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October 11, 2002

“Intelligence,” a utopian fantasy: Republican rancher, EFF co-founder, and sometime Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow on how the American intelligence community is broken:
If, in 1993, you wanted to see the Soviet Union still alive and well, you’d go to Langley, where it was preserved in the methods, assumptions, and architecture of the CIA.

Where I expected to see computers, there were teletype machines. At the nerve core of The Company, five analysts sat around a large, wooden lazy Susan. Beside each of them was a teletype, chattering in uppercase. Whenever a message came in to, say, the Eastern Europe analyst that might be of interest to the one watching events in Latin America, he’d rip it out of the machine, put it on the turntable, and rotate it to the appropriate quadrant.

The most distressing discovery of my first expedition was the nearly universal frustration of employees at the intransigence of the beast they inhabited. They felt forced into incompetence by information hoarding and noncommunication, both within the CIA and with other related agencies. They hated their primitive technology. They felt unappreciated, oppressed, demoralized. “Somehow, over the last 35 years, there was an information revolution,” one of them said bleakly, “and we missed it.”

It doesn’t get better in more recent years:
There is also the sticky matter of budgetary accountability. The director of Central Intelligence (DCI) is supposed to be in charge of all the functions of intelligence. In fact, he has control over less than 15% of the total budget, directing only the CIA. Several of the different intelligence-reform commissions that have been convened since 1949 have called for consolidating budgetary authority under the DCI, but it has never happened.

With such hazy oversight, the intelligence agencies naturally become wasteful and redundant. They spent their money on toys like satellite-imaging systems and big-iron computers (often obsolete by the time they’re deployed) rather than developing the organizational capacity for analyzing all those snapshots from space, or training analysts in languages other than English and Russian, or infiltrating potentially dangerous groups, or investing in the resources necessary for good HUMINT (as they poetically call information gathered by humans operating on the ground).

In fact, fewer than 10% of the millions of satellite photographs taken have ever been seen by anybody. Only one-third of the employees at the CIA speak any language besides English. Even if they do, it’s generally either Russian or some common European language. Of what use are the NSA’s humongous code-breaking computers if no one can read the plain text extracted from the encrypted stream?

The pundits of the “blogosphere” like to bray about how the Church Committee, in the mid-1970s, emasculated American intelligence by making it harder to overthrow Central American governments on behalf of United Fruit. But when a mushroom cloud goes up over an American city, it’s likely to have a lot more to do with an intelligence establishment in which only one-third of the employees speak any language besides English, than with Congressional disapproval of dime-store hanky-panky. Bloody hell. Grow up. [09:48 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on "Intelligence," a utopian fantasy::

DonaldDuck ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 12:18 AM:

No, you grow up. The definition of a liberal like youyrself is to never take responsibility for anything. Before Sept 11th, you do everything to destroy the power of the intelligence agencies. Now all of a sudden you have hearings on "the failures" as if you would give them any powers or additional budget. You demand hearings from Bush and the rebublicans on Iraq. When you get them, you accuse Bush of pulling an election stunt. You go on and on about how Bush is going to bomb Iraq and act unilaterally. Instead, Bush goes to Congress and the UN and has done nothing.

You stand for anothing. There is a classic line in one of my favorite West Wing episodes where John Spencer saws to Martin Sheen "You know what I hate about your liberalism. You think that there is moral absolutes." Thats what you all think on Iraw. If we just "listen" to them, "understand" them, they can be turned around. This is a decision right here, right now. The mushroom cloud will come because we failed to stop the threats, period. You liberals all go on about how we had advance warning like you would have done anything. Anyone detained would have been demanded free with howls of protest from the ACLU and people like you. See, there never is a right for you people? Now, we have advance warning on Iraq and you all howl in protest. I will tell you plainly: people like you and the rest of your far left friends will directly have the blood of American lives in your hands.

Romer ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 01:08 AM:

Is DonaldDuck (good moniker, dude! Talk about needing to grow up!) serious, or is he putting us on? It is PERFECTLY sound policy to rein in the CIA's brutal, run-amok covert operations while at the same time demanding that the Agency improve its intelligence-gathering abilities. In fact, the two reforms go hand-in-glove: BOTH the blowback from covert operations (e.g., the overthrow of the Shah) AND the lack of good intelligence (e.g., re the collapse of the USSR and Saddam's intention to invade Kuwait) have hurt the U.S. Getting rid of one and beefing up the other is just plain common sense and good self-defense.

Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 01:54 AM:

My, my. I came here to post a comment about my own experience with the intelligence community, and encountered Donald Duck making the kind of thoughtful, clearly-enunciated argument that his Disney namesake is so well known for.


I've had occasion to watch some bits of the Intel community try to cope with both changes in the world and changes in technology, and Barlow's comments are dead on. Alas,it's not just a matter of growing up; large parts of the system are deeply broken. Priorities, responsibilities, and lines of communication are set in concrete, and efforts to make changes are actively resisted. I've seen a close colleague accused of gross incompetence and viciously attacked by very senior people for suggesting that, for purely technical reasons, a particular kind of technical intelligence was not worth the cost of collecting it (and for responding to a request to brief a congressional staffer on his work.)

There *are* parts of the problem that could be fixed by technology, but not just by replacing teletypes with computers (although as of when I was working on this stuff, you still couldn't send email from one intel agency to another). It would take radical changes in how data and information (*not* the same things) are handled. I was part of an (unclassified) study about 3 years ago to figure out how to do such things, and we came up with some pretty good ideas -- which went into a nicely-illustrated final report with a hypertext CD-ROM and video presentation, and promptly disappeared without a trace.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 02:38 AM:

Hey, Patrick, it looks like you, personally, are responsible for the poor state of American intelligence agencies. Wow! A pantsless anthropomorphic duck with a sailor suit and a speech impediment (whose uncle is #4 in the Forbes Fictional Fifteen) says so, so it must be true.

