Habakkuk on”Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence”

In 1998 Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt wrote an essay titled as above.  The burden of this essay was a detailed challenge to the methods of intelligence analysis followed by the US Intelligence commmunity since the immediate post-war era when it was largley codified by Sherman Kent.  The S&S essay was largely an attempt to persuade that a "social studies research" approach to intelligence analysis was inadequate and that something else should be substituted.

Why is this of interest?

Abram Shulsky was an important member of the "Office of Special Plans" (OSP) in the Pentagon under Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld.

Gary Schmitt is a major figure in the "Project for a New American Century."  (PNAC).  This group is part of the "galaxy" of organizations inhabited by or created by the Jacobin neocons.

Here is the S&S paper.

Pat Lang

Download leo_strauss_and_the_world_of_intelligence.pdf


I have asked David Habakkuk, a British journalist and scholar specializing in the history of intelligence services to comment on this paper.  His remarks are available below, first in excerpt, then through download.  He mentions my paper "Bureaucrats versus Artists," so I here offer a link to the paper.

Download artists_versus_bureaucrats….pdf

Pat Lang


"I stress this, because a characteristic of the neocon approach is that wherever we are, we are back in 1938.  Every threat ends up being, in one form or other, Hitler reincarnated.  It is difficult to be clear here how far one is dealing with genuine misperception, and how far with manipulative rhetoric.  One might say that the S&S paper itself involves a major problem of ambiguity of evidence, in that it is deeply unclear how far one is dealing with conscious distortion or incomprehension:  is this an ill-calculated attempt at dealing with intellectual issues relating to intelligence, or a well-calculated piece of propaganda designed to use the technique of the Big Lie in a war against the CIA?  What is clear, and in some ways frightening, is the shamelessness.  In her 1988 study of ‘The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss’, Shadia Drury portrayed Strauss as an interesting if deeply flawed thinker, but suggested that what was fundamentally unfortunate about him was that ‘he corrupts’; more specifically, he ‘seduces young men into thinking that they belong to special and privileged class of individuals that transcend ordinary humanity and the rules applicable to other people.’"  David Habakkuk

Download sspaper.pdf

Download CV1.pdf


I also asked Richard Sale to comment upon both the S&S essay and Habbakkuk’s comments.  These appear below first in excerpt and then by download.  Pat Lang


" The tragedy of pre-war intelligence was that it was that this tragedy was so willfully entered into. The senior officials of the first Bush administration would tolerate around them only people who were in tune with their views and predilections. People who presented rebutting evidence were not seen as simply making an honest mistake or havein different views but rather as embodying a perverse will that was ignoring truth out of pride and spiteful wickedness. This is hardly the path to humility before the facts that is part of the intellectual equipment of the good intelligence analyst."  Richard Sale

Download the_paper_of_david_habbakuk_contains_stunning_points.pdf


Judge for yourself.

Pat Lang

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18 Responses to Habakkuk on”Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence”

  1. RJJ says:

    Faustian wet dreams.

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Well put.

  3. Curious says:

    Hey neat paper. At the same time wee bit depressing.
    1. How can the inteligence community be sure that those report (aka. text) isn’t being read in some odd mode of intepretation by people in power? (Ya think Bush understands and can piece together those reports with information beyon intel capability?)
    2. problem of ‘mirroring’. I thought it was pretty clear by the parade of witness and line of questioning during senate hearing. (not the intel, but people who suppose to make decission)
    3. Most deppresingly. From what Bush is and isn’t doing, we are continuing the current destructive course in Iraq.
    4. Say I sometimes wonder if those neocon/straussian wackos are in permanent delusional mode. (relax pal, we know the truth, forget external event, just keep listening to us. If we lies often enough, everything will be ooooooooookay.)

