Unknown Intelligence?

When I saw the topic for Glenn Reynolds' Carnival of the Pre-War Intelligence -- "what was known going into the war in Iraq, who knew it, and more importantly, what should we have known that we didn't?" -- I sighed. That's because I'm not a war blogger, never served in the military, don't have any sort of security clearance or access to "military intelligence." So what I could I say or offer which might be of any conceivable value? I'd just be adding clutter to the blogjam.

At the risk of boring readers by repeating what has been widely discussed, evidence from publicly available sources has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt what no one needs a security clearance to know: that longstanding pre-war intelligence not only indicated the presence of al Qaida operative Mohammad Atta in the United States, it also revealed substantial connections between Al Qaida and Iraq as well as evidence of WMDs in Iraq.

  • In 1999 I read Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden, the Man Who Declared War On America. Among other things, Bodansky documented the Iraq/ bin Laden connection. Not surprisingly, no one at the time was surprised. This was before Bush, and before the invention of the "Bush Lied" meme. (Anyone who is interested can read full quotes from the Bodansky book, which I transcribed in May, 2004, only because I was so sick of the "Bush Lied" debate.)
  • The Able Danger investigation (which I and many others have discussed before). Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon calls Able Danger the biggest political scandal since Watergate -- a coverup he terms "criminal":
    This is the sixth person to corroborate Shaffer's claim that Atta was identified prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

    The congressman charged that a former 9/11 Commission staff member, Dieter Snell, deliberately passed up information on "Able Danger." The operation was not included in the commission's final report published in July 2004.

    Snell purposely held back information given to him by Phillpott, the former "Able Danger" team leader, 10 days before the 9/11 Commission report was published to deflect criticism from his colleague, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, Weldon said.

    He said the truth would eventually come out.

    "I know there's going to be egg on the face of the 9/11 Commission," Weldon said.

    Gorelick, who worked in the U.S. Justice Department during the Clinton Administration, is blamed for creating a legal "wall" that previously prevented law enforcement and intelligence agencies from sharing information on suspected terrorists.

    "There's a cover up here," Weldon said. "It's clear and unequivocal."

    There's a growing chorus in Congress for a full-blown investigation, too.

    That American officials had constructive notice is also confirmed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh's WSJ opinion piece (via Glenn Reynolds), in which Freeh makes clear that Atta was identified by the Able Danger team more than a year before the 9/11 attacks.

  • We've all read and reread the litany of quotes from leading Democrats about the threat from Iraq, the WMDs, and the connections to terrorism. My favorite:
    "In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapon stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
    - Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002
  • Former CIA Director George Tenet famously called the evidence of WMDs in Iraq a "slam dunk."
  • There's of course another detail which requires neither military intelligence nor a security clearance to know: this country was infamously attacked on September 11, 2001, and thousands of American civilians were killed.


    None of the above is new or classified, and none of it should come as a revelation.

    As I thought over the problems I face as a civilian with no special knowledge trying to contribute anything to an intelligent discussion of pre-war intelligence, common sense came to my rescue, quite accidentally. I had dinner last night with a friend from New York who was not only in New York on September 11, but he had seen something like it coming.

    Why? How?

    For the same reason that I -- and a lot of other people -- saw it or something like it coming. A little thing called "street smarts." Over dinner last night, we talked about the litany of pre-9/11 stuff you didn't need a security clearance to know about. Things like the first WTC bombing, the Somalia debacle, the Khobar Towers bombing, the African Embassy bombings, and last but not least, the U.S.S. Cole. My friend remarked the obvious: that the enemy had been acting just like a street bully who begins with verbal slights, moves up to stronger words, then maybe a small push, and who finally decides you're a "pussy" and he can just go ahead and deliver what he understandably considers a risk-free beating.