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 05:37 AM:

Hi Patrick,

Which pundits are you thinking of? At least on the blogs I read, there seems to be a consensus on both left and right that the security apparatus is pretty much screwed. I mean, if a week goes by without Glenn Reynolds berating the FBI or CIA for simultaneous incompetence and abuse of power, I haven't noticed it.

Anyway, is DonaldDuck a joke? His voice sounds more like a parody of a right-winger than a real one.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 06:29 AM:

Glenn Reynolds is orders of magnitude better on these issues than a lot of right-of-center types. But it's still a commonplace in many right-wing circles that if there's anything wrong with our intelligence, it's the Church committee's fault. No, I don't have the heart to assemble a list of citations. Yes, there are left-wing pieties that are just as ignorant and stupid. Yes, we can all write the rest of this argument in our sleep.

If Mr. Duck is a parody, I'm unaware of it. He certainly has the right-wing facility with a glib lie: "That's what you all think on Iraq. If we just 'listen' to them, 'understand' them, they can be turned around." Of course, as even cursory readers of this weblog know, I think no such thing, and have in fact argued the contrary position on more than one occasion. But that hardly matters. In fact the Ducks of the world perform exactly as they've been designed to; their role is to provide covering fire while more ostensibly "reasonable" voices tug us in the direction of the monstrous. It's working, too.

DonaldDuck ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 09:06 AM:

Ok Mr. Hayden, no moral absolutes. This is a decision right here right now. No going back to Church commissions, Vietnam wars, etc. Your intelligence communities are providing logical coherent credible data about the chemical, biological and other capabilities of the Iraq murderer. They are warning of the ties to Al Queda. They are showing previous transactions, previous and current funding from Iraq. 11 years of Containment. No Fly Zones, UN Sanctions have 100% failed. Ok, what are you going to do??

Iain J Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 10:10 AM:

> Your intelligence communities are providing logical coherent credible data about the chemical, biological and other capabilities of the Iraq murderer.

That would certainly be a great step forward.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 10:17 AM:

Let's get to the point: If I were President and had solid data showing that Iraq is giving WMDs to Al Qaeda or other stateless terrorist groups, and/or other data demonstrating Iraqi intent to cause grevious harm to the US, I would not hesitate to use American military power against Iraq.

Of course, that's not what's happening in October 2002, as recent news has amply demonstrated. Consistently, the Administration has claimed "smoking guns", and just as consistently, it has failed to produce them. Indeed, the CIA's testimony to Congress this week contradicts the Administration's line.

All of this has been extensively discussed by "conservatives" and "liberals" alike. The weakness of the Administration's arguments and evidence has even been noted by supporters of near-future war on Iraq.

Either you know this already, which means you're simply arguing in bad faith; or you don't know it, in which case you're too ill-informed to waste any more time on. In either case, though, you'd be well advised not to assume that anyone who distrusts this Administration and deplores this rush to an ill-considered war must therefore be a reflexive opponent of any use of American force. The World Trade Towers were a stop on my morning commute. I saw them burn and heard them fall. You can kiss my ass.

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 10:28 AM:

Well, I did some digging, and was able to find some articles on NRO and the WSJ confirming what you said about the Church commission.

This surprised me, actually, because in the circles I move in it's a commonplace that the US security apparatus has lots of power and uses it very badly (both in terms of abuse-of-power and pure efficiency). My own political awakening happened during the Clinton administration, and memories of fights with the NSA over encryption and the FBI over CALEA, and the general lack of clue displayed at Waco and Ruby Ridge have shaped my worldview. (I was strongly impressed with Ruby Ridge: I felt more sympathy for a racist wingnut who would probably cross the street to spit on me, than I did for the Federal Bureau of Investigations...!)

You sound very close to despair. I hope you don't succumb. The big political thing I'm worked up about these days is copyright, and that's pretty much just been one defeat after another for the last few years. I made a conscious decision sometime last year not to become defeatist: the fact that today is better off than 30 years ago is proof that positive change is possible. So I try to be philosophical, keep writing my reps and sending money to the EFF, and plan on being in this for the long haul. The way I figure it if Vaclav Havel didn't lose hope I have no right to. :)

Mickey Mouse ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 06:26 PM:

"Before Sept 11th, you do everything to destroy the power of the intelligence agencies."

I'm awfully glad you quit doing that, Patrick. You were, after all, frighteningly effective.

The problem with all you "people" is the way you all rant insanely about "categories" of people without the slightest explication of distinctions or without what we call "accuracy." All you people do it! Darn you! You, you, you -- ranters! See, there never is a right for you people? Nor even grammar or punctuation! I will tell you plainly: people like you and the rest of your far left friends will directly have the blood of American lives in your hands if you don't rant more! Or less! Whatever!

My job here is now done.

DonaldDuck ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 09:44 PM:

I'm so glad that grammer and Punctuation matter more to you than your country and its safety.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 10:01 PM:

"Donald", I'm so glad that, by responding only to the nitpick about your grammar and punctuation, you implicity admit that you can't refute any of the substantive criticisms that have been made about your arguments. (Not that I expect any better from some coward who posts from behind an arbitrary pseudonym.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 10:04 PM:

Note that, while I answered Mr Duck's challenge in detail, Mr Duck doesn't engage with a single point I made back to him.

