A House Republican joint task force has concluded that senior officers at US Central Command did, indeed, "cook the books" on their assessments of ISIS in Iraq and how well the war was going against it. The complaints first surfaced, publicly, a year ago, when it become known that senior intelligence analysts, seconded from the DIA, including some with 20 or more years experience on Iraq, alleged that their analyses were altered to make the war against ISIS look like it was going better than it really was. The allegations were serious enough that the Department of Defense Inspector General opened an investigation, an investigation which is still ongoing.
The Congressional task force, led by chairmen of the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, reports, based on its own inquiry, that "Centcom produced intelligence that was significantly more optimistic than that of other parts of the Intelligence Community and typically more optimistic than actual events warranted." Additionally, "many Centcom press releases, public statements and congressional testimonies were also signficantly more positive than actual events." The task force attributes many of the problems to leadership changes that took place in Centcom after Gen. James Mattis was replaced as Centcom commander by Gen. Lloyd Austin in 2013. Survey results showed that dozens of analysts "viewed the subsequent leadership environment as toxic, with 40 percent of analysts responding that they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year."
The report doesn't name anyone beyond Mattis and Austin, but news reports from last year, identified Maj. Gen. Steven Grove, Centcom‛s top intelligence officer, and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman as the subjects of the analysts' complaints. Grove is now the director of the Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office, at the Pentagon. The New York Times, last year, identified Gregory Hooker as the lead analyst of among fifty in the complaint against Grove and Hooker. More recently, in April of 2016, The Daily Beast reported that two analysts that they didn't name had been forced out of their jobs at Centcom due to their complaints while Hooker has been reassigned to a position in the UK.
The report does not attempt to attribute responsibility for the suppression of intelligence analyses up the chain of command, not even to Austin, much less the White House, though it reports that testimony that Austin delivered to Congressional committees during the time period at issue reflected the rosier-than-reality assessments. Centcom intelligence officials also briefed the Office of National Intelligence, including its director, James Clapper, several times a week, and, according to the report, those assessments were then passed on to the White House.
The question of White House culpability remains an open one, however. A Daily Beast report from September 2015 reported that the upshot was that the altering of intelligence reports impacted assessments of the strategy, itself. Some of the analysts say that the reports overstate the damage being done to ISIS and one result is that the generally optimistic reports may have stalled debate about whether the strategy needed to be reexamined or change course.
Cooking the books on the war on terror is apparently not unique to Centcom, however. The story of the trove of intelligence seized during the 2011 raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed should, it seems to me, if it is accurate, be an even bigger scandal. The main source of the story is Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard who reported in a December 7, 2015 article that the White House had severely limited access to those documents by analysts from the military and other intelligence agencies (outside of the CIA which has control of them) because they contradicted the White House narrative that AQ was weakened and on the run. "Taken together, this new primary-source intelligence undercut happy-talk from the White House about progress in defeating jihadist terror," Hayes wrote. "Al Qaeda wasn't dying; it was growing. The Afghan Taliban wasn't moderating; its leaders were as close to al Qaeda as ever. The same Iranian regime promising to abide by the terms of a deal to limit its nuclear program had provided safe haven for al Qaeda leaders and their families and had facilitated al Qaeda attacks on the interests of the United States and its allies."
"As word of the contents of the documents began to circulate informally in intelligence circles, one official on the team was summoned to Washington and ordered to quit analyzing the documents. … Four sources with knowledge of the bin Laden documents tell TWS that the White House was intimately involved in limiting access to them." Hayes names names, too. Michael Pregent, a DIA analyst on the CENTCOM team, told Hayes that "We were certainly blocked from seeing all the documents, and we were given limited time and resources to exploit the ones we had." Former DIA chief LTG Michael Flynn, Hayes reports, told Fox News that any investigation of the Centcom scandal has to include the White House.
No one should be surprised. DoD has been completely politicized, as have all other departments of the Executive Branch. This has always occurred to a certain extent, but has become systemic and all-inclusive during the last fifteen years.
I wish I could say that I’m surprised but I’m not.
I smell BS:
Hayes wrote. “The same Iranian regime promising to abide by the terms of a deal to limit its nuclear program had provided safe haven for al Qaeda leaders and their families and had facilitated al Qaeda attacks on the interests of the United States and its allies.”
Good call. He writes for the Weekly Standatd aftersll. He had to throw a bone out to the neocons after all.
Beat me to it.
How very odd that “sources” should “reveal” such information.
Isn’t this sort of thing part and parcel of any war? Didn’t Clausewitz note that propaganda was of use in bringing out the best in a country’s own troops as well as demoralizing the enemy? There are, of course, problems when one eats one’s own dogfood. How to serve it up and still retain situational realism seems difficult, if not impossible, for modern Western democracies.
For years we were told that the Iraq and Afghan armies were making great progress and would soon be able to function on their own. I can’t tell if this is all politicization, or if it is concern about promotions (maybe a combination). Junior officers who want to be senior officers sometimes perceive it is best to give their seniors only positive news.
