Too many members of the oracular elite don’t seem to get the connection between policy and intelligence. Or, if they do get it, they deny it, which also happens a fair amount of the time. The connection is simple enough: intelligence goes to the policy makers, and if they make it clear that they don’t want to see or hear about intel that suggests or proves something or other, the intel guys will make sure that the flow of such material shrivels up and dies. Why? Because they work in a closed market in which their success depends on selling to the very small number of clients: above all, the president and others in the executive branch. In recent years, legislators have become part of the mix, but the people at the top of the executive branch matter far more than the others.
Ergo, if you’re a spook, and it becomes obvious that your biggest client does not want to hear about terror, you stop working very hard on it. And even when you get some important information, you don’t send it to your prime clients, because you know they will yell at you and certainly not do anything about it.
So when the White House acts as if the president really couldn’t have been expected to understand the details of the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya, which occurred in tandem with other riots and demonstrations against American facilities all over the region, because the Office of the Director of National Intelligence screwed up the analysis, it’s a deception. Because the director of that office, the hapless General James Clapper, has by now learned that the president and his people don’t want to hear the word “terror,” and don’t want to see any intelligence that suggests a terrorist war against the United States.
This sort of thing is not new with Obama. I experienced it myself during the Reagan years, when I repeatedly tried to convince the late Larry Eagleburger to develop a more effective counter-terrorism strategy. He wasn’t interested, and over time our intelligence on the subject got worse and worse. Things only changed after the terrorist bombings in Lebanon in ’83, at which time CIA director Bill Casey put the best guy he had — Dewey Clarridge — in charge of counter-terrorism, with a clear mandate to do something serious. And Casey knew he could do it because he had the ear of the president. Even the State Department couldn’t prevent the creation of the counter-terrorism center.
With President Obama, there is no counterforce capable of resisting the suppression of decent intelligence. When the White House bans the words “war on terror,” no spook is going to risk his career by talking about it. So it was hard for the intelligence “community” to describe what was happening, both because the correct words were banned, and because the information was predictably lousy.
This is yet another case in which a senior official — General Clapper — should resign on the grounds that administration policy makes it impossible for him to do his job, and because administration policy causes Americans to be killed.
Don’t hold your breath.