Also note that, contrary to what Mr Duck deliberately imputes, at no point have I bothered to criticize Mr Duck's "grammar and punctuation". In fact, I've silently amended it when quoting him.

Now that I've noticed this, of course, no one will see fit to comment on it. After all, I have no feelings, and am entirely invulnerable to abuse by malicious strangers.

Romer H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 10:18 PM:

Patrick, After answering whatever substantive points (if any) DD may have had, it's best just to let his sad incoherent little rant speak for itself. You've got better things to do than waste time replying to such people.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 12, 2002, 11:54 PM:

Hey, Patrick:

Good responses to Donaldduck. You gave it more attention, patience, and courtesy than it deserves.

Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 01:25 AM:

Many years ago, in another place, I was involved with various intelligence agencies.

It was the universal opinion of those in similar lines of work that the Company was massively incompetent. Nothing's improved in the interim. It is so badly broken now that the only solution I can see would be disestablishing it and starting over.

I do not care to comment in detail about Langley's failings. But anyone who claims to love this country, and care for its well being in the present and in the future, should be leading the charge to disestablish the current CIA and replace it with a central intelligence agency. This country has gone too long without one.

(Oh, yeah, and Donald Duck -- what's your clearance?)

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 07:23 AM:

Neither Donald Duck nor Mickey Mouse have the nerve to leave real emails or links. Duck's is a dead end link when I click on it and Mickey uses Gary Farber's. What a pair of gutless losers.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:36 AM:

Patrick, I think everyone considered the source. I, for one, view attacks by morons as compliments. That's when they're directed at other people, of course: reading such vitriol directed against oneself is a very different matter, even if written by an obvious idiot and coward.

John, I assumed it WAS Gary, writing as Mickey Mouse to satirize DonaldDuck, and using his real weblog link to avoid being a coward. If not, the person is really good at imitating Gary's style of sarcasm. I mean "...rant more! Or less! Whatever!"? How could that be anything but satire?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:58 AM:

John Farrell claims -- excuse me while I put on my straightest possible face before I quote -- that "Neither Donald Duck nor Mickey Mouse have the nerve to leave real emails or links."

But this is obviously untrue, as John's very next sentence states. If you click on the name "Mickey Mouse", or roll your mouse over it, you get a "real link" -- the link to Gary's well-known weblog Amygdala. If Gary Farber had been trying to conceal his identity the way Mr Duck has been, why would he have typed his own weblog URL into the posting form?

In other words, Gary Farber wasn't hiding anything, and calling him a "gutless loser" is way out of bounds. Indeed, comparing his obvious joke to the anonymous abuse of Mr Duck is exactly the kind of "moral equivalence" that we've all heard a lot about lately, except that usually it's liberals who get accused of it, generally because they pulled one of those fiendish liberal tricks like "suggesting we consider the conflict from the other guy's point of view." Moral equivalence! Can't have that!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 09:12 AM:

On second thought, it looks like John Farrell simply thought "Mickey Mouse" was another anonymous troll who was using Gary Farber's URL. In other words, he wasn't accusing Gary of being a GW.

In which case, he can live. Tumbrils, return to base.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 09:38 AM:

Hi all,

My deepest apologies to all for not getting Gary's sarcasm! (Which just goes to show you how new I am to blogs in general!)

I indeed thought it was a troll using Gary's link. Gary is a regular visitor here, so it seemed a likely cover for a troll.

I do apologize, Gary--for missing your sarcasm and for any unintended insult! Mea maxima culpa!


John F

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 10:03 AM:

"Donald Duck", like so many others, has allowed himself to be seduced by the pleasures of cheap and easy indignation, and the glow of self-righteousness that follows it.

His imagined "liberals" bear no more resemblance to reality than do the Know-Nothing's subhuman Irish immigrants, the anti-Semite's child-murdering Learned Elders of Zion, the anti-Catholic's Isis- and Nimrod-worshipping crypto-pagan idolators, the Klansman's white-woman-raping uppity blacks, or the John Birch Society's water-fluoridating commie conspirators. Like those other pantomime characters, his liberals exist only as an object of pleasurably indignant contemplation.

It is a corrupt pleasure. In return for it he has given away his judgement, his dignity and responsibility as a citizen, and the good of his intellect, to the people who keep him supplied with these amusing lies.

Look at him. He's so accustomed to being spoon-fed his daily ration of hogwash that he either doesn't bother or doesn't remember how to actually read the material he comments on; and yet he's certain he figures as the hero of this piece.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 10:35 AM:

My gods, Teresa. You never cease to astonish me.

A scathing yet dignified denunciation, and broadly applicable (as self-test, too). Are you sure you weren't Ben Franklin in a previous life?

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 10:40 AM:

John, say ten Hail Marys and call us in the morning...

That was a pretty minima culpa, if you ask me...strictly wet noodle turf.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 11:34 AM:

John, say ten Hail Marys and call us in the morning...

I will, and "I further resolve to avoid both sin and the occasion of sin in the future."

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 01:44 PM:

The CIA, like most large government bureaucracies, isn't about intelligence; it's about defending the job security of the incumbents. Actually doing something comes a long way down the priority tree. See also "Yes, Minister" for the reason why bureaucracies work this way, and John Ranelagh's history of the CIA for the specific case in point.

The really interesting question is why Donald Duck chooses to defend such an obviously broken institution. Is he, by any chance, an Iraqi astroturf campaigner trying to put a spoke through the wheels of anyone who is actually attempting to fix the damage? Because that's the only explanation that actually makes sense to me ...

