Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Principles of Spying

SANTA FE The recommendations presented in the 9/11 Commission report address the basic principles of intelligence gathering that have been with us since the beginning of human interaction.
The basic concepts are not new. They have nothing to do with science and technology. The merely deal with how intelligence should be gathered, organized and disseminated.
Roswell author/historian David Clary, who currently is researching a book on the close relationship that developed between Gen. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, says our national leaders could learn basically the same principles by studying the intelligence system established by the two that helped our guys win the Revolutionary War. The following are those principles.
1. Know what you want to know. The two made their instructions about the kind of information they wanted from their spies clear and concise, but without giving too much away to their spies, especially in case they were caught.
2. Be critical. Spies must evaluate for their superiors, the source and reliability of their information and offer conclusions. But they must always pass on all information even if appears contradictory or contrary to what the commander wants to hear.
3. Act on intelligence only within your powers. Defer to the commander decisions to act that are within his purview.
4. Keep your ear to the ground. Lafayette read every newspaper he could get, waylaid anyone passing by and wrote letters by the hundreds – all to extract information.
5. Generate information. Lafayette’s letters were designed to elicit information and made friends in many places who would share information.
6. Understand the difference between political, commercial and military intelligence. They often overlap and the information gatherer shouldn’t be the sole judge of who needs what. That is a current problem – called stove piping.
7. Realize that it takes money. Informants don’t provide free information. If they do, be suspicious. The Continental Army was always strapped for money. Lafayette had plenty, which he used to set up elaborate spy networks.
8. Generate misinformation. When Washington expected his orders likely would be intercepted, he sent misinformation. Such deception helped defeat Cornwallis.
9. Recognize that secrets have short lives. Information should be sent on rather than ruminated over too long. This is a glaring weakness of our present system. If information eventually is passed on, it often is outdated, such as the August bank terror alert.
10. Mistakes will happen. It’s part of the process. The current administration’s pre-9/11 intelligence appears lazy, negligent and stupid. But would anyone have done better without the hindsight we have now?
The biggest problems in our current intelligence-gathering system relate to Principle 2. Demands from the White House and the National Security Council for findings that support preconceptions led to our current situation in Iraq.
This is not just a problem of the current administration. Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan made similar demands. Presidents with military or intelligence backgrounds, such as Dwight Eisenhower and Bush, Sr. understand Principle 2.
Following the Gulf War, the senior Bush made an eloquent argument for not having gone for the kill. The former CIA chief had listened to his intelligence team’s warnings that if we toppled Iraq, we would spend decades trying to stabilize it. He passed that information on to Bush, Jr. without success.
The 9/11 Commission’s recommendation of an intelligence czar to coordinate all information gathering sounds good, but it has been tried before. Following World War II, we created the Central Intelligence Agency to centralize intelligence in a director of central intelligence. But turf battles among the many existing information-gathering agencies prevented the director from doing his job.
Will one more layer of bureaucracy do the job this time? It might be better just to go back and relearn the intelligence system that helped create our great nation.


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