  4. alice says:

    It is disturbingly obvious that the Strausians are creating a strawman. Obviously espionage has it’s uses. It’s been years since I glanced at Kent, but as I recall the gist of his book was to put together data to measure capacities.
    I find “The Devils” to be somewhat prophetic on the horrors and madness of the Russian revolution, but it does not touch on the mechanics of the Lenimist/Stalinist organization which were cruciual in their success as opposed to other revolutionary forces, nor does it give much of a view of the realities of pre revolutionary socity, economics or bureaucracy which influenced the structure of what followed.
    In many respects (I’m not a scholar so I can use half baked analogies) I find it an expression of Mao turning Marx on his head arguing that human states of mind can control material reality.
    If the argument had been that Kent needed tweaking or was incomplete, it would have some validity perhaps. Analysis of the complex interactions that often lead to sometimes irrational decisions is certainly primitive.
    But it has been attempted.
    But this paper just magically wishes a solution by distorting the subject. It is almost irreleant because it does not focus on the actual mechanisms with our intelligence agencies. There the mechanisms of fact checking, peer review, hypothesis forming, critical community, analysis, all the bits and pieces of “science” as defined by individuals like Popper and Kuhn could be evaluated. At least to some extent.
    I find the Strausian paper childish, something expected from a sophomore. The whole style of argument is based on the approach of “I will find something that is obviously flawed even if I have to simlify and distort, then through a few generalities I will establish that I know the solution to an issue that has vexed great minds for millenium.”

  5. alice says:

    Without being expert I think Kents stress on public sources was to show how much can be pieced together if one gathers and links information which is easily availible.
    The issue is modeling a system and I think it accurate to say that lots of facts can’t be hidden. For example one knows that there isn’t a generally high level of technology if the trains and cars always break down and one postulates a rigid and inefficient system of communication if there are no phone books.
    Which doesn’t mean that better technology and more flexible C3I don’t exist elsewhere, but I do think analysis of functional capacities of the USSR based on daily tecnology and organization proved more accurate than the rightwing claim that behind all this inefficiency was a super secret, super capable organization of mammoth size.
    The thing is that once you have the first model you can start looking for pieces that confirm or more importantly disprove it. You have targets for your espionage and a fact or at least observation strewn context to help test guesses and inutuitions.
    The Strausian method seems based on the desire to find the secret agent or simple method that will explain all, like some hidden passage in Shakespeare that will fully illuminate the bard. Except those of us who have glimpsed te plays no this is impossible, it is too complex and contradictory.
    But these are people who do not want to deal with all the details, they consider things like steel production banal, cross checking is BORING.
    If our enemies were to design a type to destroy our nations ability to defend itself these would be it. They are so sure of theiur superiority because of arguments that dominated the class room they become eay game for cars salesman like Chalibi.
    They fit well with the dittoheads who think that reality is defined by talk radio and it doesn’t matter if your policy is successful in Iraq so long as you can “win” your Archie Bunker arguments on talk radio.
    The outside world doesn’t exist, faith based reality and the eternal battle against the true evil, American liberals or in the case of Strausians the pragmatists who pollute idealized models which explain all things.

  6. emptywheel says:

    Can you put a direct link to the Bureaucrats and Artists post Habakkuk references in his paper?

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I’ll put it in the text but it was posted on 24 October I believe. pl

  8. RJJ says:

    here is that link to Artists and Bureaucrats
    Thanks for these pdfs. Habakkuk essay does terrible violence to S&S it should have a warning label.

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    In the spirit of the prophet Habakkuk.

