DNI McConnell to Intelligence Analysts: Go Talk to Juan Cole

In a post on AJ Rossmiller’s Still Broken, I pointed out that bloggers probably knew more than Condi Rice leading up to the 2005 Iraqi elections because 1) we were reading Juan Cole, 2) we didn’t censor out news we didn’t like:

When AJ was asked how he got the 2005 election right, one of the things he pointed to, half-seriously, was the open source work of Juan Cole.

I began to write the explanation of our methodology, and I tried to resist the temptation to criticize other agencies while explaining how and why we did things differently. State, in particular, was very sensitive about their screwup, and I didn’t want to piss anybody off.

"Sir, can’t I just say that I copied and pasted Juan Cole?"

You see, those running the most powerful country in the world aren’t reading Juan Cole directly, or at least they weren’t. If they’re lucky, some analyst like AJ will read him and allow Cole’s expertise to influence his analysis. And if they’re lucky, that analysis might bubble up to decision-makers without being censored by the vetting process. But AJ’s book demonstrates that those are two very big "if’s."

Well, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell just conceded that AJ was right for reading Juan Cole.

In a new directive that challenges the insular culture of U.S. intelligence agencies, Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell has ordered analysts to cultivate relationships with outside experts “whenever possible” in order to improve the quality of intelligence analysis.

The DNI’s July 16 directive on “Analytic Outreach” (pdf) establishes procedures for implementing such outreach, including incentives and rewards for successful performance.

“Analytic outreach is the open, overt, and deliberate act of an IC [intelligence community] analyst engaging with an individual outside the IC to explore ideas and alternate perspectives, gain new insights, generate new knowledge, or obtain new information,” the directive states.

“Elements of the IC should use outside experts whenever possible to contribute to, critique, and challenge internal products and analysis….”

“Sound intelligence analysis requires that analysts… develop trusted relationships” with “experts in academia; think tanks; industry; non-governmental organizations; the scientific world; …and elsewhere.”

Golly. Almost seven years after 9/11 and the intelligence community might just catch up to us DFH bloggers!

  1. MsAnnaNOLA says:

    I guess better late than never. Maybe we can prevent the next big attack if we all work together and think real hard.

  2. DeadLast says:

    Happy will be the day when Justice Kennedy cites in a Supreme Court decision the writings of Emptywheel. Long live the DFHs!!

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    It’s a plot. Since intelligence has declared that the DFH bloggers are getting better information sooner, this should give them the power to pre-censor Emptywheel. Of course, you can’t appeal since you don’t have the security clearence to see the actual evidence.

    Boxturtle (Adjusts tinfoil hat)

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Is it too snarky to point out that Americans — especially after the intelligence debacles that led to 9/11 and invading Iraq because of its purported WMD’s — expected that McConnell’s own government intelligence shoppes would be employing people like Juan Cole and his peers? Expert researchers and analysts who themselves have personal experience and networks of relationships.

    Hell, even a Regent University [sic] grad could read Cole and regurgitate summaries of his work for their boss higher up the GS rating ladder. Or is that what we’re paying multiples of government salaries to the vaunted outsourced intelligence complex to do? I smell a few new oxymorons being brewed.

  5. Arbusto says:

    Yep, that’s rich. In 1986, I was an avid reader of Tom Clancy, as was an analyst at the CIA under Reagan. He had read Red Storm Rising and had a come to Jesus moment over the plot of the book. The CIA was so taken with the book, Clancy was invited for a Q&A and from the book, and Q&A developed a response to an unthought-of scenario; radical Muslims attacking the Soviet Unions oil infrastructure. Reagan even met with Clancy as a result of the CIA exposure. Would thinking outside the box be allowing inside intelligence today despite McConnell’s assurances. No, not invented here!

  6. bobschacht says:

    Thinking outside of the box, for its own sake, has its dangers. After all, one might say that the whole unitary executive thing involves thinking outside the box.

    What is required, besides thinking outside the box, is developing critical thinking skills and, um, good judgment. It seems the Repubs have neither.

    Bob in HI

    • rapt says:

      Bob said, “What is required, besides thinking outside the box, is developing critical thinking skills and, um, good judgment. It seems the Repubs have neither.”

      I’d say Repubs are bred to have neither. An accomplished Repub with good resume will never interfere with Dickie’s pursuit of dreams of domination, whether it is done lawfully (haha) or not.

      • Hmmm says:

        I disagree, you don’t succeed at aggregating power at that scale and surveilling the whole country without extremely clever and careful thinkers. Just because we disagree on the strongest possible terms with their goals, morals, means, and methods doesn’t mean they’re not smart. There is great danger in misinderestimating.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    McConnell’s shtick reminds me of Glennzilla’s take down of Sen. Brownback today for criticizing the Chinese government for spying on its paying tourists during the Olympics. Shocking.

    Glenn focuses on the Senator’s cringing hypocrisy, his enabling of exactly that behavior by Uncle Sam. I would point out that the Chinese government’s daily spying is unrelated to the Olympics. It’s been doing that for some time.