Ary-Gay Arber-Fay ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 05:04 PM:

I hereby testify that I am now, and have always been known as "Mickey Mouse." My decades of service to the FBI in this undercover role are now revealed. I am unmasked. My immensely subtle and clever computer programming, concealing this identity beneath layer after layer of cryptographic security is stripped bare. And, as all know, I never use your strange human trick of "sarcasm," but only ever speak plainly, since I am, as you know, Amish.


Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 05:10 PM:

I would like, by the way, to remind everyone that I personally invented sarcasm, and though I have, myself, never been so low as to use this device, I do deserve all credit whenever it is used in blogs. Remember, I only charge a single penny for each use!

Users are directed to the PayPal button on my blog.

(Chris: good call.)

(Provocation: covert action is not actually inherently evil, bad, wrong, and always a bad idea: discuss.)

DonaldDuck ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 06:24 PM:

I do concede that the intelligence agencies are broken and need to be fixed. You people are right on that and I stand corrected.

I do not concede Mr. Hayden's points that there has not been an adequate case made aggainst Iraq. At least in my opinion. Iraq has clearly used chemical and bilogical weapons before in the Gulf War as well as aggainst the Kurds. My point is simply that these weapons can and will be sold to terroists where they will be used aggainst us.

I'm sorry for my tone and rhectoric. I should have phrased things in a much more diplomatic style without accusations. I thank you all for pointing that out obviously.

Romer H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 07:00 PM:

This must be a first for the blogosphere: Someone has actually conceded a position--and gracefully too. Isn't this is one of the biblical signs of the Apocalypse?

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 07:28 PM:

Mr. Duck, thank you for toning down your rhetoric and for actually making a coherent argument.

As far as that argument goes, I remain unconvinced. For one thing, the general argument (not the one you just made, but the one being made by the Bush administration and many pro-war voices) centers around "weapons of mass destruction", a term which includes not only the biological and chemical weapons that we know Iraq has used, but the nuclear weapons we are prety sure they have never had and don't have now. While I admit that Iraq's possession of nukes would be a threat, I don't agree about their possessionof chemical and biological weapons, since those are much less dangerous. It's pretty tough to kill large groups of people with such weapons unless you've got really ideal conditions -- Aum Shinri Kyo only managed to kill eleven people when it released nerve gas in the crowded Tokyo subway in 1995. That's not in the same league as a nuclear weapon. Palestinians manage to rack up similar casualty figures using conventional explosives. I'm not saying I'd want to be a victim of either kind of attack -- dead is dead. I'm just saying that I don't consider Iraq a major threat just on the basis of their possessing chemical and biological weapons, especially since we've got still better weapons to strike back with.

I also strongly distrust the Bush administrations motives in this fight. I think they intend to set up a permanent military presence in Iraq to use as a base in the region, and similar bases in other parts of the world, as part of creating a globe-spanning American empire. (Evidence: "Rebuilding America's Defenses", a report written in 2000 by 27 people, six of whom now have key defense and foreign policy positions in the Bush administration. Patrick linked to this earlier.)

Bill Peschel ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 07:45 PM:

What I'm not getting is the connection between the Church committee, and the fact that CIA analysts are still using teletypes in 1993. This sound more like bureaucratic stagnation than liberal conspiracy theory.

Also, don't forget what the FBI and CIA were doing that brought the Church committee down on them in the first place. Was it their place to attempt to assassinate Castro? Organize an invasion of Cuba? Spy on citizens within the United States, compile dossiers, send threatening letters anynmously and launch whispering campaigns against dissidents like Ernest Hemingway and John Lennon? (I'm overstating that a little there, but it is true that both were being monitored by the FBI.)

I'd have to see more evidence, or at least a coherent arguement, drawing a link between the connection between the Church committee and the intelligence community's failure on 9/11 before I'm convinced.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:13 PM:

I'm unclear who you're arguing with. Who in this discussion has claimed a "connection between the Church committee, and the fact that CIA analysts are still using teletypes in 1993"?

Certainly I remember perfectly well why the Church committee did as it did. I'm confused about what you're getting at.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:20 PM:

Since Mr. Duck has made a reasonable comment, I'd like to ask him a reasonable (I hope) question: what purpose is usefully served by directing comments and questions to "you people"? Which "people," exactly, does he think he is addressing here? Clones? Or individuals, with different thoughts and philosophies? Is there some reason I address this question to him, rather than to "you people"? Or would he prefer to speak for, and is credentialed to speak for, "us people," whomever the heck they may be?

I respect the hell out of Patrick, for instance, but I wasn't aware I elected him as my spokesperson, much as I most often agree with him, and I'm not aware he's granted me the right to speak for him. Etc., etc.

In other words, this "you liberals" thing is, uh, not just misdirected, but never possibly accurately directed, until such time as there is an election for Liberal Spokesperson. (I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat, is the phrase that comes to mind.)

I realize that this makes denouncing "you liberals" awkward, but not, you know, more so than denouncing, with special added spittle, "you crazed right-wing fanatics." All of whom think equally alike, of course. Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Bill Kristol, John McCain, whatever. All Republicans are alike. All Democrats are alike. All conservatives are alike, all liberals are alike.

Or, as we say: Maybe Not.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:28 PM:

Also, as a conceivably, but not obviously, redundant note to Mr. Duck: impugning people's patriotism, love of country, honor, and desire to protect the country and one's fellow citizens is not a useful or polite way to engage in conversation.

I'm actually vaguely interested in protecting the country. Of course, since you know whom you are addressing with "you people," you know that I actually slightly lean towards a pro-war stance, as is perfectly clear in my writings in my blog, which I'm sure you've read, since you address me as one of "you people."

