The Flynn report, itself a symptom of deep problems in the government establishment

I lack the time to write an analysis of the Flynn report:  “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan“, by Michael T. Flynn (Major General, USA), Matt Pottinger (Captain, USMC), and Paul D. Batchelor (DIA).  In brief, I believe…

  • It’s important.
  • Nagl’s grossly understated the event with ““ it was an irregular way to disseminate an idea for a serving officer”. (source)
  • This is the best brief cut at the report’s conclusions:  “A Bit More on the Flynn Report“, Michael Cohen, Democracy Arsenal, 8 January 2010
  • It shows that the internal dynamics in DC are screwed up even beyond what their worst critics (e.g., Lind) suspected.  The wheels have already fallen off.

Galrahn at Information Dissemination has done a great job (as usual) chipping away to find the underlying significance.  I recommend reading these, and following the links.

Esp note the relationship of CNAS and the military.  IMO there is much more to this story; we’ve only scratched the surface.

The big picture

We’re at war — the long war — in part because our geopolitical experts are almost exclusively funded — directly or indirectly — by the military.  That is, geopolical analysis in the US is a circle-jerk.  Or, as Brad Delong (Economics Prof at Berkeley) says, “The Cossacks work for the Czar.”  This is key to remember when debating geopolitics.  Don’t expect the other side to seriously debate anti-war positions.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
— Upton Sinclair in I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935)

8 thoughts on “The Flynn report, itself a symptom of deep problems in the government establishment”

  1. The foregoing article demonstrates yet again that “war is too important to be left to the generals.” Lincoln fired incompetent or unspirited generals senior officers again and again, until he achieved the desired results – victory. Churchill, likewise, was unafraid to demote and fire his generals; Eisenhower, Marshall and FDR also pulled the trigger on men who didn’t get the job done. Eisenhower himself was promoted over much more senior men to command the invasion of N. Africa, and later Europe as head of SHAEF. Likewise, Eisenhower and Marshall sent home many a man who couldn’t button his lip, or get the results they demanded. Have any senior people, military or otherwise, lost their jobs or been demoted, because of failing to fulfill their intelligence-gathering and analysis missions? When was the last time this happened?

    Eisenhower, the leader of one of the most successful multi-national coalitions in the history of warfare, later CIC NATO and POTUS, warned of the military-industrial complex, whose members would like nothing better than to be unsupervised in their actions, and be deferred to by civilians who presume they lack the standing to criticize anyone or anything connected with the armed forces. We should not leave war-making in the hands of amateurs, but neither should we hand it off to the professionals and walk away.

    Perhaps it is time to abolish the CIA, and start over with a clean slate. Other nations have managed to establish and maintain good-to-excellent domestic and foreign intelligence services, why do we here in the USA have so much trouble with it?

  2. A. Scott Crawford

    When the USMC found itself in possession of oodles of bad advice, bad intel, and bad existing policy relating to it’s operations in Anbar, the USMC (Counter-) Intelligence guys seem to be responsible for sorting through all they’d inherited, and figuring out the necessary information/Intel so their command could adopt what eventually was a successful strategy. Accomplishing this cost quite a few USMC CI personnel their lives (see link below), but given the results in Anbar (which I’m pretty sure didn’t rely on Jordanian Intel or double agents), they must have DONE something right. But, as MI guys don’t commonly vent dirty intel laundry, OR mess with their bosses operational Glory in the public domain like their civilian counterparts, it’s a safe bet their “lessons learned” won’t be posted at the NDU. Here’s the link, on the off-hand chance it’s useful: “Headquarters US Marine Corps Intelligence Department

    Best, A. Scott Crawford
    FM reply: That account of the events in Anbar don’t match what I’ve seen in other sources. The key event was the Sunni Arab locals turning against al Qaeda (unrelated to any US activity, except in shaping the overall situation). This was followed by a rapprochement between the local “tribal” leaders and the US, fueled by US money. Military intelligence seems to have had relatively little to do with this. Counter-intelligence seems likely to have had still less relevance. Eventually the full story will come out, and we’ll know for sure.