    Let me back up a bit. To childhood. I was the smallest kid in my class, and because of that I had to think about stuff like being picked on by bullies. I developed many strategies, and while it's not my purpose to psychoanalyze myself here, suffice it to say that the notion of a "fair fight" was something I soon discarded as unworkable in the extreme. There's no such thing as a fair fight when dealing with bullies. I don't care whether you use dishonest diplomacy, psychological warfare, or actual combat; whatever tactics work against a bully are the tactics you must use. Anyone who's been bullied or who's been in a street fight knows (or ought to know) this intuitively. We call it "having street smarts."

    If you're attacked by a group of street kids, your best bet is to single out one of them and go all out. You might lose the fight, but at least you've fought, and it will slow down the others a bit. Actually singling out one of the least menacing of the group is one way of increasing your chances of beating them in their game of terror, for they're all cowards.

    This is incredibly obvious stuff for anyone who understands how it works dealing with bullies. Yet for some reason, a lot of people just don't get it, and it seems they never will.

    After September 11, Iraq was no longer a single bully we'd bested in an earlier fight but was still itching for more. Iraq was a member of a whole group of bullies -- any one of which would have been acceptable as a target for retaliation. But Iraq stood out for a lot of reasons -- strategically, militarily, and most important of all psychologically. Terrorism, like schoolyard bullying, is all about psychological war. We had as a nation been shaken down and had our lunch money stolen more than one time too many, and Iraq just stood there. Daring and defiant.

    But patience please. Afghanistan had to be dealt with first. The other bullies would have to stand in line.

    However, once the mission was largely accomplished in Afghanistan, to have not gone after Iraq would additionally have been cowardly and disgraceful. Iraq was a country which refused to cooperate with a previous deal, which provided refuge to the bully which attacked us, offered to allow the bully leaders to settle there, attempted to assassinate our president, had a decades-long policy of development of WMDs, and treated its own people as mercifully as the Romans treated condemned criminals in the arena.

    I knew immediately, intuitively, and from the heart what I didn't need a security clearance or military intel to know.

    Of course, some kids are lucky enough never to have been picked on in school. They may grow to adulthood thinking the world is a nice, civilized place. There are others who probably were bullied and accepted their fate, never fighting back. Or who complied with the bullies' demands. Some kids join the bullies in the hope they'll be left alone. And then there are the bullies themselves. (They're always quick to become victims in the event of resistance, but that's another rant....)

    I guess that will have to do as my way of addressing "what was known going into the war in Iraq," and "who knew it."

    As to "what should we have known that we didn't," I think we failed to take into account that not all Americans have common sense, or street smarts. It may not have been fully taken into account that this might have been both a cause of the 9/11 attacks, as well as a factor in Iraq being so unrecognizable as a threat.

    I wish I could say that all Americans want the bullying to stop. But they don't. Those who think we deserve terrorist attacks are, I'm afraid, lost causes. But there is a majority who want the bullying to stop.

    The problem is, in my view, what to do about the Americans who for whatever reason never got their street smarts. Especially the people who are too "smart" to have street smarts. There are people who simply think that because violence is wrong, self defense against violence is wrong. People with street smarts are often unable to have meaningful dialogue with people who simply think that violence -- which is a form of reality -- can be abolished. People with street smarts tend to see the rejection of self defense as a form of self hatred -- sometimes leading to the misperception that those who reject personal and national self defense are motivated by hatred of their country.

    What has any of this to do with military intelligence, you ask?

    My point is that it shouldn't have required street smarts to have seen this coming. Able Danger (ignored, in my view, by people lacking in street smarts) only confirmed that yes, the bullies were here, yes, they were bad and yes, they were after us.

    The intel was there. But without street smarts, the best military intelligence in the world means nothing.

    Ideally, one should be a component of the other, but we don't live in an ideal world. Public opinion includes a lot of people who don't have street smarts, and not only does their opinion have to be taken into account, so does their absence of street smarts.

