantine attempts to support often badly conceived policies.
Rossmiller's account of his assignment to a DIA counter-insurgency operation in Iraq is a classic example of inept managers who relied on the DIA team actually deployed to sort out a mess caused by their incompetence. But his account of his experiences in the `Direct Action Cell' under a Captain White (USAF) also explains why DIA is able to function at all. Rossmiller is an acute observer and a facile writer who has written a well crafted book.
In case anybody cares, this reviewer worked with DIA on and off over a career of 42 years in the IC and actually worked at DIA for two years as an integrated analyst a quarter century ago. From Rossmiller's account it appears DIA today is unchanged from those far off times.
As the author of the original strike, On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World, honored with a foreword by Senator David Boren, former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and several other books moving the ball forward in the public (since our government is broken, not just the intelligence community) I must confess that the author of this book pursues a path that is inherently attractive to me. I have a bias for the truth, and a bias against the $60 billion a year in insane waste that Mike McConnell is presiding over.
Out of the ten books that arrived today, this is the one I could not put down. Below are my summative highlights, and then other books that support this author.
For a first time author and a young man at that, my first flyleaf note reads, underlined with exclamation marks: ABLY WRITTEN! By a MATURE Person!
There is no index nor bibliography in this book. I absorbed it at face value, as a first-person narrative of a patriot who joined the intelligence community for the right reasons, and left the sinking ship after honorably pointing out the flaws to his bosses, who remain typical not invested here lifers (this is generally the case across the IC).
+ Analysts segregated, no inter-regional, issue, or agency integration and interaction.
+ High turnover (for the last decade more analysts quit FBI every month than can be recruited--the best and the brightest do NOT like idiot bosses). This results in an inexperienced middle management as the dead-beats move up.
+ Products rarely reached the intended audience, and products finally reaching Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff never ever resembled what actually started out as an honest pessimistic assessment.
+ Months of indiscriminate editiing resulted in drastic differences. I can attest from experience and the literature that CIA is just as ineffectual).
+ Many patriotic intelligence analysts as well as career military felt that the Administration and the flag officers took their eye off the ball, invading Iraq and creating infuriated nationalists, instead of focusing on a handful of terrorists.
+ Supervisors lied regularly to everyone.
+ Iraq was dust, mosquitos, heat, and constant organizational chaos and reorganization with virtually no real production that was actionable. The one exception was the "track and whack" group in which the author was fortunate to serve.
+ DIA failed to coordinate with the in-country Combined Intelligence Operations Center (CIOC) before it sent its single most significant contingent to Iraq. For that one right there I would hope Director of DIA figured out who embarrassed his agency and counseled the individual.
* Institutional knowledge (retained knowledge that outlives turnover) is virtually non-existent.
+ The tactical units in the field could not handle Top Secret or Top Secret communications and computing technology. I have this image in my head of an elephant trying to blow his nose down a straw to a gnat.
+ "Disaster continued to be perpetuated by failed leadership and the absence of a coherent intelligence or military strategy."
+ Inter-agency choas in Iraq.
+ DIA complained about its analysts in Iraq working too hard because their overtime came out of its budget. This reminds of the message from CIA complaining about my asking to be reimbursed for hotel rooms when I had to go underground in El Salvador after an explicit by-name assassination threat from the Colonels running the country (they confused my effort5s to penetrate the extreme left with sympathy for the extreme left--I did not have it then, I certainly do now). The message said that since I was receiving a housing allowance, I could not have the hotel rooms approved. I had a very very good Chief of Station, a real talent, and as I like to recall the story, he sent back a one-liner: "What part of assassination do you not understand?" The DC-based officers tend to be pasty-faced overwight prima donnas with no real commitment to those in the field. This is true across all agencies, and especially FBI and DEA.
+ The author has the grace to include a snapshot of a more typical person in Iraq, a military reservist whose life has been essentially ruined by the cavalier manner in which Cheney and Rumsfeld decided to lie to the public, invade Iraq, let the contractors steal billions without doing the reconstruction, and now he comes back to a recession with no job.
+ The author says that many in Iraq, realizing they could neither complain nor repair their lot, "checked out mentally." This breaks my heart.
+ A very important part of his book discusses how units sent to capture targets would often come back with 50 people they snapped up in the general area, each of them presumed guilty, each sent to "Abu G" for three months. The author is morally shaken by this, as I have been shaken by Mike Hayden's two impeachable offenses (warrantless wiretapping and rendition plus torture).
