I was invited to give a presentation entitled, “The Intersection of Ethics and Accountability in American Government and the Issue of Politicization of Intelligence” at Wright State University. The presentation took place on May 21, 2009. The school has about 17,000 students and is located in the eastern suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, next to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I was teaching at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), which is located on the air base. The invitation to make the presentation came from a former student who works at NASIC and teaches at Wright State. When I told him that I wanted to include an analysis of Governor Kaine’s Review Panel Report on the Virginia Tech tragedy, he welcomed the topic to the agenda. Indeed, the Wright State police officer whose main responsibility is the prevention of campus violence, not only attended the presentation, but met with me the next day for a broader discussion of what Wright State is doing to prevent gun violence and dealing with troubled students.
Thank you, Evan, for inviting me to come to your class this evening at Wright State University. I am so pleased that this class is examining the ethics of the intelligence profession. This is my 42nd year in intelligence and I cannot think of a time when a recommitment to ethical behavior is needed more.
Attempts to manipulate and politicize intelligence are an everyday problem all of us face in the intelligence profession. Every intelligence officer I know has faced the problem; every intelligence office I know has come under pressure to cook the books, to distort or change their intelligence conclusions. The problem of manipulation of intelligence is a problem that exists at all levels of government: federal, state, and local.
Let me begin by quoting Craig Whitney of the New York Times:
“The natural bureaucratic response is to be defensive. Officials hide behind the
veil of secrecy or national security, or executive privilege. The fear
embarrassment, personal or institutional. Elected officials fear retribution
from the electorate. Yet demanding accountability from elected and appointed
officials of the government, and insisting on revealing and correcting their
shortcomings, are the most basic rights and duties of citizens in a democracy.”
I believe that Mr. Whitney’s words apply to all of us. In everything we do whether it is Intelligence or academic studies, those around us have the right to demand ethical and honest work. If not, we should be held accountable.
CIA University teaches a course in ethics and in that course the instructors cite some disturbing statistics dealing with cheating in this nation’s colleges and universities. Here is an example of the percent of former students who admit to cheating while in school: Law schools, 63%; Arts Programs, 64%; Public Service and Government Programs, 66%; Medical Schools, 68%; Engineering Schools, 71%; and Graduate Schools in Business, 76%. These statistics indicate to me that cheating and unethical behavior in this country has reached epidemic proportions.
Turning to the Intelligence profession, there are three main sources of attempts to manipulate intelligence:
1. From consumers: All consumers approach intelligence with an agenda, a bias, or a desire for intelligence to support his or her prejudices or, in the case of politicians, their policies. I expect this pressure; this is what the consumers do. Most consumers do not want to hear that the intelligence shows their deepest help beliefs or policies may be wrong. As Craig Whitney points out, if they are politicians they fear retribution from the electorate. The fear of being wrong on the part of some politicians is so great, that no matter how well reasoned and compelling the intelligence is, they will do everything they can to undercut or prevent the distribution or acceptance of the intelligence. It is not uncommon to hear the following, “How dare you undercut the policies of our beloved president!”
2. From managers and supervisors: Managers and supervisors fear institutional embarrassment or retaliation from powerful consumers. You often hear such phrases as, “The President doesn’t want to hear that.”
3. From within yourself: Putting your career or best interests ahead of the integrity of the intelligence. This is something all of us have to fight.
But, protecting analytic objectivity must remain a paramount goal of all intelligence officers and organizations. Without objectivity, our products have no value, and we have no credibility.
The problem is compounded when you take into consideration that intelligence officers are always making judgments and conclusions based on fragmentary evidence. In other words, risk is not just part of the business, risk is the business. Intelligence analysts rarely if ever have all the pieces of the puzzle—there is always something missing. If you have all the pieces of the puzzle you are writing history.
Intelligence analysts are paid to bring clarity and understanding to problems and situations that defy clarity and understanding. We are paid for our brains; we are paid for knowledge of a given area or subject; we are paid to make judgments on fragmentary evidence. We cannot shy away from making those judgments. Our analytical judgments must be timely, clear, and address problems and/or concerns of national, state, or local interests.
Because we deal with fragmentary evidence we will make mistakes. It is humanly impossible to be correct 100% of the time—there must be room for error. Any intelligence organization with its salt must allow for error. But it does not stop there, a post mortem must be done in order to learn and to grow, in order to prevent a repetition of mistakes.