  3. Fabius, as you have noted many times, at heart the failures of our intelligence system are – like so many others in our institutions – tied to a defective OODA loop. We cannot possibly make high-quality decisions (except perhaps by chance) if we lack the in-depth knowledge of other nations and cultures gained by longterm immersion in the host nation’s language, religion, political system (tribal or otherwise), economy and nearly every other facet of life. The American approach so often seems to be buy some new satellites, some fancy new technology, underfund humint, and away we go with the next cabinet-level intel assessment.
    This approach flies in the face of reality. We would get much better results by committing the resources, financial and personnel, to a massive restructuring of our intel agencies centered around what used to be the original mission of the OSA, namely gathering intelligence, not staging coups d’etat and assassinating foreign leaders, and other assorted mayhem. That means a much greater effort to teach Americans foreign languages, get them meaningful exposure if not embed them in other nations and cultures for the longterm, and commit the resources to allow them to do the painstaking work of building reliable networks of informants, sympathizers, sources, and others. There is no shortcut to doing this, not yet anyway, and by the time the radical students or what-have-you stormed the U.S. embassy, you are already playing catchup. The above suggestions seem blindingly obvious, but for some reason the mandarins of the professional policy-making and intelligence community seem to have trouble with them.

    There is one other common-sense notion: get rid of top-down bureaucracies in the intelligence business; they do not respond quickly enough to today’s operational demands. Better yet, allow innovation in gathering intel; devise multiple methods and groups, or allow them to self-organize, and then set them free with mission orders on what is needed, but not how it is to be obtained. May the best approach win. I am willing to bet a steak dinner that the private, self-designed folks could beat the pants of the so-called professionals at least some of the time. Well-motivated people left to their own devices are remarkably ingenious.

  4. From “The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition“, By Mitchell Yockelson, Prologue Magazine of the National Archives, Winter 1997:

    “Despite its failure to capture Pancho Villa, the Mexican Punitive Expedition can be deemed a success. Secretary of War Baker praised the efforts of Pershing and his men by stating that “its objective, of course was the capture of Villa, if that could be accomplished, but its real purpose was a display of the power of the United States into a country disturbed beyond control of the constituted authorities of the Republic of Mexico as a means of controlling lawless aggregations of bandits and preventing attacks by them across the international frontier. This purpose is fully and finally accomplished.”

    How ironic! If the Afghanistan mission had been a punitive expedition, then we, like Secretary of War Baker, might simply “declare victory and go home.” We would have to give up the fantasy of a New American Century. And we would lose a marvellous opportunity to practice COIN.

  5. Can we expect the military to agree on a strategy when the nation as a whole cannot make up it’s collective mind?

  6. Pete: Another aspect of seriously effective imperialism would be an enthusiasm for the lands being taken over. For example, following Perry’s opening of Japan, there followed an enthusiasm for things Japanese. E.g., Japanese prints inspired the Impressionists, and Gilbert and Sullivan produced the Mikado. There is nothing like this with respect to, say, Iraqi food or Afghan carpets.

    Also, are there any American Lord Jim’s. Have any Americans “gone native” in Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course, that would be suicidal. But do they refrain for fear of attack; or, rather, have Iraq and Afghanistan become so fearsome because Americans are not the sort of fellows who would go native?
    FM reply: Great point (as usual)! A key part of the British Empire’s success is those few talented odd-balls who “went native” — like Richard Burton.

  7. Re #6: Not exactly gone native, but you might take a look at Greg Mortenson and Central Asian Institute. His books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools fascinating reading.

    Sad part is that a lot of the good he has done is overshadowed by western bluster and power. You just don’t make progress with people in other countries, especially in this corner of the world, by blowing in and telling them what they need to do. Instead, you ‘listen to the wind‘ as Mortenson has done.

    Mortenson is the only American ever awarded the Star of Pakistan — for promoting girls’ literacy and education, and establishing schools in Pakistan.
    FM reply: Thank you for these valuable insights and links!

  8. You can read a good analysis of the Flynn report by French General Michel Masson, former Head (2005-2008) of French Military intelligence -Direction du renseignement militaire (DRM).

    This op-ed “Réorienter le renseignement en Afghanistan” presents reflexions and perspectives about leading operations in Afghanistan, from the intelligence and military fields. CF2R is a French independant think-tank working on intelligence, terrorism, conflicts and proliferation.

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