Happy to know you excuse systematic lying. pl
“The story of the trove of intelligence seized during the 2011 raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed should, it seems to me, if it is accurate, be an even bigger scandal.”
Was there any trove?
“‘Despite all the talk,’ the retired official continued, there were ‘no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks. The SEALs weren’t there because they thought bin Laden was running a command center for al-Qaida operations, as the White House would later tell the media. And they were not intelligence experts gather information inside that house.'”
–Seymour Hersh, “The Killing of Osama bin Laden”
I think Hersh is more reliable than Hayes.
Seems to be called “operational reporting” nowadays, if that is what you mean:
interim report, p. 10: “No interview provided any instances where operational reporting was used as a justification to come to a more pessimistic conclusion.”
What’s your take on General James Mattis? Apparently he was forced to retire in 2013. I tried to check what people here wrote about him. Supposedly matters went downhill after he left.
“Mattis is known for implementing the COIN strategy.”
“As head of Central Command, Mattis oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was responsible for a region that includes Syria, Iran, Yemen. The Obama administration did not place much trust in Mattis, because he was perceived to be too eager for a military confrontation with Iran. He retired from the Marine Corps on May 22, 2013.”
“Secret File Confirms Trump Claim: Obama, Hillary ‘Founded ISIS’ to Oust Assad”
“The Obama Administration’s policy of supporting Salafist opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad saw the United States unwittingly support the creation of the Daesh ‘caliphate’ in Syria.
A 2012 defense intelligence report, originally stamped SECRET exposes that the US-backed anti-Assad coalition at the time was spearheaded by al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) that soon after cobbled together to form the Daesh terror network.
The report exposes that while the United States refused to directly aide and support AQI and ISI pursuant to restrictions imposed by domestic anti-terror laws, State Department and Pentagon officials were well aware that the so-called ‘moderate’ rebels were intertwined with the terrorist militants who were the vanguard of the fighting force.
Sputnik references a Judicial Watch doc obtained through FOIA.
I don’t excuse it. I recognize it as a deeply endemic problem in virtually any conflict. As someone that just wants the facts, please, I hate that this goes on. Filtering the bs from fact introduces more uncertainty. When wars are existential it is, perhaps, more excusable. In wars of choice in democratic countries with a more or less free press it is not as the difference between the happy talk and reality inevitably rears its ugly head if things don’t go approximately to plan. It is well understood they usually don’t.
However, what’s missing this time is accountability. Not so much for the false optimism, sadly I think that mindset will always be there, but for the poor decisioning. The consequences of our actions in the ME were forseen by some while others promised roses and an outbreak of enlightened peoples. Looks to me like the group that was wrong is more influential than ever and the group that was right is shunned. That is inexcusable.
If the man at the top is not particularly concerned about getting accurate Intelligence, and rigorous analysis, that gives license to all sorts of self-serving behavior to proliferate. This is true in every big organization. Combine that with; 1)ramapant careerism; and 2)an infirmed MSM, and this is what you get. Indeed, it’s been the norm for at least the last 15 years.
There have always been attempts to alter intelligence analytic documents so as to make policy seem more plausible. It happens in every country. It happened to me many times. Often the pressure begins subtly but if one does not yield the “ramp up” becomes a lot of pressure and very direct pressure. This phenomenon results from a basic conflict in the system. 1. The intelligence function exists to describe reality and projected reality. 2. The policy or command function (same thing)exists to create a desired reality, either political or military. It is easy to see how these functions can be in conflict. This is complicated by the fact that the intelligence function is always subordinated organizationally to the commander or head of government. Personal ambition enters into any calculation on the part of the heads of the intelligence function since it is clear that to agree with the boss is the best way to get ahead. CIA usually attempts to claim that it is independent of command influence as an independent agency. This is a specious claim since CIA works directly for the president of the US and has no independence whatever. CIA’s position is further compromised because it is a hybrid organization with a mission in both intelligence (information) and covert action. In the latter function CIA participates in creation of desired realities. pl
“In the latter function CIA participates in creation of desired realities.”
That’s pretty close to one definition of PR, I somewhat instinctively disliked. Public relations is “a process to create agreeable realities”. These parallels are no historical accident really.
PR? Well, if you call trying to persuade the WH to follow lines of action in which the CIA is operationally involved PR, then I suppose it is PR although the audience is solely within the US government. Rather than call it PR I would call a corruption of informational process called “intelligence.” pl
I read this very long piece today from the _NYTimes_. I would appreciate the analysis and views of folks here who know more of the history and the various situations discussed: http://tinyurl.com/jbwd6yp
The subtitle reads: “How the Arab World Came Apart.”
Is anyone with prior military experience surprised? Decades ago the military was extremely concerned that they had a problem with “truth telling”. Everything from fitness reports, OERs, AARs and almost all documents that officers wrote were of questionable veracity. The underlying problem was “up or out”. Officers that had any blemish or shortfalls were eliminated. Everyone had to be perfect all the time.