    As in America, if you’re a foreign corporation like Marriott or AT&T and want to do business in China, you have a duty to comply with all applicable law. (Well, unless you’re a telecom in America and Uncle Dick wants you to break the law. But he can have Congress give you a hall pass, so it’s OK to ignore the law. A process that introduces the notion of informal “laws” and their differential enforcement, a bane of international business, but I’ll leave that for later.)

    If you check into a hotel in China, before your credit card is swiped your passport is fed into and recognized by a security services database. If you’re a target of interest – a VP of ACS, Bechtel or GM, for example – the equipment in your room is actively monitored. Sound, video, telephones, Internet use (including keystroke loggers), ad nauseum.

    These days, it’s not limited to hotel rooms. Like London, CCTV is all the rage. With modern imaging s/w and computer storage and sifting tools, the massive amounts of data real time monitoring produces can be practically employed. So monitoring takes place wherever more than two people (a “crowd”, by local definition) might gather: offices, street corners, cafes, restaurants, subways, the lot. So don’t forget to smile when crossing the street, chatting on the elevator, or enjoying room service.

    The same is true in select parts of the US, such as street corners and subways in Metro DC. And as with any virus, it tends to spread uncontrollably. My problem is that I can never remember whether we’re at war with Oceania or Eurasia.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Yup. Nothing like employing a former insurance salesman novelist to advise your intelligence and security services. Though I must admit, even he predicted twenty years ago that a fuel-laden 747 might be used to great effect in urban renewal projects.

  9. rteolis says:

    Reading this post just made me dizzy. This idea of seeking expert advice -alternative views – outside help on complex research project – this is a new idea? And DNI is recommending rewarding people for it?

    Seven years of manufacturing intelligence to create the reality needed to accomplish political goals between election cycles has just given way to actual intelligence analysis. Back to the fundamentals of sound research and analysis.

    I try really hard not to leave snark comments- I like to leave space for the posts of smart folks whose ideas I love to read. But this is killing me.

    OK- here’s my attempt at an alternate view, a view I wouldn’t take myself:

    Outsourcing intelligence has it’s benefits: You can blame somebody else for the errors, you can make your friends rich by sending contracts their way, you can quit your government job to join the private sector and do the same work at a multiple of your govt salary. What am I missing?

  10. bobschacht says:

    Next thing you know, McConnell will be recommending that new hires read the encyclopedia on the country that they’re supposed to be gathering info about. Maybe the Wikipedia will be next. And then maybe he’ll even recommend that they start reading Foreign Policy on a regular basis.

    But, y’know, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Once your staffers start reading beyond the Weekly Guide to Official Talking Points, they might, like, start thinking independently. And then they might start falling away from the officially cultivated “reality.”

    I think that the reason Dick Cheney hated the CIA is that they DID read outside of the box. They DID read Juan Cole. They actually knew stuff that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Elliot Abrams hadn’t made up.

    Bob in HI

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Seems pretty consistent. And why, I should think, Dougie Feith didn’t want to hire Arabic speaking intelligence professionals to work for his little DoD shoppe of horrors whose job was to dig up intelligence in Arabic speaking countries. What more to say besides the stupid, it burns?

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Oh, Jeeesuz, Bob.
      You’re my hero of the day for that comment.

      Ummmm… and in addition to reading Juan Cole, the CIA may want to check out Scott Horton at Harpers/NoComment today. Re: Pakistan, and how the CheneyBots and RummyDummies let AQ get outta hand, to the amazement of the Pakistanis: http://www.harpers.org/archive…..c-90003347

      Thx for the groans, moans, and chuckles here everyone.
      And JohnLopresti, I’m damn glad you still ‘got your google on’ today ;-))

  11. wrensis says:

    I was reading Juan Cole, Dahr Jamail and Riverbend and the truth of what was happening was so clear. I kept saying to friends If I can find this information why can’t congress.

    • bobschacht says:

      I understand this best by this analogy:
      Inviting intelligence analysts to read Juan Cole, Dahr Jamail, Gorrilla Guides and Riverbend is a bit like inviting a Fundamentalist to read the work of the Jesus Seminar, such as The Five Gospels. Such works are to them Anathema, the work of the devil, so there is nothing to be gained and precious time to be lost reading such works. The fact that such works might contain important information is Anathema to the lower ranks, and dangerously wrong-headed to the elite ranks.

      They live in cocoons of their own construction.

      To some extent, we all do. How many of us spend time reading Little Green Footballs, or PowerLine?

      Bob in HI

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Dominic Crossan, I suspect, would appreciate the analogy more than the Hagee or the late, lamented Mr. Falwell. Which proves your point.

  12. JohnLopresti says:

    Me, I got to till the earth, aint got time for innernet, like the president said in neoFisa, you still got your google (so does NSA have YourGoogle). I have read Cole, but find time constraints and political selectivities seem to counsel his views are best when seasoned with multiple inputs, as well as first person thought, which, seems to be the best management advice of McConnell, as the administration prepares to cast anchor and debark for review dockside. Plus, there are some useful things to learn in the innernet. Thinking of experts on the middle east, I thought of this interview by Amy Goodman in 2007, with an author who had published a new book on the former secretary of defense. Several vignettes in independent thought seem to course their way through the interchange there at DemocracyNow.

