Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 30th, 2018

Michael Hayden: The End of Intelligence

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Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, writes in the NY Times:

In 1994 during the height of the Bosnian civil war, when I was head of intelligence for American forces in Europe, I walked through the ruined streets of Sarajevo. A city of once-beautiful steeples, onion-shaped domes and minarets had been devastated by Serbian artillery in the hills rising above the Miljacka River. I wondered what manner of man could pick up a sniper rifle and shoot former neighbors lining up for scarce water at a shuttered brewery.

What struck me most, though, was not how Sarajevans were different from us, but how much they weren’t. This had obviously been a cultured, tolerant, vibrant place that had been ripped asunder by the conflict pitting Muslim Bosniaks against Christian Serbs and Croats.

The veneer of civilization, I concluded, was quite thin — a natural thought for an intelligence officer whose profession trends pessimistic and whose work is consumed by threats and dangers. Over the years I had learned that the traditions and institutions that protect us from living Hobbesian “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” lives are inherently fragile and demand careful tending. In America today, they are under serious stress.

It was no accident that the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” a condition where facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion and personal belief. To adopt post-truth thinking is to depart from Enlightenment ideas, dominant in the West since the 17th century, that value experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study and a respect for ideas.

President Trump both reflects and exploits this kind of thinking. It is fair to say that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree. There was the candidate’s claim that legions of Arabs celebrated wildly in New Jersey as the World Trade Center collapsed. He defended his calls for the intentional killing of the Sept. 11 terrorists’ families because “they knew what was happening” and had “watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center,” something for which there is zero evidence. He insinuated that Senator Ted Cruz’s father had a hand in John F. Kennedy’s assassination and that the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia had been murdered.

When pressed on specifics, the president has routinely denigrated those who questioned him, whether the “fake” media, “so called” judges, Washington insiders or the “deep state.” He has also condemned Obama-era intelligence officials as “political hacks.”

David Priess, an intelligence officer who once gave presidential daily briefings, asked me whether I thought Mr. Trump could distinguish between truth and untruth. He raised the controversial speech Mr. Trump gave at a Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2017, a speech that was overly political and occasionally tasteless. In the face of sharp criticism, the president said that the Scouts’ leader had called him to say it was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them.”

Of course, no such call ever occurred. But was Mr. Trump actually able to draw a distinction between the past that had really happened and the past that he needed at that moment? Mr. Priess’s point was that you could sometimes convince a liar that he was wrong. What do you do with someone who does not distinguish between truth and untruth?

We in the intelligence world have dealt with obstinate and argumentative presidents through the years. But we have never served a president for whom ground truth really doesn’t matter.

For many Americans, this is not a problem. Last year, I met a few of them in the back room of a Pittsburgh sports bar where my brother had arranged for several dozen Trump supporters to meet with me.

I knew many of them, indeed had grown up with several. But we could have been from different planets. They were angry. They work hard, pay taxes and struggle to raise children, but feel neglected by their government. And Donald Trump is still their guy. “He is an American.” “He is genuine.” “He doesn’t filter everything or parse every word.”

They didn’t seem very interested in facts, either. Or at least not in my facts. Political partisanship in America has become what David Brooks calls “totalistic.” Partisan identity, as he writes, fills “the void left when their other attachments wither away — religious, ethnic, communal and familial.” Beliefs are now so tied to these identities that data is not particularly useful to argue a point.

Intelligence work — at least as practiced in the Western liberal tradition — reflects these threatened Enlightenment values: gathering, evaluating and analyzing information, and then disseminating conclusions for use, study or refutation.

How the erosion of Enlightenment values threatens good intelligence was obvious in the Trump administration’s ill-conceived and poorly carried out executive order that looked to the world like a Muslim ban.

That order was almost certainly not the product of intelligence analysis about the threat posed by immigrants from certain nations, but rather the president trying to fulfill a campaign promise based on exaggerated fears about immigrants and unfair criticism of the refugee vetting system. One former senior intelligence official told me that when the ban was announced internally, everyone was simply told to get on board. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2018 at 11:18 am

Wee Scot, D.R. Harris Arlington, and the iKon 102

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A fine way to start the week: An excellent lather from D. R. Harris & Co. Arlington shaving soap, thanks in part to the Wee Scot, and then a smooth and easy shave from my iKon 102, ending with a splash of Arlington aftershave.

The previous post will be of interest to those who cook, and I’ve updated my current diet advice in various ways, including a game.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2018 at 9:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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