+ The author posits that Iraq is not an insurgency, but rather a unique mix of a failed state (remember, Rumsfeld would not allow the troops necessary to keep good order while reconstruction proceeded apace), criminal opportunism, especially kidnapping for ransom, a few fanatics, and a majority of outraged anti-occupation nationalists in three flavors (Sunni, Shi'ite, Kurd).
+ While in Iraq, occasionally commuting by helicopter to the Green Zone, an oasis in the desert, the author comments that US leaders, both in DC and in Iraq itself, were totally oblivious to the "turmoil and dissatisfaction in daily Iraqi life." I am reminded of the exposes of how Blackwater and others have indiscriminately killed civilians, rammed cars driven by old men off the road, and so on.
+ DIA's Office of Iraq Analysis "had a veneer of control, under which minor anarchy raged."
+ The DIA Way: Kiss Up, Kick Down (as the author experienced it--those I know in the JMITC, PGIP, and now the NDIC are a breed apart in a most positive way).
+ Idiocy of DoD priorities--too many flat screen TV's, not enough desktop computer terminals and screens.
+ In Iraq, US officers and media both seduced by English-speaking Iraqis, and totally oblivious to the deeper nuances available in indigenous language about domestic views, concerns, and links.
+ In the Pentagon, personally witnessed the politicization of analysis that continues to this day. Senior officers including the Navy J-2 Admiral now heading to CENTCOM J-2 as I understand it, always deleting pessimism and squelching reports on how badly reconstruction was going.
+ The real star in this book--but I totally respect this author and his good judgment in leaving the ship of fools--is DISL Rick MacKenzie. SecDef Gates and DNI McConnell would do well to read pages 176-177 of this book. For the rest of you, here are the highlights from MacKenzie's parting note to all that began with the underlying insanity quote above:
- Unified honest warning works, edited disparate warning is idiocy
- Human behavior is predictable, yet we like to count things and ignore the human factors
- We have no clue how alien we are to other cultures
- The indicators are never wrong. If we are true to the evidence (we are not) we will be right more often than not.
- Analysis is not the same as synthesis, diagnosis, or prognosis (nor would I add, is propaganda, deception, active lies to the public, or fabrication)
- Intelligence analysis is a profession in its own right. I am reminded of Jack Davis (search for <analytic tradecraft>.
The author concludes his book by dismissing most of what the US Intelligence Community accesses, and states that he has found useful truths in non-traditional online media, which he calls a "true meritocracy."
I put this book down enormously impressed with this author's intelligence, balance, gifted writing, relevant observation, and total honesty. This is precisely the kind of patriotic committed person we are recruiting, and sadly, he is one of the few with the courage to leave. Those he left behind, absent a remarkable turning of the secret world right-side up and right-side in (search for <Forbes Reinventing Intelligence>) will, if they do not leave now, become the very bitter, narrow, inept, egotistical fools they now report to.
WOW. See also (I am limited to ten links, see my own books and the lists of hundreds of intelligence books I have reviewed, most of which support both my original 1988-2000 reclama, and this author's current reclama. NOTHING HAS CHANGED--WE'VE JUST POURED GASOLINE ON THE FIRE.
These books are intelligence books. I have an entire other list on political and falg officer malfeasance, high crimes, and misdemeanors. the first two books on the list below was not widely disseminated, but precisely matche the author's book, only for the CIA.
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
War Without Windows: A True Accout of a a Young Army Officer Trapped in an Intelligence Cover-Up in Vietnam.
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA
Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947
Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency
The last book, after summarizing all that NSA is trying to do, spending tens of billions of dollars very foolishly, ends by hoping the might one day achieve the ultimate computing device, weighing virtually nothing, powered by a tiny battery, able to make petaflops of calculations per nanosecond: "the human brain."
Our government, and our secret intelligence community, are so totally screwewd up as to defy belief. I certainly would like to have a chance to restore the honor and intelligence of the secret world, but the chances of either (me or them) happening is right up there with the Second Coming. Our Nation will go down in flames because our government is clinically insane. See Running on Empty for why 2008 needs to break the backs of the two branches of legalized organized crime in this country, namely the Republican and Democratic parties. INDEPENDENCE!
See the images I have loaded above, the tell the story in pictures.
Bottom line: if you have even a passing interest in the subject, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book - you will not regret it.