However, you did not actually have to be good. One only needed to look good. Think of all the US Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan when leaving their position said that things were looking good. However well after a decade, there is still no victory and in fact look worse.
I suspect that it is still the same if not worse given that senior rating officers now have “profiles”. It is even more difficult to “look good”. The military is chasing civilian performance rating systems. These schemes make huge bucks for the HR firms that promote them. But research shows that all but a couple lack validity. Those few that are valid do not “fit” in with the military system (subordinates also rate superiors as well as co-workers).
I think the story here isn’t that this spin is happening, it’s SOP and always has been, but that the analysts involved are using our new media platforms to cover their asses from the inevitable fallout. They were spanked publicly after 9/11 and had little means to tell their story then but they do now and they will not be used as the designated scapegoats again.
Reflecting on the exchange between the Colonel and ‘LeaNder’.
It can be quite difficult to reconcile the competing demands of providing accurate and intelligence on adversaries and organising ‘covert action’ against them.
Ironically, in days long past when the British still used to think, they were sometimes quite good at reconciling these conflicting demands.
The Second World War Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey, coined a word for the kind of accommodation to the wishes of political masters which has characterised American and British intelligence agencies in recent years: ‘yesmanship’.
He coined another word, ‘wishfulness’. At the risk of glossing his meanings with my own, I would say this meant: if information appears which might challenge your existing views, you either ignore it, or accommodate in a manner which does as little damage as possible to those views.
Both these characteristics were, in Godfrey’s views, key weaknesses of the intelligence system of Nazi Germany.
So, he set out to exploit them. In order to do, he had the help of the extraordinary and bizarre collection of people he had recruited.
So, on the one hand, Ian Fleming was an absolutely ghastly man – but a fertile source of bizarre disinformation ideas, and a very efficient intelligence organiser.
By contrast, Ewen Montagu was a lovely man. He was the pampered scion of a great Anglo-Jewish banking family – the nephew of Edwin Montagu, who as the sole Jewish member of the Cabinet in 1917 had fought an unsuccessful rearguard action to prevent the Balfour Declaration being adopted.
Like his uncle, Ewen Montagu was a man of very great ability indeed – a criminal lawyer, and a very good one, whose hobbies were fly-fishing and yachting.
Clearly, he liked the ‘game’ element of the criminal bar – the contest which you win because you are in other people’s minds, and they aren’t in yours. It is a job for which you need imagination (as also, perhaps, in a different way, for fly-fishing.)
Of Godfrey, Montagu wrote that ‘he was the world’s prize shit, but a genius. … I had enormous admiration for him as an intelligence brain and organiser – the more sincere as I loathed him as a man.’
The job that Montagu and his colleagues were given was to persuade Hitler to disregard the absolutely obvious: the fact that, if there was to be an invasion of Europe from North Africa, it had to come through Sicily.
Instead, it was necessary to persuade him that any apparent plans to invade in the obvious place were a cover for the real plans, which were to invade in Greece and Sardinia.
Among the means they used to do this was having a submarine deposit a corpse which purported to be that of a top-secret courier carrying the invasion plans from London to North Africa, supposedly shot down over the Atlantic.
It was a ploy that could easily have backfired. The reason it did not was because German intelligence – for the reasons that Godfrey had diagnosed – was essentially useless.
Anyone looking at the recent record of American and British intelligence can see that they are actually the true heirs of the ‘Sicherheitsdienst’ and the ‘Abwehr’. (Although frankly, to compare Sir Richard Dearlove or Sir John Scarlett to Admiral Canaris would be a gross insult to the last-named.)
Unfortunately, people in Washington and London haven’t yet woken up to the rather basic fact that, if you have people like Gates, Tenet, Clapper, Morrell, Dearlove, Scarlett, Sir John Sawers, etc etc running your intelligence services, this has practical consequences.
To put it bluntly, you are going to get into very deep trouble – not least, because adversaries will work out how to use your own strengths against you.
Your can thrown as much money and technological expertise as you like at problems. But in the end, if those in charge do not have a relevant combination of intelligence and integrity, it will not work.
Dr. Joseph Gobbles – The Founding Father of the Public Relations field.
For democracy to function properly you need an informed electorate. Instead you have the government using psyops on their own population. Think there is any connection between that and the current state of American politics?
Gen. Michael Flynn has spoken to this document on many occasions, such as here:
Hasan: You are basically saying that even in government at the time you knew these groups were around, you saw this analysis, and you were arguing against it, but who wasn’t listening?
Flynn: I think the administration.
Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis?
Flynn: I don’t know that they turned a blind eye, I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.
Hasan: A willful decision to support an insurgency that had Salafists, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood?
Flynn: It was a willful decision to do what they’re doing.
To put it bluntly, you are going to get into very deep trouble – not least, because adversaries will work out how to use your own strengths against you.
I’ve long wondered if Chalabi was a prime example of exactly that.
