Monday, February 7, 2011

Team B

Fans of Ronald Reagan are reminiscing about his glorious rule, which has prompted me to do a little digging to help recall the facts as contrasted with the conservative rhetoric. My basic understanding is illustrated well with this cartoon. But I stumbled upon another factoid that I meant to blog about a while back after watching the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, which is well worth the 3 hours if you haven't seen it. In that documentary I first learned of what is now referred to as Team B. Thom Hartman has a good discussion of it here, but let me offer a more Reader's Digest version.

In the mid 70's certain neoconservatives were unhappy with CIA intelligence which was indicating that the Soviet threat in fact was small and that they would likely collapse under their own weight within a couple of decades if they were just left alone. This is not what they wanted to hear, so intelligence had to be fixed in order to tell the proper story. Sound familiar? They managed to create a separate intelligence team, staffed entirely with hawks and neocons, that came to the conclusion that the situation was dire and a massive re-armament campaign was needed. Their report can be read here.

The conclusion is that the Soviet Union is not only extremely powerful, but has it's tentacles everywhere. In fact they have submarines that are so sophisticated they can't be detected with our present technology. How do we know this? Because there is no evidence to show their existence!! How else would they go undetected if they weren't so advanced?

Their report was leaked and it ultimately played a role in Reagan's presidential victory. He would use this analysis to bludgeon opponents of death squads in El Salvador and terrorism in Nicaragua. We must use massive and brutal force in these regions because these progressive movements are really KGB plots.

The CIA was also gutted. Analysts that came to frightening conclusions were promoted. Those with more measured conclusions were demoted and fired. Watch a good interview with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern for interesting details.

So who was right? On every major point Team B was wrong and the original CIA analysis was correct. See for instance here and also the Wiki entry. But in terms of promoting the neocon agenda it was a smashing success. So why not try the exact same recipe in Iraq? The exact same people that participated in the Team B falsehoods (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz) were involved in the intelligence that was disseminated regarding Iraq. They produced the exact same outcomes.

Reagan's legacy is one of massive violence against defenseless civilians in Latin America. I wonder if his prominent admirers in politics and the media are ignorant of this. I imagine his rank and file admirers are.


Darf Ferrara said...

To me the challenge in fashioning an intelligence community that simply reports "the facts" is very difficult. It is obvious now that the Soviets didn't have the economic and military power ascribed to them, but how could you tell that at the time? Did the CIA didn't see Sputnik coming, or Russia getting the H-bomb. Russia has always been opaque politically, and they would certainly have been using counterintelligence techniques. Much of the intelligence wasn't confirmed until much later, so the question I would ask is how do you determine a priori what the truth is (and as a follow up, how should that be acted on).

I tend to see the problem coming from the funding source. Funding of the CIA comes from public funds, meaning that the allocation of funding isn't determined by how much or how high quality the information produced, but rather by convincing the politicians that more funding is needed. I don't know how that problem can be solved in our system.

Jon said...

This website says there was no failure on Sputnik. With regards to the H-bomb, it's not that they said it wouldn't happen. It happened 4 years earlier than they had predicted. That's an error, but you sound like you are claiming the CIA wasn't expecting the Russians to get the H-bomb. Not true.

The same was true in Iraq according to Ray McGovern. Despite the neocon gutting the analysts were still doing good work. But Tenet as a sycophant, basically took his orders from Cheney. Report what we need to have reported. He did so but had to ignore his own analysts. The analysts still wouldn't go as far as necessary, so once again Cheney and Rumsfeld created a rival organization to do the evaluation and the proper conclusions followed. And it's all rather clumsy. The Powell presentation was amateurish in it's fraud as were so many intelligence claims.

The problem is not public influence. The CIA has been right over and over again when they are not subjected to the political pressure that comes to serve the interests of private power. Team B's intelligence failures and the pre-Iraq war failures all served private power. The solution is to expel the corporate influence.

What I find really alarming though is just the fact that nobody knows about this stuff. If I had known the Team B script I believe I would have immediately recognized what was happening with regards to Iraq. They are so in your face doing precisely the same fraudulent things they were doing before. And it's the very same actors involved. They can only be successful when the public remains ignorant.

Jon said...

Also let me say that there's a difference between being unaware of something and positively asserting the existence of things for which there is no evidence. The Soviets naturally would want to deceive us with regards to the H-bomb. That they should have some success is not surprising. But look at Team B. There must be undetectable submarines because we can't find them. Look at the pre-Iraq war claims. Amateurish forgeries form the basis of claims about uranium. These are colossal failures as contrasted with a sneak attack. Seriously foreign governments were able to rebut our intelligence claims within hours simply by checking google. That's the difference between an intelligence agency subjected to political pressure (corporate backed) and an agency getting public funds without that same pressure.

Darf Ferrara said...

I'm not claiming that the problem is public influence, but rather public funding. I agree that there is no public influence. The CIA doesn't get more money by producing better intelligence, but rather by convincing politicians that they need more money. In fact, intelligence failure is used as an excuse to spend more money on intelligence. And by the way, there is no evidence of corporate influence in any of the failures.

