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The wisdom of laying siege to Najaf

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Before starting any discussion on Arabs and Middle Eastern Muslims, I keep in mind this Bedouin saying:

"My full brother and I against my half-brother, my brother and I against my father, my father's household against my uncle's household, our two households (my uncle's and mine) against the rest of the immediate kin, the immediate kin against non-immediate members of my clan, my clan against other clans, and, finally, my nation and I against the world."

The many-to-many relationships of interacting clans is much more useful to understanding this area than is the concept of a nation-state. Indeed, Saddam Hussein acted much like Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia in restraining this web of conflicting relations that US forces released at the fall of Saddam.

Juan Cole (Middle East history at the University of Michigan) writes with much nuance on the region. In a recent PBS Newshour interview with Ray Suarez, both Cole and Reuel Gerecht (ex CIA DO now at the American Enterprise Institute) weighed in on the merit of entering Najaf. Both academic and operative were firmly against it. I find it astonishing that we can be massing at the gates of what a US commander has called the 'Shite Vatican.' Yes, I appreciate the threat of force as a negotiating tactic but if our bluff were called we would face a fearsome endgame. Here is a snippet of that exchange:

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Cole, the commanding officer of those troops, U.S. troops outside Najaf, said today, 'look at this as the Shiite Vatican, a single shot in Najaf could outrage the Shia majority.' He seems to be well aware of the delicacy of his mission. Is that a good analogy? Is Najaf the Shiite Vatican?

JUAN COLE: It is an excellent analogy and it should be remembered that the implications of U.S. invasion of Najaf would go far beyond Iraq.

All the Shiites in the world, in Lebanon, in Iran, in Bahrain and Pakistan and Afghanistan would be outraged by such an action and there would be terrible repercussions possibly for the United States in moving in this way.

And the problem is the U.S. military authorities have said that they want to either capture or kill Muqtada al Sadr. I don't understand this aspiration. If they capture him, there will be demonstrations by all of his fanatical followers -- and they are not miniscule in number. Every day in many cities until he is released, there will be hostage taking in hopes of trading hostages for him. If he is killed, then they will go into a guerilla insurgency. There has to be a third way -- possibly finding a way to exile him to a neighboring country without harming him.

Having US forces (read Infidels) at the gates of the Shite Vatican at all, much less without a plan other than to lay siege, is numbing. It is difficult to operate solely on unclass information, but one wonders who is thinking of the immediate secondary effects much less the longer term effects. It reminds me of the change that I so often level at Israelis in their dealings with the Palestinians: They win every battle and lose every war.

Even as I write things are moving rapidly as the US has enlisted Iran to offer temporary sanctuary to al Sadr after he surrenders to the grand ayatollahs who will then negotiate with US authorities. Cole is surprised that the US would seek Iranian assistance, thinking it a "sign of real desperation on the part of the Bush administration to turn to the Axis of Evil for help."

Cole warns that once Iran is in Iraqi politics that it will not be easy to get it out.

Gordon Housworth



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Staff Statement No. 11 identifies critical path identification failure

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My ears were ringing as Philip Zelikov read the summary of Staff Statement No. 11, "The Performance of the Intelligence Community."  It was the lead paragraph of the section, Warning and the Case of Aircraft as Weapons:

"Since the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941, the Intelligence Community has devoted generations of effort to understanding the problem of warning against surprise attack. Rigorous analytic methods were developed, focused in particular on the Soviet Union. Several leading practitioners within the Intelligence Community discussed them with us. They have been articulated in many ways, but almost all seem to have at least four elements in common: (1) think about how surprise attacks might be launched; (2) identify telltale indicators connected to the most dangerous possibilities; (3) where feasible, collect intelligence against these indicators; and (4) adopt defenses to deflect the most dangerous possibilities or at least get more warning. Concern about warning issues arising after the end of the Gulf War led to a major study"

The staff report noted that "laboriously developed" methods to detect [Soviet] surprise attack had languished, save for interest in al Qaeda's NBCR (nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological) weapons.

