Get Smart! The movie and the classic TV series followed the comic misadventures of one Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 of the secret group CONTROL. Portrayed by Don Adams in the original and Steve Carell as the movie reincarnation, Max stumbled through to unlikely success on every mission with clueless abandon. When trapped in a difficult situation (which was every episode), Smart would often resort to the “Would you believe?” tactic to convince his opponent that the cavalry was just over the hill and they were in for trouble. This exchange was heard in the first episode in 1965:
Smart: At the moment, seven Coast Guard cutters are converging on us. Would you believe it?
Mr Big: I find that hard to believe.
Smart: Hmmm . . . Would you believe six?
Mr Big: I don’t think so.
Smart: How about two cops in a rowboat?
Another of Smart’s famous catchphrases was, “Missed it by thaaaaat much!” – usually signifying that someone, usually Max, was just a little bit off in their aim, guess, or goal. The Day Smart Turned Chicken marked its first use when a KAOS agent was attempting to jump from a window into a truck loaded with mattresses. He jumps, missing the target of course, Max looks out the window, turns back to the room and utters one of the show’s most enduring phrases.
I think we have to wonder if Maxwell Smart has been running US intelligence since the Carter Administration.
The recent failures of the leadership of the intel community with respect to the Egypt crisis have been legion and stunning. In just the past two weeks, we have had James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence make this statement a bout the Muslim Brotherhood:
“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ . . . is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam,” Clapper said. “They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera… In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.”
This is a bit at odds with the Brotherhood’s stated goals. The Jerusalem Post on February 8th, posted excerpts of a 1995 book by the movement’s fifth official leader. Titled Jihad is the Way , it is the last of a five-volume work, The Laws of Da’wa by Mustafa Mashhur, who headed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from 1996-2002.
The text, compiled by Palestinian Media Watch founder Itamar Marcus and analyst Nan Jacques Zilberdik, details the Brotherhood’s objectives of advancing the global conquest of Islam and reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate, the public and private duties of jihad and the struggle Muslims must wage against Israel.
The full text, translated by PMW, will be posted Wednesday on the organization’s website, Palwatch.org.
“The Islamic ummah,” it says, referring to the supranational community of Muslims, “can regain its power and be liberated and assume its rightful position which was intended by Allah, as the most exalted nation among men, as the leaders of humanity.”
Elsewhere, it exhorts Muslims, “Know your status, and believe firmly that you are the masters of the world, even if your enemies desire your degradation.”
Clapper, Obama’s top intelligence official, is the one who, during a taped interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer in December of last year, indicated that he was unaware of the arrests of 12 terrorists in the United Kingdom. The exchange was as follows:
“First of all, London,” Sawyer began. “How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here? … Director Clapper?”
“London?” Clapper said after a pause, before Brennan entered the conversation explaining the arrests.
Later in the interview, Sawyer returned to the subject. “I was a little surprised you didn’t know about London,” Sawyer told Clapper.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t,” he replied.
This was no small, obscure event. According to Assistant Commissioner John Yates, of the London Metropolitan police:
“This is a large-scale, pre-planned and intelligence-led operation involving several forces. The operation is in its early stages, so we are unable to go into detail at this time about the suspected offences.”
Follow that stunning performance with CIA Director Leon Panetta getting the Mubarak resignation wrong because he was getting his updates from cable news instead of his own intel sources. The Washington Post reports:
CIA Director Leon Panetta helped touch off an avalanche of erroneous expectations Thursday when he testified that there was a “strong likelihood” that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would step down by the end of the day.
Within minutes, senior aides to Panetta sought to tamp down the impact, saying he was merely referring to media reports. But by then, the comments had ricocheted around the Internet, underscoring U.S. confusion about events unfolding in Egypt, as well as the perils of publicly weighing in on such developments while serving as director of CIA.
Going back to the Iraq war, several outlets are reporting that in his new book, Donald Rumsfeld is saying that the Bush Administration was wrong – what he actually is stating is that wrong decisions were caused by bad intelligence.
“While I made a few misstatements – in particular the one mentioned above – they were not common and certainly not characteristic. Other senior administration officials also did a reasonably good job of representing the intelligence community’s assessments accurately in their public comments about Iraqi WMD, despite some occasionally imperfect formulations.”
We have been victims of misreadings of this magnitude since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the UK Guardian captures this:
In August of 1979, the US Embassy charge d’affaires, Bruce Laingen, notes that “within the past few weeks, moderate groups who favour a more balanced society resembling a western social-democracy have become more vocal”.
Laingen continues: “Although the position of the moderate parties is still very fragile, they have shown some signs of life. Their most important organs, including the newspaper Ayandegan and the magazine Ahangar, were suppressed in August. [But] they have begun publishing small papers [that] offer a substantial and critical commentary on events – a commentary often at variance with the official version.”
In an echo of the mass opposition protests after last year’s presidential election, Laingen says the moderate Muslim People’s Republican Party is attracting large crowds to its meetings. Those attending are “largely middle class and well-educated … there were many women, some veiled, a few clerics”.
Laingen reports that “although the audience and speakers had no affection for the old regime [of US ally Shah Reza Pahlavi], there were few mentions of Ayatollah Khomeini [the spiritual leader of the revolution] and no anti-American statements.”
On November 4th, Laingen and 51 other US citizens were taken hostage for 444 days.
The budget of the CIA is classified but some estimates put it around 30 billion dollars. I would estimate that it is likely double that. Add in the cost of military intel gathering and other civilian agencies like the National Intelligence Agency, and we probably pay 100-115 billion dollars a year for intelligence gathering and analysis. Add another 10 billion or so for hardware (satellites, etc) and the number climbs to 125 billion dollars. What do we get for it – Panetta watching CNN for updates and Clapper the Clueless Scarecrow.
Irreplaceable assets in intelligence gathering are people, feet on the street, boots on the ground. Humans in place and experiencing the events as they happen. We have moved away from this tradecraft and invested in computers, bots, worms and electronic surveillance, much to our detriment.
One of the major reasons that we have moved in this direction is that human assets are increasingly hard to recruit and control for the US intel groups. I think that the reason is twofold. First, people in foreign countries simply do not trust the US government. They have seen too many times where we have been willing to walk away from our friends and allies and compromise with our common enemies. The Obama administration’s handling of the “special relationship” we have (had) with the UK is a prime example of this remarkable inconsistency. Another would be this Administration’s failure to speak out in support of the Iranian student anti-government protests in 2010. In times past, people seeking freedom could count on support from US leadership. Speaking out for the Egyptians and not the Iranians is curious indeed.
The second reason is that we project an image of weakness. When peddling information, who wants to tell the 7th guy in power? You don’t. You want to maximize your return by taking it to the top. The US used to be viewed as #1. It was a feather in an intel guy’s cap to work for the good old USA because they knew that we were the 800 pound gorilla on the block. They were important to us and because we were powerful, they were as well. Again, the Obama administration seems intent on making us appear weak and just one of many and I believe that this weakness, whether real or perceived, damages the quantity and quality of our intelligence gathering.
We need to demand more from our intelligence agencies. We need to demand more of this Administration. Clapper and Panetta need to go, either by their choice our by ours. Obama needs to understand that we to be successful and avoid conflicts and war, we need to be a credible friend and a feared enemy.
We need to get smart or we will continue to live in episodes of Get Smart.