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Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform (Hoover Studies in Politics, Economics, and Society) Hardcover – March 23, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Crisply written, knowledgeable, and cant-free, [Posner's] Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform combines common sense and the more uncommon insights of 'organizational theory' to describe the way intelligence works―and sometimes doesn't. (James Murphy Times Literary Supplement)

Posner's continued study of reforms in our Intelligence structure since 9/11 is illuminating and constructive. Uncertain Shield makes a major contribution to the debate over how best to insure America's security. (Henry Kissinger)

If anyone wants to understand why the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 is largely misguided and what steps might actually improve the Intelligence Community's performance, Judge Posner's Uncertain Shield is required reading. A first-rate analysis of an arcane and difficult subject. (William E. Odom, Lieutenant General, USA, Retired, and former Director of the National Security Agency)

Relentlessly lucid and insightful, Uncertain Shield is easily the best contemporary analysis of the U.S. Intelligence community available. Judge Posner's book should be read by all who are concerned with state of America's intelligence community, and his advice should be heeded by all who are responsible for it. (Richard A. Falkenrath, The Brookings Institution, and former White House Deputy Homeland Security Advisor)

There he goes again: Irrepressible Judge Richard Posner's lambasting of the Bush administration's intelligence reorganization is getting a lot of attention, including at the CIA, which invited the chief of the 7th Circuit to lead a seminar on his latest book, Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform. (Jeff Stein, National Security Editor, CQ Staff)

As Judge Posner demonstrates - in an arresting book that is effective because the analyst is an authoritative but agenda-free outsider whose writing style is crystal-clear and whose principal tool is sober analysis - this caution-to-the-wind approach to something as imperative to our security as competent intelligence has potentially left us even more vulnerable to attack than we were before September 11. (Andrew C. McCarthy, bestselling author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad and The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the West Sabotage America The New York Sun)

About the Author

Richard A. Posner is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of hundreds of articles and nearly four dozen books, including Preventing Surprise Attacks (2005), Public Intellectuals (2002), Breaking the Deadlock (2001), and An Affair of State (1999). He lives in Chicago, Illinois.
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Product Details

  • Series: Hoover Studies in Politics, Economics, and Society
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1 edition (March 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074255127X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742551275
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,566,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has a good deal to recommend it. Perhaps its highest virtue is that its author Judge Richard A. Posner is not an intelligence professional or even a groupie of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). As a result, Posner is unusually objective in his analysis of the IC and the two reports which have precipitated its so called reformation. Another commendable virtue of the book is that Posner writes in clear jargon free prose and expresses himself with great accuracy.

He does a great service by providing the reader with a careful analysis of both the 9/11 Commission Report and the WMD Report which were the catalysts for the congressionally mandated reforms in the IC, particularly the creation of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI). Posner applies impressive logic to the task and reveals a host of short comings and failings in both reports. The center piece of this book, however, is his reiteration of an argument he made in a previous book, "Remaking Domestic Intelligence" in which he makes a strong case for a domestic intelligence agency independent of the FBI. This indeed is a book clear of the vague musings and fuzzy recommendations so often found in books on reforming the IC.

Yet this reviewer must fault one of Posner's premises on which his argument is built, namely that, "intelligence is inherently and incurably mistake prone" (P. 208) and therefore the criticisms of IC found in both the (/11 and WMD reports are unfair and inappropriate. No one will dispute that producing accurate intelligence is a dicey business. It is nonetheless a leap of logic to extrapolate from this that the IC, and especially the CIA, is blameless in regards to the 9/11 catastrophe and the Iraqi WMD fiasco.
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Format: Hardcover
Why can't there be more books like this one? This slim volume contains more insight than many books three times its size. "Uncertain Shield" is a follow-up to Posner's previous book "Surprise Attacks", and while either book can stand on its own, I recommend reading both. Surprise Attacks addressed the deficiencies in the 9/11 Commission's recommendation, and the resulting flaws in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. In "Uncertain Shield," Posner extends his critique to include the recommendations of the WMD Commission.

One of Posner's major arguments in "Uncertain Shield" is that that WMD Commission's recommendations actually contradicted its own observations. The intelligence community's inability to accurately determine Saddam Hussein's WMD capabilities was a problem of "groupthink" - always a potential problem in any intelligence system, but one exacerbated with greater centralization. Oddly, the WMD Commission, nevertheless, recommended even greater centralization.

Posner argues that the approach for both the 9/11 and the WMD Commission was to assumed that intelligence was broken without determining the limitations inherit in the business of intelligence. He criticizes both commissions for rushing to recommend reorganization of the intelligence community without examining the unintended consequences of that reorganization. Drawing on established organizational theory, Posner shows us some of those consequences. For example, both commissions failed to distinguish coordination from command, advocating a top heavy organization, far removed from the subtle indicators that intelligence depends on for accurate prediction.

Posner is critical of the WMD Commission for making recommendations base only on shallow analysis.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the second of two books critical of the 9-11 Commission, both double-spaced, both approaching the issue of intelligence reform from a legalistic-organizational-economic point of view, right down to including arcane formulas incomprehensible to most people.

My reaction as I went through the foot-notes was that this was a bunch of old guys, many associated with the Hoover Institute or themselves failed insiders, talking to one another. There are however, sufficient side notes in the book to have been worthwhile, even though much of what the author discusses is "old hat" for those of us that have spent the last eighteen years being critical of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

The following points made it to my fly-leaf review:

1) Provides very strong critique of the WMD Commission as "critical overkill." I would add to that that the WMD Commission displayed a conflict of interest in suggesting that CIA could handle open source collection and analysis after decades of abusive irrational prejudice against open sources.

2) The author is completely off track when he says early on that Congress is not to be blamed for intelligence failures. Perhaps he is unaware of the fact that the Boren-McCurdy National Security Act of 1992 was undermined by then Secretary of Defense Cheney, but totally derailed by Senator John Warner of Virginia, who first sidelined reform to the Aspin-Brown Commission, then opposed all the recommendations, encouraged several DCI's in succession to do the same, and continues to this day to demand that the Pentagon control 85% of the NATIONAL intelligence budget because both the Pentagon and the bulk of those agencies are in VIRGINIA.
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