Report 11 then enumerated a large numbers of attempted uses of aircraft as weapons, but noted:

"These past episodes suggest possibilities. Alone, they are not warnings. But, returning to the four elements mentioned above [the] CTC did not analyze how a hijacked aircraft or other explosives-laden aircraft might be used as a weapon. If it had done so, it could have identified that a critical obstacle would be to find a suicide terrorist able to fly large jet aircraft. This had never happened before 9/11."

What was not explicitly stated is that these episodes happened over some years in diverse regions on the watch of many analysts under different reporting structures.  There was no unifying trigger theme.  This is the failure to understand a critical path of the terrorist's supply chain that we have pressed upon in our private distributions: terrorist access to, and control of, the flight deck. Our analysis showed that from Mohammed Atta's arrival into the US, the goal was access and control of a flight deck, first with light twin-engine aircraft converted to 'crop dusters,' and only when that approached failed, did Atta and the group shift to commandeering flight decks of commercial aircraft. We have seen that argument extended to freight and cargo aircraft and we have since made the argument that flight deck control can be remote as in UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) here and here.

Richard Clarke told the committee that he "attributed his awareness to novels more than any warnings from the Intelligence Community." Airliner-as-weapon was not the only failed analysis:

"There was, for example, no evident Intelligence Community analysis of the danger of boat bombs before the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000, although expertise about such means of attack existed within the Community, especially at the Office of Naval Intelligence."

In hindsight, it is effortless to connect the lack of visualization of a hijacked aircraft-as-weapon (or inflatable boat as weapon) to absence of identified telltale indicators, to no collection requirements against those telltales, to no effective means of deflection.  That will not protect us from all future threats.  Far from it.

Yes, al Qaeda has pursued certain themes, but it can craft new ones without warning, so to dwell solely on existing themes is to fight yesterday's war. What we must constantly do is look at where are weak, where we allow the perp to penetrate our perimeter or allow him or her to get "close enough," where there are exploitable lapses in our command, control and communication. Only then can we try to think asymmetrically as al Qaeda does so well.

Gordon Housworth



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What is al Qaeda learning from the 9/11 Commission? How will we know?

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Learning is a two way street, and I am not speaking of Republicans and Democrats. We know that al Qaeda and other skilled militants "go to school on us," watching us, our military posture, our attack and defense procedures, our weapons (so that they can defeat, copy, or obtain), and our leverage points.

Nowhere amid the political slanging and efforts to 'pin my tail on your donkey,' do I see anyone asking, What are they learning from the 9/11 Commission and its proceedings - both public testimony and unclass commission documents? What do they see that we dwell upon and what we ignore? What changes in their operations and tradecraft might we expect from their analyses, i.e., what will they stop doing and start doing? How will we know, e.g., what precursors or fuzzy events will signal a shift?

While these questions have passed in and out of mind during the proceedings, a datum that Pickard (acting Director FBI) shared today drove it home.

This is an excellent opportunity for open-source collection and analysis to take an untainted look at the accumulated public record. My concern is that we are in such a spasm of self-discovery and blame fixing, that no one is performing an analysis on our proceedings. Failure to do so can open a window for an unexpected attack.

Gordon Housworth



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Richard Kerr, former Deputy DCI, and others on PBDs

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Richard Kerr, former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, and a preparer of PDBs noted in an NPR interview this morning that the PDB is a "continuity document," that many of its items may be prepared a few days in advance of 'publication,' and that many items rise from an analyst's desk and are refined - as opposed to being written by Kerr or his successor. Kerr had prepared PDBs for Presidents Reagan and Bush.

I also call your attention to a valuable item at The National Security Archive (George Washington University), "The President's Daily Brief" By Thomas S. Blanton, Updated April 12, 2004.

Among the useful items on this page are:

The White House Fact Sheet titled "The August 6, 2001 PDB" that was released along with the 6 August PDB section, in a Q&A format.

A background briefing plus Q&A from two individuals that asked to be referred to as "senior White House officials": White House Briefing on Release of the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief Excerpt "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.," April 10, 2004.