But it might be somewhat less clear to you that those who are anti-war also desire, with equal passion, to protect their country. The means, you appear to be unaware, are something that reasonable people can disagree about, or even be unclear about.

If you have access to a sure source of wisdom about the future, and the outcomes of our near-future action, I do hope you'll grant us similar access. Myself, things seem unfortunately unclear. Will it be 1914 or 1991? Me, I don't know. Maybe you do. If so, I envy your insight.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:34 PM:

"While I admit that Iraq's possession of nukes would be a threat, I don't agree about their possession of chemical and biological weapons, since those are much less dangerous."

That people think this is, by the way, why I was arguing so passionately that it's a fat load of crap. Selling this idea is dangerous, because people make arguments based upon this erroneous concept.

Signed, not dead of influenza, smallpox, ebola, tabun, sarin, VX, etc., and grateful, so far. All of which are a hell of a lot more dangerous than buildings falling down. Which obviously only threatens a few people, and is not a "weapon of mass destruction."

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:41 PM:

I'm devoting far too much time to this, but: "Also, don't forget what the FBI and CIA were doing that brought the Church committee down on them in the first place. Was it their place to attempt to assassinate Castro? Organize an invasion of Cuba?"

I feel a desperate need to point out that these agencies didn't suddenly develop a wild and out of the blue urge to do these things. They did them at the express orders of the President of the United States. In these cases, specifically, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. Blaming the agencies makes as much sense as blaming the mail carrier. They all followed orders. You want to blame someone? Someone(s) should certainly be blamed. Blame the Presidents, and Cabinets and senior officials. The enactors of orders did not originate their orders, and blaming them is also, in the British usage, crap. Also known as: nonsense, fucked up, stupid, and wrong.

Myself, I blame John Foster Dulles. And, of course, society.

Neel Krishnaswami ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:56 PM:

Bill, I don't think there's any connection between the Church commission and the failure of the CIA on the WTC attacks.

CIA officials reported, shortly after 9/11, that there wasn't even one instance of their being unable to recruit a spy because of the Church commission rules. (I can't find a reference to this, though -- does anyone else remember it?) However, that may be a comment that means less than it seems, because an acknowledged weakness with the US intelligence community is that it doesn't recruit very many spies, prefering to work with satellite and signals intelligence.

Arguments about the Church commission are clearly a rhetorical device; saying we should drop the Church rules is a way of saying we should assassinate suspected foreign terrorists, without having to directly say "I think the US government should be in the business of assassination". (I don't like this device: that's why I've tried to avoid phrases like "regime change" in favor of plainly stating that I'm in favor of "invading Iraq" and "war".)

I don't buy the factual argument, either. I think the failures were due to structural problems with the FBI and CIA rather than because of legislative limits. The article that PNH linked to represents the conventional wisdom among my kind (right-libertarian hacker types). (Probably lefty hacker types too, but people like Avram and Charlie can speak for themselves.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 08:57 PM:

To reiterate: Just about any fission or fusion device, detonated in an urban area, will cause some order of megedeath.

Only some "chemical and biological weapons," deployed in an urban area, will do so.

To point this out -- as Gregg Easterbrook did in a New Republic article that Gary has strenuously attacked in a variety of places -- is not to suggest that chemical and biological weapons are harmless, or that we should cease to worry about them.

It's, rather, to remind ourselves that the category "chemical and biological weapons" spans a broad variety of devices, some horrifyingly lethal, and some of only limited effectiveness.

This is relevant because the Administration, with its relentless "Weapons of Mass Destruction" drumbeat, has been obviously trying to get us to agree to the proposition that since Saddam Hussein used gas on his own citizens, he will be using atomic bombs on Washington, DC next Tuesday.

This is a bad argument and deserves to be called out. If what the proponents of immediate war believe is that we oughtn't take chances, that what we know of Hussein's capabilities and intentions is enough, let them say that. Let's not build a rhetorical granfalloon, "Weapons of Mass Destruction," in which unpredictable low-tech gas weapons are made the direct moral equivalent of ICBMs.

I am certainly aware that some chemical and biological weapons could kill tens of millions of people. I'm tired of Gary imputing that anyone who criticizes the "WMD" rubric is gaily ignoring this fact. I would be more impressed if Gary had ever responded to the substantive criticisms of his position here.

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 09:14 PM:

"I do not concede Mr. Hayden's points that there has not been an adequate case made aggainst Iraq. .... My point is simply that these weapons can and will be sold to terroists where they will be used aggainst us."

An adequate case against Iraq to do what?

A pro-military intervention advocate recently made the point, in my local newspaper, that a U.S. declaration of war against the state of Iraq, now, would effectively redefine the Articles of War in the Geneva Convention, adhered to for over a century.

He was for military intervention in Iraq, but he pointed out that one consequence of a U.S. declaration of war -- not in response to an overt act of aggression -- would be to challenge the current International concept of national sovereignty.

The destruction of what little International law this world has is not, in my opinion, an action that should be lightly contemplated.

A formal declaration of war by one nation on another is not the same thing as a multinational policing operation (or even a commando raid-like operation by one nation that claims to be either a police action or "self-defense.")

If you ask me (which nobody has, I admit), the entire "War On Terror" that includes deterrence and disruption of al-Quaida should be viewed as an act of self-defense or as a "multinational police action" rather than as a "war" against any specific nation.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2002, 10:42 PM:

Point of order: My last name is Nielsen Hayden, not Hayden. Thank you.