The best defense against the manipulation or politicization of intelligence is well written, well-documented analysis. The intelligence analyst’s product must be clear and concise. The analytical conclusions must be free of ambiguity. The need for clarity and precision in Intelligence writing makes it one of the most demanding forms of written English.
How many of you have ever heard comments such as this paragraph was written at the seventh grade level, or this paragraph was written at the tenth grade level? There is a way you can check the level of your writing in Word—I never do it. The test is the “snob test.” The test measures you ability to use complicated long sentences correctly—sentences no one reads. The test also measures your ability to use multi-syllable, obscure words correctly—words no one will understand except a very few. No where does the test measure content.
Intelligence writing must take these words and sentences and put them in a form such that a reasonably intelligent person, who knows little or nothing about the subject, can understand: It must be in a form that will not talk over the head of the generalist or down to the specialist—and it must retain all the complexity of the subject. That is difficult!
The secret then, to dealing with politicization of Intelligence is to produce well-written, well documented, clear and precise papers that make it difficult for the consumer to distort. In the final analysis, if you have done your job well and the consumer really cannot distort your words, he or she will simply ignore what you have produced or be forced to take it at face value and act on it.
Let me give you two examples of manipulation of Intelligence:
--The use of the words “ethnic cleansing” with regard to developments in
Bosnia in the 1990s
--The official report on the shootings at Virginia Tech.
First, let’s look at the use of the words “ethnic cleansing” by the American policy makers, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the news media.
Having spent a great deal of my professional life working on the Balkans, having traveled and lived there, I was very interest in what happened in Bosnia. I was also puzzled why the words “ethnic cleansing” were being used and not “genocide.” I began asking questions in my Intelligence Analysis classes, “Why isn’t the Intelligence Community using genocide to describe the massacres taking place in Bosnia?”
The answer invariably was the same, “Every time we try to use ‘genocide’ we are told we are not allowed.” Everywhere I taught I asked the same question, “Why aren’t you calling the slaughter of people in Bosnia ‘genocide’?” Always the same answer, “We are not allowed.”
On one occasion I was teaching at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia and asked the same question. This time a hand went up in the back of the class. Young women said, “I can tell you why. I am a lawyer specializing in international law. The U.S. is a signatory to a UN treaty stating that any signatory using the words, will activate the treaty.”
My response was, “Fine, it works for me, isn’t that why we signed the treaty in the first place.”
“You cannot use ‘genocide’ in your writing,” she answered.
I thought for a moment and then said, “Do you mean to tell me that if the Department of Agriculture uses the word ‘genocide’ the treaty will be activated?”
“Yes,” came the response.
“Well if that is the case; if the U.S. hired lawyers that allowed our government to sign such a treaty, then all of them should be fired. Neither the CIA nor any part of the Intelligence Community speaks for the U.S. government. The Intelligence Community serves an advisory function, supplying policy makers with information upon which to make policy. Those lawyers—if what you are saying is true—clearly do not understand the role Intelligence plays in supporting the government. Nor do they understand the need for any member of the Intelligence Community to use any word necessary in the English vocabulary to analyze a problem or situation.”
Needless to say I did not gain a friend at Quantico.
In April of 2008, I spoke at the annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Intelligence Agencies (IALEIA) and the Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Units (LEIU). I made the same point about the danger of word games in the production of intelligence, citing the “ethnic cleansing.” At the end of the presentation a man came up and said he was very interested in what I had to say about word games. He then said that he taught law at an Ivy League university and used that treaty in his class.
The gentleman then said, “You are right, and the FBI lawyer is wrong. There is nothing in the treaty to prevent any one, anywhere in the Intelligence Community to the word “genocide,” if it is appropriate.” He then added, “You know why Intelligence officers have been told they cannot use it, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I want my students to tell me—we cannot use the word ‘genocide’ in official publications because it would force the politicians to make a decision!”
I told this story in a class not too long ago and a young man raised his hand. He said he was a former military Intelligence officer who had encountered the same problem. He had been stationed in Italy when the fighting was taking place in Bosnia and tried to use the word “genocide” in his Intelligence reports.
I asked him why he hadn’t been able, and the young man responded by saying that his commanding officer would not allow him to use the word “genocide” because it would be an insult to Israel and the Jewish people.
I could only respond by saying, “Incredible, absolutely incredible!”
It is amazing to me how people who know nothing about a subject will make up anything—that was the case of the commanding officer.