    Such people can be presented with the most compellingly overwhelming evidence possible, and they will still ignore it. They'll ignore it before a threat of an attack. They'll ignore it during the attack. And they'll continue to ignore it long after the attack.

    Some people run from things they don't want to know.

    I guess we should have known that.

    While I recognize the need for dialogue on these things, it's probably worth pointing out that the counter-argument -- that "Bush and his gang overstated (to be polite about it) the overstated intelligence" -- is of little relevance to those of us (like my friend and I) who saw Iraq as but one member of a group of bullies. That's because even if it's true that the intel was overstated, that complaint presupposes a duty to engage in a scrupulously "fair fight" with a bully.

    (In other words, if the bully deserved to get his ass kicked, it really shouldn't matter whether that really was a knife you thought he had in his hand.....)

    UPDATE (11/21/05): My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for including this post in the Pre War Intelligence Carnival. More here.

    posted by Eric on 11.20.05 at 01:00 PM


    Excellent analysis.

    My position was then and still is: we dared not take any chances. I say it's far better to have fought this War in Iraq, overthrown Saddam, and found no WMDs than to have not fought, left Saddam in place, and then found out the hard way that he did have WMDs. Besides, as Dean Esmay has pointed out countless times, that wasn't the only reason given for the War. There were 8 or 9 other reasons, including Saddam's butchery of his own people.

    Funny about me. I was the smallest kid in my class, too, a short, skinny little ectomorph (today, I'm a short, skinny little ectomorph with a pot belly). But, for some reason I'm now at a loss to explain, given everything you said, I wasn't bullied that much at all. In 5th grade, I got in a fight with a kid equal in size to me. In 6th grade,I was once pinned to the ground by a girl (I still have fantasies about that). In 7th grade [beginning of junior high school], and then in 10th grade [beginning of high school], some big kids joked around. That was it.

    But I knew a couple of other kids, bigger than me, who were bullied all the time.

    But I must add that the kids who were the meanest bullies back then are some of the nicest adults today. I go to our high school reunions every time we have one, and it's always that way. Some people do grow up, acquire a conscience. A couple of those who were bullied or teased have never come to our reunions because of that, expecting the same behavior at 50 that they got at 16. That's sad.

    Of course, there are evil people who never reform, who will always be bullies, thugs, dictators. But I didn't go to school with them, fortunately.

    I was reminiscing about my own school days. But your analogy, your point, still stands.

    Michael Barone just reminded us all that Pat Moynihan advocated the dissolution of the CIA in the 80s (90s? Who can remember the decade?). They haven't been right since the Cuban missile crisis (East Germany will be the world's second largest economy in 2000). Indeed......

    ed   ·  November 21, 2005 7:53 PM

    Firstly well done on a fantastically written report.

    But...how can you call Iraq a 'Bully'? (For the recornd I am white, British, and non religious) How can you say that Iraq was bullying the US or Britain? Because of 9/11?

    9/11 happened because of the actions of our governments toward other nations.

    The American people, and now the British people too (with the July 7 bombings this year) have paid the price for our governments treatment of other nations.

    We started this fight, therefore we are the bullies.

    CK   ·  November 29, 2005 9:10 PM

    We started it? We're bullies?

    You forget that we were the ones attacked. And my point about street smarts is that an attack requires a defense.

    I think the contention that 9/11 "happened because of the actions of our governments toward other nations" is not only belied by the facts, it's called "blaming the victim." (The same claim could be made about Pearl Harbor -- or a burglar breaking into my house.) Since you don't think the perps of 9/11 were bullies, and I do, there really isn't much to discuss here, and you've missed my point. (I don't know what the status of being "white, British, and non religious" has to do with any of this, and I don't know why you raised it. )

    Anyone who doubts for a moment that Iraq was a bully should consider their long track record.

    You need not go back to the invasion of Kuwait; 1998 will do:


    Eric Scheie   ·  November 29, 2005 10:35 PM

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