In the rat-a-tat-tat of back-and-forth bloggery, I failed to acknowledge Neel Krishnaswami's thoughtful post, many posts above, about politics and despair. Neel's point is well taken. Thank you.

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 12:18 AM:

"To reiterate: Just about any fission or fusion device, detonated in an urban area, will cause some order of megedeath."

Actually, as came up the last time this argument played out, this isn't the case-- if by "megadeath" you mean literally millions of deaths. Judging from the two nuclear bombings that have actually happened, a more likely death toll for a small terrorist nuke in an urban area (which would likely be about the same yield as the Hiroshima bomb, for the same reasons) would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 to 100,000.

(One difference is that the terrorist nuke would be more likely a ground burst rather than an air burst; what that would do to the death toll, I'm not sure-- it could go either way. The explosion would be dirtier but would destroy fewer buildings.)

That doesn't invalidate your argument, since it's *still* much higher than most chemical or biological weapons could manage. But it's worth being precise about the numbers.

Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 12:22 AM:

Oh, and obviously it depends on the urban area-- you're more likely to kill hundreds of thousands in Manhattan than in Boise...

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 12:32 AM:

You know, tens of thousands seems mega enough for me.

I do find it hard to believe I'm having conversations like this.

I'm sure it's recreational fun for some people in Blogtopia.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 01:02 AM:

"You know, tens of thousands seems mega enough for me.

"I do find it hard to believe I'm having conversations like this. "

It gives me a feeling of nostalgia for my highschool and early college days, when we'd argue about how many nukes it would take to bring on the nuclear winter, and whether or not we lived in a first strike zone, and whether or not it made any sense to try to make plans to survive, always circling around again to how many dead. How many, really? Would they launch them all? Would we all die, would it be the end of the world? How many dead, really? Trying to fathom the minds of people who could count victories in megadeaths. Very sophomoric, I suppose, but we were sophomores. And Reagan was president.

Are we trying to revert to a cold-war logic when dealing with Iraq because we can't think of anything better? A cold war we can win, this time, maybe. There's this feeling of all-or-nothing that I get when I watch people debate the subject of Iraq which bothers me.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 01:31 AM:

Don't you need at least a million to deserve the mega- prefix? Otherwise we're talking about mere hectokilo- or dekakilodeaths.

I actually find it pretty hard to believe that any single chemical attack that terrorists are likely to be able to pull off could kill as many as one thousand people.

As far as biological weapons go, they're tough to use effectively. I have my doubts about terrorists being able to cause tens of thousands of deaths that way, much less "tens of millions".

Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 03:35 AM:

It should be noted that the anthrax attacks last year killed five people, while the recent sniper attacks have killed eight so far. I imagine the sniper had much less trouble getting his supplies.

Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 01:07 PM:

Alan Hamilton makes an interesting point--though I'm even less sure of the sniper's motives than of the anthrax mailer's--and implies another: if being sometimes fatal puts gas and germs in the same category as nukes, it puts rifles in the same category as gas.

At that point, we're discussing "nations that have weapons", which is the same set as "nations", and nobody is calling for, let alone expecting, universal complete disarmament.

The urgent questions aren't "has Iraq ever used chemical warfare?" and "where did they get the chemicals anyway?" They're things like "Is Iraq a threat to the United States? If so, would an armed attack reduce this threat, increase it, or neither? And how do you know?" (If you're British, it's even more complex, since it then includes things like "if he doesn't have missiles that good, would he aim at London because he can't reach Washington?")

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 04:07 PM:

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are even closer than London.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 07:16 PM:

"A cold war we can win, this time, maybe."

This puzzles me. Did we lose the last one? Draw? Is it hard to note that we "won"? If so, why is it difficult to note this?

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2002, 10:03 PM:

Second Prize: You get to be the world's sole superpower.

First Prize: Someone else gets to be the world's sole superpower.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 12:39 AM:

Alan: You said It should be noted that the anthrax attacks last year killed five people, while the recent sniper attacks have killed eight so far.

The anthrax mailer arguably did more real damage to the US than the DC-area sniper has. Yes, so far the DC sniper has killed four more people, but while the snipings have caused panic in the metro DC area, the anthrax mailer caused panic nation-wide, shut down major government offices for months1, shut down hundreds of post offices, and disrupted the transportation infrastructure of the US for months. That's the real danger of chemical and biological weapons--terror, not death.

* There are those who would take the cheap shot to say that this actually benefitted the nation. They can go to hell.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 12:17 PM:

I said That's the real danger of chemical and biological weapons--terror, not death.

Re-reading this comment when slightly more awake, I see that I've implied that I'd rather people be dead than scared. What I meant to say was that the real danger of chemical and biological weapons is that they cause panic and disruption--terror, which is a real damage--far out of proportion to their actual lethality.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 04:08 PM:

But that still doesn't put them in the class of nuclear weapons, which cause massive fatality and massive panic and disruption.

Maybe I'm arguing for having three classes of weapons instead of two. I just know that it's dishonest to make rhetorical claims as if you were talking about nukes, and then back them up with evidence only of chemical and biological weapons.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 05:03 PM:

I've tried to make clearer why I believe so strongly it is critically important to keep the bright line around use of gas, biological, and nuclear weapons here.

Not because they are functionally identical or any lack of "honesty" about that, but because of the need to keep these weapons taboo as possible. This is an extremely long-standing liberal idea, dating from before this century's Geneva conventions. It's a Wilsonian ideal. And one of the most admirable, and practical. One which has, arguably, saved millions millions of lives from suffering.

I can't overstate what a good idea I think these taboos are, and how important they are.