Dear Col. Lang,
Thank you for this clarification, but it seems to me that this begs the question: Is this a generic problem among intelligence bureaucracies and policymakers or do geopolitical choices play a role, too? US geopolitical policy since 9/11 has not been grounded in reality. Rather, it has been based on so-called ideas like humanitarian intervention and regime change. We all know that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with who was actually responsible for 9/11. The Chilcot report also shows us that the idea that Saddam Hussein had WMD was an article of faith among the proponents of the war, even though there was no real intelligence backing it up. The problem of terrorism is much worse, perhaps an order of magnitude worse, than it was on Sept. 19, 2001. What do you think has happened to the intelligence function over the past couple of decades? Has it been corrupted by these geopolitical choices?
Both. It IS a generic problem and the pressure is always to accept the commander/political leader’s choice of future. I don’t think anything has happened over the last two decades. This is business as usual. I was pressured by Schwarzkopf to accept his judgment over that of DIAs analysts and refused to do so. The director of DIA who had been NS’s classmate at WP backed me. pl
Was it not the case that SOE did the covert action work in WW2 and MI-6 the intelligence work? pl
“To put it bluntly, you are going to get into very deep trouble – not least, because adversaries will work out how to use your own strengths against you.”
This sounds like Sun Tzu.
I am not and have never been a military strategist, nor am I a proponent of Putin and his policies, but he seems to run circles around American foreign-policy strategists these days due to the neocon Kool-Aid and the PNAC. He is a master of judo, and, as a Russian a chess player, I think he can outmaneuver the best the US has to offer in recent days like Wolfowitz, Samantha Power, and the other foreign policy appointees to name only a few.
The pivotal difference between the WW2 situation that David Habakkuk described and the one described by the author of this post is that the first was to cloud the minds of the enemy and the second the minds of those fighting the enemy. If things came to the point where cooked intel stripped US commanders of the ability to tell the difference between the two situations, this is very serious indeed and can’t be filed under factors that Col Lang explains are unavoidable in the intel services.
What has happened is that the US military were sold the idea of the potency of Information Operations as an explanation for defeat in VN and now the idea is being applied universally. I have written of this extensively here. This is on top of the usual intelligence vs policy problem. http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2006/04/mind_war_and_th.html pl
Who gets the profits?
“Washington, D.C. – A new Department of Defense Inspector General’s report revealed that the Pentagon couldn’t account for $6.5 trillion dollars according to a report by the Fiscal Times. … government has no way of knowing how the Pentagon has spent the trillions of taxpayer dollars allocated by Congress for national defense.”
Six point five trillions US dollars $$$$$$$$………..
Of course DoD is politicized – they need to shout out again and again about the US exceptionality so that no one would dare to look at the accounting books.
Samuel Johnson made his famous pronouncement, “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” in 1775.
Especially since Iranian support for Al Qaeda was alleged from the Bin Laden documents almost as soon as they were loaded onto the Helicopter. I was a daily reader of Newsmax at the time and they talked about it for weeks. This is just a regurgitation of an old allegation.
I don’t recall the full details of the story but since the data from the Bin Laden raid has not been made public we only have leaks from people who have read them. Given our hyper-sensitivity towards Iran, any transit by Al Qaeda across their country whether overt or covert would be cast as full blown collaboration. I doubt it would exceed or even match what Pakistan did but since the source material is not available, who knows?
This is why the Russians are doing well right now. To put it simply, their house is cleaner.
“And it just shows how quickly we could say, ‘Well, that’s a dumb requirement and so you don’t need to be truthful in it.’ The rationalizations come very quickly on that one. We also went to the Pentagon and talked to the receivers of information there. Now, there’s people who got the reports and said, ‘How much do you believe the reports?’ And there they said, ‘Well, you know they gave it their best shot but we know it’s not always true.’ And so we ask them and said, ‘Well, how do you know that?’ And they said, ‘We used to be there. We were not born yesterday. We used to be there. We used to do the same thing.’ And that’s what became obviously. Like, what have we created? This façade of, I’ll tell you the truth, I’ll tell you what I think you need, you want me to say; I’ll tell you the truth on the other things, but other things I think I’ll fudge, I’ll massage, I’ll hand-wave. And then the people receiving it say ‘I know that you did that, because I used to do that.’ But we all go on our own ways, and the briefings happen, and everyone goes away happy from the meetings saying everything looks fine.”
Colonel – In my view we have a Situation. The commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military Went Native.
From that view the manipulation of intelligence by CENTCOM officers can’t be explained by a drift from information operations directed at the public to a universal application of this, as you term it.
Now regarding the situation described in the 2006 SST post and attachments you provided — this ‘universal application’ within the military must be halted, and in the most ruthless fashion if necessary.
That’s because the sky has become black with Black Swans. Now we can’t know at this point the extent to which this internal information operations (IIO) is blinding military commanders to critically important events. But we have no way of finding out unless excess ‘noise’ is removed from the system — and that’s just what IIO creates. That’s its greatest danger. It’s inserting false positive and negative signals into the allover assessments.