While these latter two documents might be construed as a reasonably sympathetic administration view, they do offer additional information on the PDB.

Gordon Housworth



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Only the zealot and the lucky "have it" on the PDB

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The release of the al Qaeda snippet from the 6 August PDB occasioned a number of pundits, some of whom I otherwise admire, lining up to slang this document into whichever political camp they preferred. Some in this readership may have done likewise.

I am still trying to figure out what I think I read. Perfectly clear, you say? Rubbish. Let me share a related example: How many of you are aware that if Condi Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission had been under a court of law (such as Clinton's impeachment trial) that her responses would have landed her in contempt of court on multiple occasions? She and the administration knew that the public watching would not know that and, as this was not a court proceeding, she could move to control the limited public time and make her questioners look like ogres. This takes nothing away from her performance. I am just telling you that I might have seen something different that you did.

As to the PDB, without knowing it, we are all trying to interpret one of the smallest distribution "newsletters" on the planet, the President's Daily Brief. It is said to be the most closely held document in a government where chimney building is rampant and control over information is power. The PDB is said to be an art form, a daily document that tries to be forceful without being alarmist. (There are in fact many pressures to resist alerts, many for good reasons.) Supposedly anything seen to hold a smoking gun "goes downtown" immediately and does not wait for the PDB, although a later PDB may well reflect follow-up and tracking.

Any reader familiar with my writings has heard me speak of misevaluating a "still frame from a motion picture." So it is with this PDB snippet. Its release will demand more information in order to put it in the appropriate context. Each PDB is a ten plus page document, so we need to know where the snippet sat in the order of issues of that PDB, how many other related items preceded and followed it in other PDBs, what steps did the president put in place as a result, and what follow-up occurred when to what effect. There are likely more questions to ask.

While my jury is still out, I am reminded that in previous great surprises such as Pearl Harbor (where we knew the Japanese were going to attack but did not guess Pearl) and Normandy (where the Germans knew that the Allies were going to launch an amphibious invasion but did not know where and so did not alert the proper divisions) that we may not always know the precise where and when even we are reading some of the enemy's mail.

On the other hand, I am remember that the first months of the Bush administration were marked by what has been called the "incuriosity" of the sitting president in foreign affairs. As I am adjacent to the Canadian border, my Canadian colleagues relish the question put to candidate Bush shortly after he had been stung in a pop quiz about foreign leaders. Candidate Bush fell victim to a foreign affairs trap when he responded on-air to a "comic posing as a reporter made up a story that Canadian Prime Minister "Jean Poutine" had endorsed him as "the man to lead the United States into the next millennium." (Canada's prime minister at the time was Jean Chretien and he did not endorse any US candidate.)

To hear the Canadians tell it, Bush fell into the flattery trap (as had the governor of Michigan and a top Bush adviser to the same question) and replied that, "I appreciate his strong statement, he understands I believe in free trade," Bush replied.

Poutine is a plate of french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curd popular in Quebec.

Again I submit that only the zealot and the lucky think that they "have it" on the PDB. We need more information to make a reasoned decision.

Gordon Housworth



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FBI as a contender for 11 September culpability

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As the FBI attempts to transforms "into an agency that can prevent terrorist acts, rather than react to them as criminal acts, " a reader must be diligent in seeking a thoughtful, apolitical analysis of the issues and options for the bureau, DoJ, and Congress.

I do not pretend to understand the GAO but I am told by some I trust that it can play a bit of politics in what it chooses to investigate and can certainly be fed information backchannel upon which it can launch an investigation. The CRS, or Congressional Research Service, is a research arm of Congress that, to my notice, not been accused of same.

Although CRS reports are not readily available to the public, they can be harvested as a source of thoughtful and balanced information that has the ability to draw upon resources through the government. Heretofore they come down as PDFs but, perhaps because of its recent release (6 April), RL32336, "FBI Intelligence Reform Since September 11, 2001: Issues and Options for Congress" by Alfred Cumming and Todd Masse has has been found as an HTML page.