I lived in Yugoslavia in the early 1980s and spent time in Sarajevo. My wife and I went to the synagogue in the Bosnian capital and talked with a survivor of the holocaust. Apparently the commanding officer didn’t know that Israel recognized the killings in Bosnia for what they were—genocide. In fact, the Israelis evacuated the remaining members of the Jewish faith still living in Bosnia because they recognized that it would only be a matter of time before the genocide turned on the Jewish community.
I would argue that to avoid calling the killings in Bosnia genocide, is an insult to the Jewish people!
* * *
Every one of you in front of me will have to make decisions over whether to go with the truth or whether to go with what is best for you careers.
Now let me bring this problem of manipulation, corruption, and cover-up to a venue closer to home. We are sitting in a class room on the campus of a major state university. School safety should be of paramount concern to everyone in this room.
I live in a state that has experienced two of the worst school shootings in this nation’s history, yet officials in that state have engaged in a politicization of the problem. The painful truth is that the parallels in the two shootings are astonishing—from the profiles of the two killers, to the schools’ failure to heed warning signs, to the poor response of law enforcement officials, and finally, to the failure of elected officials and school officials to analyze the shootings and put the lessons learned from that analysis in to place in order to prevent future shootings. I am talking about the killings at the Appalachian School of Law on January 16, 2002, and the killings at Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007.
Because of the limited time we have, I will only concentrate on the flaws of Virginia Governor Kaine’s Review Panel Report. For example:
1. The report does not identify mistakes in judgment and the people who made those mistakes.
2. The report is a classic example of conflict of interest—a government panel, appointed by the government to investigate a government agency—Virginia Tech.
3. The panel drafting the report had no subpoena power or ability to make people testify to what they knew—under oath.
4. Key players, such as the state police, did not cooperate and withheld critical documents.
5. The report engages in syrupy-sweet word games such as: “What we did well…” and “Where we need to improve…” Nowhere does the report use the correct words about failure to make the correct decisions and the devastating consequences of those failures.
6. The timeline is flawed. A timeline is the basic first step in any crime scene analysis, if that timeline is flawed, then the credibility of the whole report is seriously damaged.
7. The report never points out that Virginia Tech University violated its own safety rules.
Unfortunately the pro-gun and anti-gun extremists have high-jacked the school shooting issue. They have drowned out those of us who argue there are other, critical issues that need to be addressed in order to prevent these shootings. For example, the need to have clear rules and guidelines about how to identify disturbed students who may be a danger to themselves and others—and how to ensure that they not only get treatment, but that weapons are kept out of their hands.
In the Virginia Tech shooting, just as in the Appalachian School of Law, administrators ignored faculty warnings about the killer. It is incredible that professors. It is incredible that professors would come to school administrators and express fear for their lives, and these administrators would do nothing. It is equally incredible that this is not directly addressed in Governor Kaine’s follow-up report.
The question remains what can any of us do to prevent politicization of Intelligence and crime scene analysis? There are a number of things we can do:
1. To paraphrase the title of Virginia Tech Professor Lucinda Roy’s book, “No Right to Remain Silent,” do not remain silent—all of us have a right and responsibility to speak out when confronted with evil or danger. Many of the people in positions of authority who refuse to act are little more than playground bullies. When you confront them or threaten action, they almost always back down.
2. Most large institutions have an Inspector General—file a complaint with the Inspector General.
3. Many large institutions also have an Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s job is to investigate charges of abuses or capricious acts of public officials. Charges of corruption of intelligence or abuse of power such as failing to respond when people feel their lives are endangered—will be investigated.
* * *
The presentation was attended by several members of the Wright State University Police, including Patrick Ammon—the officer in charge of preventing campus violence. Officer Ammon and I spent a considerable amount of time talking about campus security.
Wright State had just completed a “shooter on campus” exercise. The school apparently conducts regular training drills dedicated to responding to gun violence on campus. Officer Ammon made an interesting point as to why guns are not allowed on campus at Wright State. He asserted that if students were armed and began firing at each other, how would the police know who the actual shooter is? Furthermore, Officer Ammon speculated that the number of casualties would be far higher if the class room turned into a wild West shoot-out.
Officer Ammon also said that at his school, if the police are called and a student appears to be a threat, there is no delay—the student in question is taken to the hospital for psychological evaluation. The student is not allowed back until he or she is deemed “safe” and no longer a threat by mental health professions. I only wish that such stringent rules had been in place at the Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech. Perhaps, if the follow up report about the Virginia Tech shooting had been clearer and more objective, similar rules would be in place now.