This is creating a kind of Twilight Zone, into which plops events that take the military by complete surprise. Unacceptable in any era, but in this one a crisis building to catastrophe.
I’m just seeing your reply. I seem to recall that Gen. Flynn is one of Donald Trump’s military advisors. If so — then from what you’ve relayed about Flynn’s remarks I don’t think one need wonder about the inspiration for Trump’s seemingly fantastic accusation, at least against Obama.
This could also explain why Trump didn’t defend his statement; perhaps he didn’t want to involve Flynn in what was a political firefight.
If this line of speculation is correct then Trump should think carefully before he makes an accusation that requires more background to defend than he is willing to provide the public.
On the other side — given Flynn’s remarks, Trump might have been directing his accusation more to people in the mil/intl community, who would know what he was talking about.
Thank you for your post, which has given me much to think about. (A few minutes ago I replied to Col. Lang’s reply to my comments further down in the comment section.)
IMO you don’t understand what TTG and I mean by “going native.” By that we mean siding with the locals against your own side. This is something we Green Berets are often accused of and sometimes are guilty of. New Subject – IMO Trump was told to say that Obama and Clinton were responsible for the rise of IS but he couldn’t handle that many words, so he shortened it too much and then couldn’t change the statement because he is an egotistical ass. pl
What is described in that quote is from my point of view an extremely corrupted process that is certain to lead to catastrophe. If you cannot trust the leaders of the intelligence process to let their analysts tell you the truth then you are doomed to failure. pl
Pat, as you might realize, I once again regretted my ‘ad hoc’ comment. And not in the least because of Babak’s feedback. But if I may, propaganda didn’t didn’t start with Goebbels, not even with the “Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide”.
But basically, I realized, while reading the interim report, that I would like to understand a lot better then I do, e.g. the institutional context, post 9/11 changes (DNI) and why or how DIA can have gotten the apparently justified impression they were somehow kept out of “relevant communication loops”, if I may.
Interesting, Pat. Some more recent publications it feels. The “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”. … Not too long ago I watched a French movie on the larger context. On the Arte channel maybe. It went beyond black and white, considering the motivation of some of the actors. Meaning: no coherent ideological background. Concerning the agents: RIP
To put it simply, their house is cleaner.
Totally different internal dynamics which can not be and must not be compared to the US military and intelligence.
I am wondering a bit about some matters, e.g. “Went Native” and “Black Swans”, that may in fact have surfaced in the complaints, to the extend it left traces on my mind.
But Pundita, can you please explain to this nitwit the institutional relations, and respective laws governing, e.g., ideally in a nutshell or else link? Now and then?
“career analysts at CENTCOM” and e.g. analyst at DIA
I will explain it to you. CENTCOM is the US joint command for the ME. The Hq. is located in Tampa, Florida on McDill, AFB. It is a large Hq. and has many people who work there. Some are military and some are civilians, often ex-military. Among them are career civilian intelligence analysts. DIA is the Defense Intelligence Agency, some 20,000 strong who are all over the world but primarily in DC. It, too, has both civilian and military people. DIA is much larger than the intelligence function at CENTCOM Hq. Sometimes DIA “lends” analysts for a limited time to CENTCOM. Understand? pl
” Understand? pl”
try too, at least. Helpful anyway to get a fast-link-mis-connection out of my head.
Quite a complex series of issues. I will try to hazard an answer.
A critical point, I think, is that the ‘SIGINT’ was all-important.
Ironically, a crucial stream – that from the decrypts of Abwehr traffic – didn’t originate with Bletchley Park at all. A physicist from Merton College Oxford, E.W.B. Gill, who had been in signals intelligence in the Middle East in the First World War, took a young historian colleague, Hugh Trevor-Roper, into an organisation called the Radio Security Service, because he knew German.
The organisation had originally been supposed to be tracking signals which it was thought might guide German bombers to their targets. These, it turned out did not exist. But the RSS came across the Abwehr radio signals, and Gill and Trevor-Roper between them did the initial decrypts of the ‘hand codes’. It was on the basis of this that ‘Dilly’ Knox, at Bletchley, broke the ‘machine codes’ of the Abwehr.
Due to some bureaucratic politicking, it was MI6 which incorporated the unit, which Trevor-Roper ran, which collated and interpreted the Abwehr material.
His hatred of the organisation, vividly expressed in his essay on ‘The Philby Affair’, may have caused him to underestimate its importance. However, his contrast between the competence of MI5 and the incompetence of MI6 was certain not without foundation.
So Ribbentrop’s former press secretary, ‘Klop’ Ustinov, told his son, the actor Peter, that he and his British handler the MI5 officer Dick White were ‘united by our dislike of certain Englishmen, especially what White calls the SIS types who are “ivory from the neck up.” And this was bound up with a fundamental political disagreement.
To White, as to Trevor-Roper, it had seemed clear that the most dangerous adversary was Hitler’s Germany – while MI6 remained fixated on the threat from Stalin’s Russia.