As you might imagine while bureau supporters and detractors alike agree that the bureau's reforms to gather intel by penetrating terrorist cells is a worthy goal, its supporters opine that the "FBI has a long and successful history of such penetrations when it comes to organized crime groups, and suggest that it is capable of replicating its success against terrorist cells" whereas its detractors "say recruiting organized crime penetrations differs dramatically from terrorist recruiting [and that strategic intelligence collection is a qualitatively different function than gathering information on criminal activity]."

I am not alone in the opinion that the bureau 'too often responds to a crime scene' instead of assuming a leading interagency posture needed to gather proactive intel. It is also no secret that I feel that we need an MI-5 equivalent. Yes, I know that is expensive and time consuming but I am price elastic in its achievement as the last figure that I saw for the cost of 11 September was 95 billion in 2001 dollars. I have had the opportunity to read transcripts from some of the cell calls from the towers. Not I, thank you very much.

I am aware of some difficulties within DHS, that resolution will exceed the near-term, and that they are not in a position to provide such an interagency-intersource analysis capacity. I also am of the opinion that there is not enough genuine asymmetrical threat analysis in all the agencies, FBI included. An example is the standard FBI security audit which is a qualitative analysis without a specific counterthreat analysis as opposed to a qualitative approach that moves forward into the shooters mission to identify them in their surveillance period.

While new bureau recruits are said to be steeped in national security and counterterrorism, foreign and domestic, it is very difficult to shift a reactive law enforcement mentality into a proactive intelligence approach to terrorism. The FBI will have to demonstrate that it can quickly gain the capacity to "collect, analyze and disseminate domestic intelligence so that it can help federal, state and local officials stop terrorists before they strike."

The CRS report goes so far as to criticize FBI leadership for their lack of experience in intelligence, thus calling into question the ability of current reforms to achieve the needed transformation. Whether by design or by serendipity, this debate regarding the future of the FBI and policy choices available to legislators, crosses the 9/11 Commission's work in attempting to determine who knew what when.

As I read items such as Briefing on Al Qaeda Included Specifics I wonder if the FBI will be set up as the group to take the fall -- or at least the lions share of culpability. I had thought that it might be Rice but given the gentle nudges in the Times and Post, the FBI grows in contention.

Briefing on Al Qaeda Included Specifics
White House Says Declassification of Pre-9/11 Document Will Be Delayed
By Walter Pincus and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 10, 2004; Page A05

RL32336 -- FBI Intelligence Reform Since September 11, 2001: Issues and Options for Congress
April 6, 2004
Alfred Cumming, Specialist in Intelligence and National Security, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division
Todd Masse, Specialist in Domestic Intelligence and Counterterrorism, Domestic Social Policy Division

Gordon Housworth



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Latin American graft: collateral damage of war on terror

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For more than a decade, Miami has been said to be the 'capital of Central America.' Gaining residence in that capital, and retaining the means to support oneself there, may be slightly less easy than in the past due to two tools occasioned by the Patriot Act:

(1) Pursuit of US assets of foreigners convicted of corruption in their native countries

(2) Denial or revocation of visas for PEPs (politically exposed persons)

Corruption in Latin America: Harder graft notes that historically, visas could be revoked only for crimes such as drug-trafficking, war crimes, and immigrant smuggling. Concerns over national security are driving an attack on public corruption and its illegal web of moving money, people, and objects that can be co-opted as a "dual use" tool by terrorists attempting to smuggle explosives, weapons, or operatives into the US or to launder its own money.

Given the porosity of our southern and maritime borders, and the proximity of fertile grounds, this is useful even if it temporarily disrupts the current channels.

I am surprised that the second driver is a new found desire not to squander US funds on corrupt regimes. As Louis said, "I'm shocked - shocked - to find gambling is going on in here!"