  13. Hmmm says:

    In the present context of massively-scaled and massively profitable outsourcing of analysis, I should think there would be a huge amount of push-back within the “IC” at bringing all this free labor into the mix — kind of a perverse, inverted version of an unfair competition argument.

    That’s not meant as snark, and the fact that it could so easily be read as such says boatloads about the state of the IC today. When the institutional imperatives within an instrument can outweigh the original purpose for which that instrument was created, you’ve got a serious Frankenstein problem on your hands.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Ah, and speaking of (financial, corporate, moneylaundering) Frankensteins…. the CIA should also glance at Isikoff today and learn about how the Saudi’s may be (are?) using terrorism to blackmail the West.

      Yeah, I said ‘read Isikoff’… Does he read EW with the rest of us?
      Because how’d he know to keep an eye out for links between BAE, Tony Blair, Bandar Bush bin Laden, and terrorism threats?
      We knew it here because EW has covered those topics this year.
      However, props to Isikoff for several really good quotes, and for bringing this toxic seepage to a larger public.


      • Leen says:

        During the Libby Trial I sat directly behind Isikoff and David Corn. I heard them referring to some of the Libby trial bloggers. At one point he said “don’t they have anything better to do”. I believe some of these MSMers were Tthreatened by how great EW, Jane and Christy were filling folks in on what was taking place.

        I sat behind some other Mainstreamers (sat on the side with the press at one point and no one threw me out) at the trial overheard some interesting conversations.

      • emptywheel says:


        Trust me, me and Isikoff have a date in the near future, to discuss his “journalism.”

        But in the meantime, I’ll take his journamilism.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          Well, I hope he takes the conversation to heart.

          Please feel free to disabuse Mr Isikoff of his false notion that we DFH’s have nothing better to do with our time than hang out on blogs. Some of us do work that requires us to keep an eye on our computers while files render, and at least in my case, the Internet keeps me (moderately) sane while I wait for other processes to complete.

          • Leen says:

            Isikoff was clearly threatened by people paying direct attention to what their government is doing. (Libby trial) He was clearly threatened by people witnessing the trial first hand and feeding it directly to the folks on blogs. It was oh so clear.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Giving it more thought, your analogy is as disturbing as it is enlightening.

    Conservative Christians of all stripes, let alone the Hagees and Falwells, insist on the inherent, literal truth of biblical writings. An equally valid approach is to regard them as evidence of the beliefs of those who wrote them. Dominic Crossan and others involved in the Jesus Seminar claim a faith as strong as their conservative brethren. But they insist on using the rationality of one’s God-given mind to assess the bible’s context. Their studies used anthropological, historical and cognitive research along with traditional textual analysis. In short, it’s a conflict between a belief in faith alone vs. a faith that contemplates testing the facts asserted by faith against our wits.

    What might life have really been like for Mediterranean Jewish village peasants living under the Roman yoke. How many crucifixions were the Romans reputed to have inflicted and how few of their victims were actually buried rather than left to scavengers pour encourager les autres?

    Were money changers at the Temple predators or clerks administering an essential element of the costs of sacrificial rights in an economy dominated by limited resources (like all others)? Are Max von Sydow or Jeffrey Hunter psychologically or historically accurate portraits or false images conveying inaccurate messages? An easy question regarding Hollywood imagery, perhaps, but what about textual rather than film commentary?

    Back to your point. The Bush administration relies on the language and followership duty of a ”faith only” approach to governance. Echoing the lament of a late 19th century papacy witnessing the loss of its temporal powers, it’s a variation on infallibility familiar to every parent: ”Because I said so!”

    Progressives would rather domestic and foreign policy and warmaking — even EPA rule making — relied on facts (the purview of science), not unquestioning faith. Be it faith in Gooper infallibility or faith in priorities that place corporate interests always and forever above the interests of citizens and their communities.

  15. Leen says:

    Thank goodness for Juan Cole.

    Before the invasion of Iraq I kept asking out loud (on C-span, the Rehm show, Talk of the Nation) How in the hell could a soccer mom in southeastern Ohio be hearing expert( Scott Ritter) after analyst ( Josepph Cirincione, former Cia analyst and Flynt Leverett) after Iaea’s El Baradei at the UN in early march of 2002 after Former Presidents (Jimmy Carter) after UN’s Kofi Anan on NPR shows and in the news question the validity of the intelligence and the wisdom of such a pre-emptive invasion and congress could not access this information and questions.

    Hell we had Jason Vest, Jason Leopold, Kathleen and Bill Christison, Scott Ritter, Justin Raimando and so many others reporting about issues that were finally reported about in Phase II of the SSCI

    Could never buy Hillary’s and other congress members excuses “if only we knew then what we know now” horse shit spin

  16. MarkH says:

    Re: Clancy

    Makes ya wonder what other wonderful things he and other fiction writers have told them.

  17. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Awww… poor Mikey ;-)))
    Actually, that article is really, really good.
    I think the blogs are making him a better writer.

    Plus, I wouldn’t have read the article if not for a link on the blogs.
    Driving audience, EW is.
    So they oughta hit her PayPal, if you get my drift.