  10. Michael Murry says:

    Your comments about perception and reality go directly to the heart of the matter. As you may know, former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind has written a revealing article about the subject called “Without a Doubt,” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine on October 17, 2004. The piece has gotten extensive coverage — which it deserves — for the interviews Suskind managed to wrangle with Bush administration insiders and what he got them to reveal about themselves and their worldview. The two money quotes I’ve most often seen cited come from (1) Mark McKinnon, “a longtime senior media advisor who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president,” and (2) “a senior advisor to Bush” whose comments, Suskind says go “to the very heart of the Bush presidency.”
    Taking the second of these first, Suskind wrote:
    “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left just to study what we do.'”
    The first of Suskind’s most memorable quotes relates to what media-man Mark McKinnon aggressively and joyfully sees as as the “faith” of the faithful that Bush taps into and that critics of the president simply don’t get. As Suskind wrote:
    “And for those who don’t get it? … [McKinnon said]: ‘You think he’s an idiot, don’t you? … ‘No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don’t care. You see, you’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read The New York Times. And do you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!’ In this instance, the final ‘you,’ of course, meant the entire reality-based community.”
    There you have it, all wrapped up and delivered neatly for easy consumption. The Republican Party — and particularly the Bush administration — has decided to build its entire grasp of political power on a scripted, choreographed, media-projected image of “reality” beamed into homes in “the great, wide middle of America” where “hard-working folks” who don’t (or can’t) read major newspapers dislike their fellow countrymen who can and outnumber them 2-to-1.
    What a scary picture. It reminds me so much of George Orwell’s 1984 where O’Brien, torturing Winston Smith in the Ministry of Love, forthrightly tells his victim:
    “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation — anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wished to. I do not wish to because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of nature. We make the laws of nature.”
    The Bush Bunch apparently believe this sort of thing with every ounce of doublethinking, Crimestopping, credulous sincerity (i.e., protective stupidity) they can muster. Advisors to President Bush at the highest levels of our government now claim to believe that “reality” has only a political definition, related to nothing but the grasping and holding of imperial political power in America and the world. In light of their own confessed motives and announced methods, therefore, why should anyone assume that “intelligence” or “information,” or “facts,” or “reality” mean anything to these people whatsoever? They have told us in their own words that they simply intend to make up whatever “reality” they feel they need to sell at any particular moment. They don’t care, as they say. They’ll just set up an Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon and appoint as its director a man, Douglas Feith, whom General Tommy Franks frankly called “the stupidest fucking man on the planet earth” — or words to that effect. They don’t care. They say so. They invent their own “reality;” then they “act” on the basis of it; then they sell us their own self-serving, self-promoting interpretation of what they have done through televised campaign commercials that we “folks” passively assimilate while disliking those of our fellow citizens who actually have the “arrogance” to think that they can read newspapers and figure things out for themselves.
    Scary. Really scary.

  11. ikonoklast says:

    I am not an intelligence analyst or a social scientist, but “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence” is one weak argument. Piss-poor, in fact. It starts with a vague premise and supports it with questionable interpretations as a substitute for evidence, with just enough facts thrown in to make the overall presentation seem plausible.
    For example, from page five, paragraph two of the document, the argument is:
    A – The standard social science view [was] that, in a modernizing society such as Iran, religion was destined to play an increasingly minor role.
    B – It also reflected the view that one could assess the views of a Khomeini from the outside, and that:
    C – [It was unnecessary] to try to understand him [Khomeini] as he understood himself.
    D – In 1979, the CIA did not have easy access to Khomeini’s writings about religion.
    E – [Hence the CIA did not correctly forsee the events in Iran]
    F – Strauss’s painstaking method of recovering the thought of thinkers of previous times would have been applicable to understanding someone like Khomeini. (QUESTIONABLE)
    G – [Thus Strauss’s method would have better predicted events in Iran.]
    This is so sloppy that in breaking it down I had to restrain myself from fixing it.
    Since applying esotericism apparently means one assumes that authors sometimes make statements that mean the opposite of what they actually write, I wonder if the Straussians ever examine the papers of Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld, Schmitt and Shulsky?
    It would be interesting to read their conclusions.

  12. citizen k says:

    Well, the neocons and cons read the Bible the same way they read the Constitution, but the warning in Habukkak should be clear:

  13. RJJ says:

    Had to look up Habakkuk.
    “Babylon hath been a golden cup in the LORD’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. ”

  14. praktike says:

    Re: Iran
    Wasn’t the CIA charged with using as Iran as a base to listen in on Russia, rather than to pay attention to events in Iran proper? And IIRC the ambassador and/or his staff did cable warnings that were ignored by higher-ups at State and the NSC.

  15. praktike says:

    I should add that Habbakuk really demolishes S&S. Nice work.

  16. Fyalz Purtekshun says:

    The agency that recruited me in 1985 cheerfully celebrated Afghanistan’s devastating effects on Russia, and repeatedly quoted its potential to end the Cold War. What was run through the Islamabad station did just that.
    Re: the Cold War, as with the Shah’s fall, the right message was pushed up the chain and fell on ears deafened by various things, industrial contracts being high on the list.
    Perhaps there’s a Leo-con lesson in the examples of CIA “failures” S&S chose for critical illustration: simply, analysis that doesn’t line pockets is often denied.
    Many are the contexts in which arrogance before facts, impatience for detail, and deliberate ignorance of history make perfect sense. And the Strauss playbook is not about solid analysis, it’s not about winning wars, it’s about seizing power; he got these men to believe they could do it, that they had to do it. Lo, and behold.
    Thanks for posting these materials, Pat.