Corruption in Latin America: Harder graft
Apr 7th 2004 | MIAMI
From The Economist print edition

Gordon Housworth



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Applied competitive behavior: "The Battle of Algiers"

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Certain films and books so capture a feeling or describe an event that they transcend what textbooks have to say about the subject. If you want to understand the eviscerating, incapacitating terror that a guerilla group can instill in a local population, you only have to read Jim Corbett's slim work, "The Man eating Leopard of Rudraprayag." Killing over 120 people in eight years, a single leopard paralyzed a region, forcing the British to offer massive rewards, send in a Gurkha army, and employ all manner of hunters, traps and poisons - all to no avail - until Corbett bagged it in 1926. Every special ops guy to whom I recommended the Leopard has treasured it.

If you want to understand the ruthless, no quarter growth and suppression of an insurrection and guerilla war, you have only to watch Gillo Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers." While I admit to a love of the films of Pontecorvo and Constantin Costa-Gavras as few other have so well painted political oppression and fascist states, I first saw Algiers after returning from Asia. While everyone else in the audience seemed to be a war protester that had 'yet to go,' I had come back having already made my uneasy peace with tactical necessity. The film was like an exquisite text and resonates with me still today.

Reprising a private note of Sept 2003, "I think it inspired that someone in the Pentagon recently had Algiers screened for a group of serving officers as we slip into such an insurgency in Iraq. The open, easy US soldier attitude of the first few weeks has vanished thanks to the attacks, succeeding in the first goal of isolating "us" from "them" so that corrosion commences on both sides. Demonization is soon to follow. We only have to watch for the equivalent of zips, slops, slants, and gooks and we are there."

Mercifully I do not hear those words, but the conflict has become increasingly grisly. The French plan succeeded tactically but ultimately lost the war. DeGaul ended it by withdrawing the French forces but was nearly assassinated for his trouble and French society, politics, and the military were riven for years. I can attest to the allure of tactical means in dealing with clandestine terrorists and what I used to call "the art of interviewing those who desperately don't want to be interviewed."

"During the last four decades the events re-enacted in the film and the wider war in Algeria have been cited as an effective use of the tactics of a "people's war," where fighters emerge from seemingly ordinary lives to mount attacks and then retreat to the cover of their everyday identities. The question of how conventional armies can contend with such tactics and subdue their enemies seems as pressing today in Iraq as it did in Algiers in 1957. In both instances the need for on-the-ground intelligence is required to learn of impending attacks. Even in a world of electronic devices, human infiltration and interrogations remain indispensable, but how far should modern states go in the pursuit of such information?"

If it at all possible for you to see Algiers, I recommend that you should. This is a "low-intensity war" or "asymmetrical warfare" in the flesh with both sides at once human and monster. You can gain an understanding of how a guerilla operates, what a patient al Qaeda operative looks and waits for, and how a conventional force attempts to counter and subdue it when the high tech tools of the day do not yield an easy fix. Unless we can engineer a better solution -- and I am not advocating withdrawal -- folks will indeed start to say 'I have men down, worse, in pieces, no one will know, and this guy can tell us what we need to know.'

Note that while Kaufman's original article has scrolled off to archives, the text is mirrored in many locations such as here and a useful Battle of Algiers study guide here.

What Does the Pentagon See in 'Battle of Algiers'?
By MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN
September 7, 2003
New York Times

Gordon Housworth



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Declassifying the 6 August PDB

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Declassifying a PDB is not, and should not be, a trivial event as it is the net summary, what I call a still frame from a motion picture, containing both the donut and the hole (what we are looking at and what we aren't), of the priorities of the day based upon accumulated prior tasking. There is drag-along in these docs above the specifics on content.

Complicate that with political survival and the matter becomes increasingly sticky. As one colleague mentioned offline, the White House "was simply thinking run and they got pass." In the case of this PDB, some of whose particulars were mentioned in newspaper articles in May 2002, a House-Senate inquiry into intelligence failures in July 2003, and has been summarized, still in classified form, for some of the 9/11 commissioners, it may contain both predictive as well as historical (called 'analytic' in this context) information.

As Von Drehle noted in "Zeroing In on One Classified Document" (W Post), "When the Washington investigative machinery gets rolling, it takes a major event to stop it. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice's defense of the Bush anti-terrorism effort at yesterday's hearing before the 9/11 commission was not enough." Von Drehle commented that it was insufficient as it did not quell the second of Clarke's two claims:

(1) Administration ignored of Clarke's plans for disrupting al Qaeda in early 2001
(2) "[Top] officials, including Bush and Rice, were listless in the face of the summertime "threat spike.""