In any case, following the successful trip whereby the ‘Sicherheitsdient’ lured two MI6 agents into a trap at Venlo in November 1939, and then the overrunning of Europe, the organisation was not producing much in the way in ‘Humint’. However, they got a large measure of control of the distribution of the Bletchley Park product.
One of the great British successes of the war was of course the turning of German efforts to secure ‘Humint’ in Britain against them, which was a central basis for the disinformation operations run by the ‘Twenty Committee’ – of which the greatest achievement was ‘Operation Fortitude’, which fooled the Germans into expecting an invasion in the Pas de Calais.
The architect and ‘real genius’ of the Committee, as Trevor-Roper put it, Thomas Argyll (‘Tar’) Robertson, was a former Seaforth Highlander who had gone into the City to fund his taste for the high life, and been recruited into MI5 on the ‘old boy network’.
On ‘Operation Mincemeat’, Montagu’s collaborator, Charles Cholmondeley, was an RAF officer attached to MI5.
There is a ‘horses for courses’ element. While Robertson was completely unintellectual, Trevor-Roper, a classicist turned historian, brought to his work on the ‘Abwehr’ knowledge, not simply of recent German history, but of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century millenarian cults, and also ‘Caesarism’ in ancient Rome.
A consequence was that, as neither Churchill nor Roosevelt really did, Trevor-Roper very clearly grasped the nihilistic millenarian elements in National Socialism, and the radical gulf between its thinking and that of the ‘Prussian’ tradition in the General Staff.
Accordingly, by November 1942, he had concluded that the overtures from Admiral Canaris for a meeting in Spain with the head of MI6 were not a ruse, and might make possible a ‘butcher’s cleaver’ move. A stupid superior, Felix Cowgill, encouraged by Kim Philby, prevented the information being sent upwards.
However, Trevor-Roper went directly to Lord Cherwell, Churchill’s scientific adviser (there was a Christ Church, Oxford, link.)
As we now know, the decision to maintain the policy of ‘absolute silence’ towards the German opposition was Churchill’s.
Particularly given the fact that any moves made would have gone straight back, through Philby, to the Soviets, the question of what might have happened, had Churchill decided differently, is one of the most fascinating imponderables of the Second World War.
Could it have cut the Nazi rampage of murder – and in particular the Holocaust – short, and prevented Soviet power coming into the heart of Europe? Or would it simply have made bad situations worse? We simply cannot say (though it is not simply stupid to speculate.)
Given what subsequently emerged about Philby, however, the history helps makes Trevor-Roper’s feeling that MI6 could be trusted to get everything wrong intelligible. (It is a feeling from which I have never quite managed to escape. Are Sir Richard Dearlove and Sir John Scarlett ‘ivory from the neck up’? I’m not quite sure.)
On the military intelligence side, the pattern used by Admiral Godfrey – putting together military professionals and civilians – was general throughout the services. Moreover, this was used to very good effect in inter-service coordination.
So the Joint Intelligence Staff put together officers of the rank of Captain, Colonel and Group Captain with civilians chosen for their intellectual record in civilian life.
It both made it possible to work towards a consensus – and also to ensure that such a consensus was informed by the habit of doing one’s best to see how things looked from the enemy’s point of view.
(‘Empathy’ need not imply ‘sympathy’, although it often does, in strange kinds of ways – which are not incompatible with an absolute determination to destroy an adversary.)
About SOE I do not know very much. However, if my memory serves me right, Eisenhower’s former Chief of Staff, General Walter Bedell (‘Beetle’) Smith, was never greatly impressed by the ‘political warfare’ efforts of either the SOE or those involved in such matters in the OSS.
He was, as I understand it, much more impressed by what the kind of ‘research-based’ approach to intelligence practised by Brigadier Kenneth Strong, who became Eisenhower’s G-2, could achieve. Hence the bringing back of Sherman Kent when Smith was appointed to head the CIA.
I take from this some paradoxes and puzzles.
Following Trevor-Roper’s polemic against MI6, I am inclined to believe that when an intelligence organisation is primarily focused on ‘Humint’, and is not seriously trying to integrate what is learned from spies with other sources of intelligence, and apply critical methods to it, bad things may very well happen.
Likewise, I think that attempting to combine intelligence gathering with covert operations – as MI6 has habitually done – is liable to have very dangerous consequences.
In relation to military intelligence, this has ambivalent implications.
There is an old joke – that ‘military intelligence’ is an oxymoron.
This is patent nonsense. The best of ‘military intelligence’ in Britain was really very good indeed. And this was, in very substantial measure, because those practising it were really doing ‘all source intelligence’. This was true of Admiral Godfrey, as also of his First World War predecessor, Admiral William Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall.
A problem however is that, in peacetime, the more immediate concern of the leaders of the various services is liable to be the competition for resources. In this, the adversaries to be defeated are 1. national Treasuries, and 2. rival services.
