What Intelligence?

Have you ever though about the meaning of the word, “insurgent”? Calling the people in Afghanistan who are attacking U.S. and NATO troops insurgents has become common. “Insurge” means to rush or surge in, but the Taliban didn’t rush into Afghanistan; they are natives who have always lived there. It was American and NATO troops who surged into Afghanistan; in Iraq, Americans even called one such going in “a surge.”

And what about “intelligence” as in intelligence agency? Properly speaking, intelligence is a attribute of human beings. As such, organizations cannot be intelligent. Intelligence is distinguished from intellect by being applied to concrete or individual exhibitions of the powers ascribed to the intellect. People are animals endowed with intellect, not intelligence; intelligence refers to the extent to which a person is able to use his intellect. An organization cannot use its intellect, because it has none.

America has a vast “intelligence” conglomerate of organizations. The NSA, CIA, FBI, various branches of the military have “intelligence” groups, and other agencies, too, are involved in so called intelligence. This conglomerate is likely the largest the world has ever known, and its costs are huge, the total cost of which is a deeply held secret. It has vast technical apparatuses used to watch people, see what they do, hear what they say, read what they write. And yet, all of the money spent, all of the people employed, all of the apparatuses used are insufficient. These agencies have shown, over and over again, that they rarely learn what they seek.

The information gathered is derived from many sources. Much is speculative, some is contradictory. It often amounts to little more than hunches. Some is correct, much is not.

In Afghanistan, NATO and US forces grossly underestimated the Taliban’s capacity to mount a vicious counteroffensive. No one predicted the use of suicide bombings. In Somalia, the U.S. backed warlords that had ruled Mogadishu for two decades were suddenly overthrown by a bunch of lightly armed mullahs called the Islamic Courts Union. Few in the State Department seemed to have heard of this grassroots movement before it took over the country. The United States also failed to predict that Uzbekistan would close down the American base that had been there since 2001, downgrade relations with Washington and tilt decisively toward China and Russia. After the Palestinian elections, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stammered that the victory of Hamas came as a complete surprise to her. The mother of all intelligence failures, of course, was the CIA’s inaccurate prediction that Saddam Hussein’s regime would be found to have weapons of mass destruction. One of the main charges against the CIA and FBI post-9/11 is that they failed to join up the dots beforehand. The killings at Ft. Hood resulted from an intelligence failure. The FBI had information about Hasan’s extremism, but didn’t investigate enough. Intelligence agencies apparently cannot make connections between bits of information to make a coherent whole. But who can blame them. Bits of information scattered here and there can be likened to needles in multiple haystacks. Too much information is as impossible to deal with as none.

So what’s wrong with this picture:

The United States of America, in all likelihood, has the largest and most expensive intelligence gathering service the world has ever known. We can assume it operates everywhere, even Timbuktu.
The United States of America tortures prisoners to acquire intelligence.

If the huge intelligence gathering service works effectively, why is the torture necessary? And if torture is necessary, doesn’t it mean that the huge intelligence gathering service doesn’t work? One or the other has to be unnecessary. Which one?

People who believe, as our leaders seem to, that both are necessary are involved in contradictory thinking which distorts every rational thought process. Is it any wonder that American policies are ineffective? Only insane people think this way! Intelligence gathering does not produce intelligence. As the results mentioned above show, only ignorance is produced. Given all the means 21st century snoops have for gathering information, why do they have to resort to medieval methods? The only possible answer is that the practices employed by the agencies don’t work. But history has shown that torture doesn’t either. The Grand Masters of the Inquisition immolated many who were completely innocent.

When a nation as powerful as the United States goes to war on the basis of bad information, where does that leave the world? “We have squandered thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, we have projected force without intelligence—and that is folly. . . . That is how nations fall and that is how nations lose power.”

©2010 John Kozy

About the Author:
Retired professor of philosophy and logic who blogs on social, political, and economic issues. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he spent 20 years as a university professor and another 20 years working as a writer for various private companies. He’s an active blogger. His pieces can be found on http://www.jkozy.com/.
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