I submit that Rice's testimony, beyond not countering the second claim, raised the bar for an administration that will lose more political capital, as it did in delaying Rice's sworn public testimony, until this PDB is released in full - at least those portions having to do with al Qaeda. Yes, the administration will have the task of managing hindsight analysis in a political year, but only when it is released will we be able to see what material was reasonably predictive and what was analytic -- and from that draw an opinion as to the level of effort being done to obtain predictive information.

I have the rising fear that on this issue, the White House 'might have been thinking time out and they got pass.' I want to see that PDB and I want to hear good intel folks comment on it to put it in the context of the day. I submit that further delay, national security matters aside, is a self-inflicted wound.

Briefing on Al Qaeda Included Specifics
White House Says Declassification of Pre-9/11 Document Will Be Delayed
By Walter Pincus and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 10, 2004; Page A05

Gordon Housworth



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The administration would gain much by listening to James Heskett

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Who is James Heskett, you ask, as you rifle through your list of authorities on defense and strategy?

Forget defense and think services and service delivery. Heskett, in concert with Sasser and Schlesinger, are acknowledged masters in the field of services. And what is government if not a services providers to its customers aka citizens who must periodically renew their subscription service, i.e. vote.

Where do I want to start? Customer recovery. Clients want flawless service but they are generally realists and understand that things break periodically. What is essential in retention is how the seller recovers -- how well and how fast. Heskett has said, "Customer retention results from customer satisfaction, which is determined largely by the value the customer perceives."

I maintain that people only buy, and keep buying, for two reasons; to make themselves happy, or to remove themselves from fear or want. If I don’t do either in sufficient numbers, why would anyone "buy" from me? In a 1997 article, I wrote that, "Customer dissatisfaction measures can be more revealing than satisfaction measures. Customer retention rates, repurchase rates, and defection rates are critical as leading indicators of future customer behavior."

Whether you agree or disagree with the current administration, I will 'lead the witness' by suggesting there is a sufficient amount of dissatisfaction that could result in a change of service provider. Heskett often remarks that poor service is by design, that "[most] service failures are not failures… They have been designed into the system by choices senior management have made [creating] a self-reinforcing system that establishes a cycle of failure. The current administration inherited much from it predecessors and can but with difficulty make sweeping changes. The best that it can hope for is a laser-like attention to items that reflect the needs of the time.

This is where I submit that the president needs Heskett more than he needs Rove. If you read Tom Friedman, you know where I am going: Apologize, say what you have learned, what you will do differently, i.e., recover, and move on. Americans are a reasonably forgiving lot.

Where is an apology needed? If you read either Jeffrey Record or Dick Clarke, it is that al Qaeda was not a top concern for the White House. (I listened sympathetically to Condoleezza Rice's testimony and heard nothing new in this respect.) Second, some of the president's direct reports guessed wrong as to what was the correct priority order for administration attention. Terrorism as we now know it was not in the five top issues of the administration.

For me, the central theme of Rice's testimony was what I would call an "infrastructure defense," that it was the infrastructure that failed a sitting president. Were I a Democratic advisor I would be overjoyed at the prospect of using this to beat the administration. How? Simply because in any failed or uncommunicative infrastructure, corporate or government, it is precisely the ability to "shake the trees" over a critical issue that knocks enough heads together to allow actionable information to flow. But if you did not choose the right reason for tree shaking, or did not shake at all, then that could be construed as a fundamental lapse in vision or leadership.

I wish this were not an election year as I fear that a knee-jerk attack or defense of the sitting president will muffle or distort recommendations that must, must, change the way that our internal (FBI et al) and external (CIA et al) intel assets function.

If any of you have read the Western human target manifesto that has risen on al Qaeda sites, you might surmise that, here and abroad, you and I need all the help we can get.

Gordon Housworth



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