  17. Herb Ely says:

    Schmitt and Shulsky are describing an area intelligence that is “foreign” to me. They apply the principles of Straus to political intelligence. My 32 years of experience were in what is known as Scientific and Technical (S&T) Intelligence. The ills that they describe were not part of the intelligence world as I knew it – or at least not a decisive part.
    The distinction is important because Shulsky’s Office of Special Plans was applying its analytical principles to the question of Iraqi WMD programs. Weapons development programs are an S&T intelligence problem. They seem to have assumed that the S&T analysts were repeating the same errors that Shulky ascribed to the world of political intelligence.
    David Habakkuk’s comments are focused on political intelligence. From an S&T point of view, I can add to his comments on the Shulsky/Schmitt paper.
    In the S&T world were aware of the possibility of deception. Some documents can be deceptive. Documents intended for internal consumption can’t. New information about a weapons program can be tested for consistency with procedures necessary for development and introduction of weapons.
    We also knew that weapons development programs follow their own logic and procedures. The design and tactical use of weapons may be different. Soviet tanks were designed with a strictly offensive role in mind and were not under the same kinds of life cycle cost-restrictions as were Western tanks. The design process, however, had to be similar, simply because of the engineering logic involved. Drawings precede trial manufacture. Testing precedes final approval for production. Items in production can be introduced into the force only after certain milestones are completed. Troops can’t use weapons without instruction manuals, trained mechanics and actual practice using the weapons.
    Insofar as I know, the October 2002 NIE never asked if Iraqi WMD programs reached the final stages necessary for use by Iraqi forces. (This does not rule out the small-scale use of WMD by a terrorist force. It just means that the intelligence community did not show that the Iraqi military were trained and ready to use them.)
    On the question of mirror imaging and open sources, Shulsky seems to think that the intelligence community was unaware of the problem. In S&T and military intelligence world we were careful, for example, read Harriet Fast Scott’s translation and comparison of three succeeding editions of Military Strategy by V. D. Sokolosvkiy. We were able to compare the open source edition with the one supplied by Oleg Penkovskiy. Our analysis was based on an attempt to thoroughly understand the Soviet point of view.
    In short, Schmitt and Shulsky only mis-assessed the problems of the intelligence community. They then applied an approach developed to correct errors in political analysis to an S&T problem.
    The knowledge and skills developed in response to the fear of Soviet technological surprise were largely dispersed after the first gulf war. Analysis of R&D programs is expensive and hard to sell. The experience of the first gulf war tilted resources towards supporting the soldier in the field. While this is understandable, one wonders what might have happened if the S&T intelligence community had been able to stand up and say that it found little evidence that the Iraqi Army was trained and ready to use WMD.

  18. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Re: Col. Lang’s essay “Artist vs. Bureaucrats”
    It is fascinating, at least to me, that Sherman Kent foreshadowed the organizational problem described by Col. Lang as early as 1949. It can be found at fn 2 on page 74 of his book, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy. Kent discussed the need for free-thinkers in the intel field and goes on to suggest that the security tests circa 1949 would only create a conformity that would lead to a bureaucratic mindset, although he did not describe it in those exact terms. But here is part of the footnote:
    “The outcome is likely to be the certification of people who chief qualification for the job is that they are not liable to attack by the Chicago Tribune or publicity-seeking members of Congress. When an intelligence staff has been screened through a mesh of this fineness, its members will be as alike as tiles of a bathroom floor — and about as capable of meaningful and original thought.”
    Questions abound. Was the S and S paper an attempt to eliminate those who would pose opposition to the Straussian approach of “taking off from the wish”? Were S and S attempting to create a screen that would allow only the hiring of intel analysts who support the Straussian or neoconservative approach? What would happen if an intel analyst relied on analytical assumptions that were diametrically opposed to those of the Jacobin/Likudnik approach?

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