What is liable to ensue is a kind of mayhem. It is, very commonly speaking, difficult if not impossible to conduct serious intelligence analysis of the capabilities and intentions of actual or possible adversaries – and proper intelligence needs to consider both – without a good grasp of military technicalities.
(In a broad sense of ‘technicalities’ – not simply purely ‘technical’ questions are relevant, but ‘experiential’ ones: How on earth am I, a ‘cogenital civilian’, going to judge when an army is going to fight, and when it will run away?)
If the analytic process is being conducted by a combination of civilians without serious grasp of military affairs, and military people with budgetary axes to grind – then: you have a recipe for chaos.
Understanding may, as it were, ‘fall through the gaps’.
I find these matters interesting too. But here you are a bit fast:
So Ribbentrop’s former press secretary, ‘Klop’ Ustinov, told his son, the actor Peter, that he and his British handler the MI5 officer Dick White were ‘united by our dislike of certain Englishmen
I doubt that Ribbentrop and Ustinov met. Ribbentrop arrived in London after Ustinov had left it feels, in a job to be boss.
Due to his political opinions Ustinov got into problems with the new Nazi government almost immediately. In 1935 the conflict culminated when Ustinov refused to prove that he was not of Jewish descent (“Ariernachweis”). As a result, he lost his job and chose to become a British citizen, thus avoiding internment or deportation later during the war.
Ribbentrop, no doubt was involved with England before he became ambassador there in 1936. Before that year he was still the head of the Bureau/Dienststelle Ribbentrop an informal NSDAP foreign office with a specific task in England. But in these special tasks, he couldn’t have been Ustinov’s boss it feels.
Concerning GB’s no doubt impressive technical SIGINT achievements, a couple of Polish scientists and mathematicians may deserve to be mentioned e.g. in the history of the decryption of “enigma” too.
Although, I am not sure if I am partly misreading you here.
Kim Philby was recruited by SOE:
Apologies. I looked back at something I wrote some years ago in haste, and did not check my facts.
As you point out, the elder Ustinov resigned from his job at the German Embassy in 1935. The spy in the Embassy during Ribbentrop’s time there, and subsequently, was the First Secretary, Wolfgang von Putlitz, whom Ustinov recruited.
(See http://spartacus-educational.com/Jona_von_Ustinov.htm .)
It was a result of his friendship with Robert Vansittart, the strongly anti-appeasement permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, who was ‘kicked upstairs’ by Chamberlain in January 1938, that Ustinov was introduced to MI5.
An ironic consequence of Ribbentrop’s time as ambassador was that he realised that the British would not in the end give Hitler a ‘free hand’ in the East. Partly as a result, he aligned himself with those elements in Germany who believed that their country’s interests were best served by an accommodation with the Soviet Union.
Through the ‘network’ he had developed, Vansittart had information about this possibility as early as June 1938. Whether, had the Chamberlain government grasped the overwhelming importance of attempting to come to terms with Hitler before Stalin did, the Nazi-Soviet Pact might never have happened, is another great imponderable.
Yet another imponderable is what would have happened, had Hitler not decided to repudiate the Pact – the final decision, ironically, resulting from Stalin’s refusal to turn his expansionist ambitions away from South-East Europe and in the direction of the British Empire.
The history echoes on, in all kinds of curious ways: among them, Anglo-American fears of a ‘rapprochement’ between Germany and Russia, and the continuing crucial strategic importance of the Black Sea.
My intention was certainly not to minimise the contribution of the Poles to British wartime success in cryptography. I was simply talking about the Abwehr machine codes which, like the Italian naval codes, were broken by ‘Dilly’ Knox – who was a classicist by background – with the assistance of the team of young women he recruited.
It was the Poles who had realised the importance of deploying mathematicians, and creating machines, in order to break the codes – by 1938 they were reading 75% of intercepted German radio transmissions enciphered using Enigma.
They gave Knox and the head of Bletchley Park, Alastair Denniston, full details of their work, and a replica Enigma machine, when the pair visited Poland in July 1939. This was the indispensable foundation on which Alan Turing – and also another absolutely key figure, Gordon Welchman – worked.
(See http://www.codesandciphers.org.uk/virtualbp/poles/poles.htm ; http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/news/v.rhtm/Pyry_Forest_meeting__75th_anniversary-854853.html .)
As to Philby, he had moved from SOE to MI6 by September 1941. It was in his capacity as deputy to Major Felix Cowgill – among other things, the MI6 representative on the ‘Twenty Committee’ – that he was involved in the attempt to contain Trevor-Roper’s evidence suggesting that the approaches from Canaris were serious – and not an attempt at a new ‘Venlo’.
Some years ago, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, S.J. Hamrick, wrote an interesting book arguing that very much of the conventional wisdom about the Philby was false. In my view, it is certainly plausible that both Dick White and Trevor-Roper concluded that he was a Soviet agent immediately following the Volkov affair in September 1945.
A much more conjectural argument Hamrick makes is that in addition to measures being taken which would limit the damage that Philby could cause, he was used as a conduit for a deception operation designed to present American nuclear capabilities as much stronger than they were.