I'm just flabbergasted to see liberals arguing against the quintessentially liberal idea that use of gas weapons and biological weapons should be kept verboten. Even if Republicans are also arguing that case. That doesn't make it sensible to suddenly reconsider and say "gee, maybe it's not so bad if someone uses nerve gas and anthrax; it's really not very different from artillery and bombs."

It's different because humanity decided that on one side of the line, we must do all we can to forbid such use and punish any who try to use them, and on the other side, we're still nowhere near able to blanket forbid such weapons.

That such a line is a bit arbitrary is no reason to surrender the battle, and to say "we can make no moral distinctions here: let us cease to try."

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 09:59 PM:

That's us crazy liberals for you, always questioning earlier generations' received wisdom.

BTW, Gary, could you provide a citation for that "we can make no moral distinctions here: let us cease to try" quote? Who exactly is saying that, and what are they saying it about?

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 10:15 PM:

I don't think anyone here is saying that, from an ethical standpoint, the use of gas and anthrax is no different from the use of artillery. They're saying that the possible use of gas and anthrax poses a less significant strategic military threat to the United States (and its citizens) than the possible use of nuclear weapons.

In terms of justifying an unprecedented unilateral American declaration of war, the knowledge that an unfriendly power possesses stockpiles of these poisons seems less compelling than the knowledge that it possesses the capability to launch atomic weapons.

[Of course, from my point of view, even the knowledge that Iraq possessed nuclear capability _right now_ might not justify a formal declaration of war and full-scale invasion of Iraq. It seems to me that we should be careful about the de facto replacement of the Geneva Convention, and what little international law we have, with the new/old world dynamic that nations with stronger armies and more powerful weapons are justified in launching invasions at will.

FWIW, I'm not necessarily opposed to a pre-emptive tactical military operation with the goal of destroying the weapons capabilities of a hostile nation. In the case of Iraq, I'm not knowledgeable enough about the strategic issues to know whether that kind of action is possible without triggering a full-scale war/reprisal. I have serious doubts about whether the Bush administration has considered the best military advice on the subject.]

In replying to the first point about not sanctioning the use of deadly chemicals in war, I hope Gary won't conflate it with the second point -- about the legal/practical consequences of the U.S. launching a pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign nation that has not overtly attacked us.

FWIW, I'm not happy about Iraq's probable military capability to destroy the state of Israel and murder large numbers of its people, either. But I think we need better hornet-removers than Bush & Co. to protect our friends from being stung to death. I'd like to believe that they'll be safe enough from Hussein until we can accomplish our own "regime change."

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 10:38 PM:

Gary said: I'm just flabbergasted to see liberals arguing against the quintessentially liberal idea that use of gas weapons and biological weapons should be kept verboten.

I would also be flabbergasted to see liberals arguing that. Can you show me any in this vicinity?

Avram has, to my mind, pegged it: There is a rhetorical dishonesty in discussing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as if they fundamentally were the same thing. They're not.

If anyone is trying to declare that we can make no distinctions, it is you; there is a distinction between poison weapons and nuclear weapons, and it is not good policy to treat them as interchangable.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 10:52 PM:

What scares me is that lumping them all together, no matter what the category is named, makes it seem like it's fair play to use any of them in retaliation for any other.

Let's call it FRED. Suppose (may the gods forbid) we invade Iraq. Saddam uses poison gas. (He IS evil, he DOES have poison gas, and he will stop at nothing.) "OK," says OUR lunatic (see what happens when you use the same label for two different things?), "they used their FRED, so that means we're not doing any first-use of FRED! FRED them into the stone age!" And we nuke Baghdad, at which point the entire Arab world turns against us a) because of the importance of Baghdad to their history, and b) because we just poisoned an awful lot of countryside, depending which way the wind blows.

All that's bad enough, but just to add insult-to-our-intelligence to the injury, the term itself is stupid when applied to chem and bio. Weapons of Mass Destruction: doesn't that mean weapons that destroy a lot of stuff? Chem and bio don't do that. Mass, you know, like "on a strategic scale."

I think chem and bio (and maybe nukes too, though the distinction should be maintained) should be called "terror weapons." I think the international community should not tolerate any use of them, by anyone, provoked or unprovoked. That means we can't nuke Saddam, even if he gasses us. That means we can't even GAS Iraqi troops, even if they gas our troops first.

One final note: remember the fuel-air explosives we used in the first Gulf War? Is phosgene worse than having your lungs burned out? Discuss whether fuel-air explosives should be treated as a terror weapon.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2002, 10:58 PM:

Lenny: I have a button that says "Regime Change begins at home." (In this political climate I'm almost afraid I'll get arrested for wearing it, declared an "enemy combatant," and locked away without trial on entirely trumped-up charges...and there's NOTHING to stop them from doing that now.)

Kevin: yours came in while I was writing mine. Right on. If that's not too 60s leftie.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2002, 06:42 AM:

Note how carefully Gary Farber's post elides from arguing that "it is critically important to keep the bright line around use of gas, biological, and nuclear weapons," to arguing for the "need to keep these weapons taboo as possible," to declaring that he's "flabbergasted to see liberals arguing against the quintessentially liberal idea that use of gas weapons and biological weapons should be kept verboten."

You'd almost think someone had been arguing otherwise.

Leaving aside the question of whether "Wilsonian" is a label we should be rushing to claim, let's discuss "extremely long-standing liberal ideas." For instance, the idea that it's good to discuss distinctions rationally, rather than relying upon "taboos."

Another liberal idea: It's good to be fair about what other people are saying, rather than imputing that they said things that they didn't. Such as, for instance, "'Gee, maybe it's not so bad if someone uses nerve gas and anthrax'". Or "'We can make no moral distinctions here: let us cease to try.'"