(For a review of the book by Phillip Knightly, who co-authored the original ‘Sunday Times’ exposé on Philby, see http://phillipknightley.com/2007/04/turning-the-philby-case-on-its-head/ .)
Papers released in October last year appear to confirm the conventional wisdom that the head of MI6, Sir Stewart Menzies, was simply unprepared to contemplate the possibility that Philby was a double agent.
If, as seems likely, these are to be taken at face value, it reinforces the view of members of that organisation being commonly, as one might put it, not very bright. Looking at figures like Dearlove, Scarlett, and Sawers, I am inclined to think not much has changed.
(See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11949194/mi5-blunders-russian-spy-kim-philby.html .)
An irony is that, as Knightley brings out, it appears that the KGB came to believe that Philby, along with Burgess, Blunt and Cairncross – were actually part of an MI6 ‘disinformation operation’.
Some truly amazing, interesting and thought provoking comments you’ve made here. Many, many thanks. RP
I’ll store this link, David. And a huge thank you. New link concerning Bletchy Park, it feels. If I recall correctly.
I did feel a basic sympathy for Philby, admittedly. In case you sensed it. Phil Weiss once wrote a very, very short essay–maybe it was more a meditation–that really fascinated me, since it got matters into a nutshell. He simply let his mind wander with the question: what would I have done at a specific time in space.
The rest is left to historians, who may occasionally treat history as something to fold their ambitions or adaptive ideologies in.
One of the German anti-Russians, by the way, that surfaced in the DC leak Walrus offered for discussion recently caught my attention in this context. …
I wasn’t aware that TTG and you had written about Going Native. As to the definition you apply to the term, you’re describing a possible consequence, not the behavior itself.
What follows is based on my experience not a scholarly treatment.
Going Native belongs to that class of behaviors that are created by overly identifying with persons. They manifest in different ways depending on motivation and circumstances. Here are a couple of the better studied:
> Stockholm Syndrome
> Survivor’s Guilt
Going Native, however, is specific to overly identifying with persons in a foreign land over which one has tremendous authority e.g., military occupation. But the concept is very much an invention of the British Empire, which could explain why it’s not well understood by most Americans.
Now why have an interest in a behavior that has been relegated to the ash heap of history? Because Phoenix-like it arose from the ashes of the British Empire. The U.S. military began backing into recreating the British imperial wheel with its “Imperial Grunts” as Robert Kaplan termed the U.S. military’s idea of the Peace Corps with Guns. And then — disastrously — in Afghanistan with population-centric counterinsurgency tactics including the infamous Three Cups of Tea.
The great problem with Going Native is not that it causes the person to side with locals against his own government. although of course that can happen. The danger is that the person who Goes Native doesn’t realize that he can’t jump out of his skin. No matter how much empathy he develops, no matter how much he may sympathize with the locals and take up their customs and even their causes, he remains a product of his own formative environment.
But if he has greatly identified with the locals, he can get the idea that he understands them — and understands them better than his superiors and colleagues. Unless checked this belief blinds the person to the limitations of his understanding of situations involving the locals — and even his government’s objectives. Most tragically it can blind him to the limitations of the locals in being able to act as he can act.
That is why the imperial British military and civil service took elaborate precautions in the attempt to prevent Going Native because utterly disastrous decisions could easily be made and implemented by such people if they were in authority in the foreign lands the British administered. And of course, being far from central headquarters this meant a high command could fall under pressure to try to comprehend and fix a mess or outright disaster from a very long distance.
So, amazing but true, these precautions weren’t rooted in bigotry (which is not to say that bigotry didn’t exist). They were a very deliberate strategy to ward off the common phenomenon of overly identifying with people one closely associates with.
Thus, the fortress-like British enclaves, meant more to keep the British in than the locals out; the obsessive esprit de corps cultivated in the military; the insulting ways of talking about the locals and those British who got personally involved with them — the genesis of the term ‘Going Native’ — and so on.
I’ll add that there is an almost obverse behavior to Going Native that is endemic in Western international organizations such as the World Bank that employ large numbers of foreign professionals. This is where the foreign employees shape their analysis of their own country situations so it comports with the beliefs of the employer about the situations.
Much of this behavior is unconscious; it’s just that they want to keep their job with the Bank or IMF or whatever. But talk about noise in the system! You can end up with a completely false reading on a country situation — and then plug hundreds of millions of dollars into addressing a phantom situation.
I once tackled describing this behavior on my blog, although I don’t think I gave it a name. But this behavior is one reason it can be so hard for Western international development and donor organizations to understand the problems in a foreign country, even though they plug huge amounts of money and research into attempting to understand.
To return to Going Native, one doesn’t want to destroy all empathy with the locals because then there can terrible cruelties and of course a completely wrong assessment of situations.
But achieving a balance between compassion and dispassion is not easy. Thus, the best solution is the one solution that most Americans have not shown themselves willing to accept, which is to limit situations where we have great authority in a foreign country.