Who said those things, Gary? Oh, that's right: you made them both up.

Is sliming people like this a "quintessentially liberal idea"? Is it "Wilsonian"?

Given your performance here and elsewhere in this particular argument, I'm not holding my breath waiting for your reply.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2002, 11:33 AM:

I don't think the concept of WMD is entirely a granfalloon. Yes, if we lined up every weapon in the world with a rock at one end and a nuke at the other, we could argue forever about what order to put things in and where the line of "morally indefensible to use" came. (I'd be inclined to put napalm in there with the chemicals.) But that isn't the point.

It's a weird thing about civilization that we have actually got rules for war. There are a whole pile of assumptions behind the Geneva Conventions and all the other rules. Having rules means that people agree that even if all forms of talking break down and they are reduced to fighting they will still acknowledge the humanity of the people on the other side, that they all expect to still be around after any war, that they accept they might lose and be held to account. Thus we have things like the Nazis treating the civilian population appallingly, but sticking to the rules of war and not using gas and not mistreating Allied soldiers. The existence of rules says something good about peace (in the active sense) and civilization. Having wars is something to be avioded if possible, but if everything breaks down and you have wars, having wars with agreed rules is ever so much better than having wars without.

WMD is one of the rules people have agreed. Drawing the line there isn't a sick parlour game. It's been done and agreed. Considering "WMD" all too terrible to use is a good thing. Considering them all equivalent so that if someone else uses one first any of the others can be used in response is really really stupid. We can sensibly campaign to change that -- not to make them more usable, but to stop them being equivalent. We could also campaign to widen what is considered in "WMD". But the statement "WMD" is the set of things we will not use first in war" is part of what means there is a world on the other side of the battlefield.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2002, 10:03 PM:

Glory upon you, Jo, and thank you.

Nick ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2002, 01:02 PM:

I will, and "I further resolve to avoid both sin and the occasion of sin in the future."

I advise you not to try that in the confessional, John, especially if your priest happens to have any training in linguistics .

Nick ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2002, 01:34 PM:

It should be noted that the anthrax attacks last year killed five people, while the recent sniper attacks have killed eight so far.

It should also be noted that the anthrax mailer did not seem to be very interesting in killing people(giving medical advice to people you're trying to kill doesn't seem very wise). Kevin is right that the damage of the anthrax went far beyond the people it killed, but I think the anthrax mailer did not seem to be very interested in doing that kind of damage either. The secondary damage that was done was nothing compared to what could have been done with just a little more effort(in the panic following the actual attacks, sending out a dozen letters containing powdered sugar probably would have been enough to shut down the entire US postal system). I think secondary damage is something which ought to be taken into account when discussing the dangers of non-conventional weapons.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 11:32 AM:

Simon, not all quotes ARE mentions, either. Sometimes the quotes are to indicate that something is being recited in exact words; that doesn't mean it's not meant sincerely.

Sometimes it's even grayer, as in the following sentence: I think we should impeach "President" Bush. Here the quotes indicate that 'President' is just a title, and that the speaker doesn't believe he's really President. Is that a use or a mention? I'm using the title, but quoting it to indicate that I think it's a misuse.

If all these are pure mentions, is anything recited word for word (the Ave Maria, say, or the Pledge of Allegiance) a use? If so, then the Pledge is entirely vacuous, because if you're not USING the words, they have no meaning (of course it's a performative sentence, so that throws another curve).

I realize that this last goes substantially beyond what you said, and also that you were mostly or entirely kidding. But I just. can't. help it.

Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2002, 11:34 AM:

Oops. The first sentence of my penultimate paragraph should read "If all these are pure mentions, is anything recited word for word (the Ave Maria, say, or the Pledge of Allegiance) a MENTION?"

David Neiwert ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 12:34 AM:

Many thanks to Patrick Nielsen Hayden and others for their thorough debunking of the charge that somehow the Church committee was responsible for the decline of U.S. intelligence. It's clear the reforms wrought by the Church hearings were necessary for the CIA to remain a viable agency. It's probably true they did little to improve matters, but the failure of U.S. intelligence to improve were specifically related to its own bureaucratic culture.

Moreover, it's also clear that the real degredation in intelligence-gathering capabilities occurred during the Reagan-Bush era -- specifically, when a turf-building character named Duane Clarridge arrived on the scene.

Consider this paragraph from the excellent piece by intelligence veteran Reuel Marc Gerecht in the July/August 2001 Atlantic:

The Counterterrorist Myth

The CIA's Counterterrorism Center, which now has hundreds of employees from numerous government agencies, was the creation of Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, an extraordinarily energetic bureaucrat-spook. In less than a year in the mid-1980s Clarridge converted a three-man operation confined to one room with one TV set broadcasting CNN into a staff that rivaled the clandestine service's Near East Division for primacy in counterterrorist operations. Yet the Counterterrorism Center didn't alter the CIA's methods overseas at all. "We didn't really think about the details of operations97how we would penetrate this or that group," a former senior counterterrorist official says. "Victory for us meant that we stopped [Thomas] Twetten [the chief of the clandestine service's Near East Division] from walking all over us." In my years inside the CIA, I never once heard case officers overseas or back at headquarters discuss the ABCs of a recruitment operation against any Middle Eastern target that took a case officer far off the diplomatic and business-conference circuits. Long-term seeding operations simply didn't occur.

Of course, many of us also remember Clarridge as one of the people pardoned by Bush I on the eve of his departure from the White House, en route to covering his Iran-Contra tracks.