I should have said that the CIA didn't see the Russians getting the nukes as early as they did. The point stands that it was an intelligence disaster. There are other intelligence failures that can be pointed out, such as Pearl Harbor, to Russian nukes, up to September 11. My point here is that intelligence is hard to get right. And there is a much larger price to pay (for the CIA's reputation, that is) for being wrong about the Russian's not being a threat than there is for being wrong about the Russians being threatening.

HispanicPundit said...

Read the member list at Wiki. Much more respectable group of contributors than Jon's characterization implies.

Also, much of what Team B found turned out to be true where the CIA was wrong. Atleast according to Wiki:

Team B came to the conclusion that the Soviets had developed several new weapons, featuring a nuclear-armed submarine fleet that used a sonar system that did not depend on sound and was, thus, undetectable by existing technology. The information Team B produced was later proven correct.

Pipes himself emphasizes the other aspects of Team B's conclusions: "We dealt with one problem only: What is the Soviet strategy for nuclear weapons? Team B was appointed to look at the evidence and to see if we could conclude that the actual Soviet strategy is different from ours, i.e. the strategy of Mutual Assured Destrucion (MAD). It has now been demonstrated totally that it was", he said, using the example of documents in Polish archives that show the Soviets planning to use nuclear weapons in the event of war. For example, in a Commentary article, he argued that the A team was subject to 'mirror-imaging' (a common problem in intelligence research and analysis) [thinking that the other side necessarily thought the same as your side]; in particular he argued that Team B showed Soviet development of high-yield, accurate MIRV'ed warheads for ICBMs was inconsistent with city-hostage principles of MAD, implying Soviet first-strike plans. In 1986, Pipes said that history shows that Team B, overall, contributed to creating more realistic estimates. (emphasis added)

Jon said...

Political influence is corporate influence. Team B's erroneous and sensationally frightening conclusions served the interests of the military industrial complex and Reagan's backers.

Sure, intelligence is hard to do and there are failures. But the political/corporate influence is what leads to the massive failures. On Iraq Jack Straw in the Downing Street Memos tells us that the case related to WMD based on the intelligence is thin. Once again the intelligence wasn't far off in the absence of political pressure. This is why "the intelligence and facts had to be fixed around the policy" since the decision had already been made to initiate military action. This according to this leaked memo. Cheney had to head over to the CIA for repeated arm twisting sessions in order to get the story he wanted. Also Rumsfeld set up an independent analyst division to reach his preferred conclusions.

Keep in mind that the CIA did inform the FBI that people with links to Al Qaeda were in these flight schools. The FBI didn't act. That's not the CIA's fault. Also the Presidential Daily Briefing a couple of weeks out of the attack is entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US". I don't have the contents of the memo, but we can't be sure that they didn't warn of the potential airline attack.

HP, you omitted an important part from the Wiki entry.

The information Team B produced was later proven correct.[Citation Needed] - [Dubious-Discuss]

Then a quote from Daniel Pipes, the head of Team B, to the effect that Team B was really great. Yeah, I suppose he would say that.

Darf Ferrara said...

"Political influence is corporate influence" might be obvious to you, but it sounds silly to me. Anything bad that the government does can be blamed on the corporations, and everything that it does right is what is in the public interest. Maybe corporations are responsible for everything that the government has done that you approve of.

Jon said...

That's fine and I understand I haven't proved the political/corporate ties. My point though is you seem concerned about the quality of the intelligence. In the absence of political pressure it's not bad. Team A (general CIA) conclusions were right. Team B (politically motivated) conclusions were wrong. From what I can tell the intelligence on Iraq absent political pressure wasn't far off. Not perfect, but in the ball park. The politically motivated pressure is what pushed the perceived intelligence conclusions off the deep end. You can have good intelligence if you don't allow politicians to fix the conclusions.

Darf Ferrara said...

There are a couple of problems with this. You use the phrase "absence of political pressure". How is it clear that there was not political pressure previously? The CIA reports to the executive branch and to congress. Why do we believe that there aren't pushes to find things one way or the other before team B came in? When team B comes in, it is obvious that they have a very strong anti-communist leanings, and so the bias is more clear, but it isn't absent before. The other problem is the glaring failures before and since team B. We really don't know the overall success rate of the CIA, so it really isn't possible to know even now the accuracy of team b compared to the other intelligence gatherers, and it would have been even harder back then.

If and when all the documents are released in 30 years we might have more information about who was right and who was wrong. As it stands there is a citation needed before we know.

Jon said...

I see no major intelligence failures of the kind we see with Team B and WMD. There may have been political pressure, but it didn't seem to result in failures. What we're talking about here is causes of intelligence failures. If there are no failures there is no reason to look for a cause.

Recall your point here. I point to intelligence failures and you respond that the problem is due to the nature of the CIA and its funding. My response is that the CIA functions fine with this funding structure most of the time.

What you need to show is that in fact it doesn't function fine regardless of the political pressure. I don't think you've shown that. You haven't given a single example that I think approaches the silliness of the Nigerian forgeries, exposed by the IAEA after a few hours on google (I said foreign governments before, but in fact it was the IAEA).

Team A represents the CIA with this problematic funding structure you describe, and their conclusions were accurate. The same intelligence community repeatedly told Presidents that Vietnam was not winnable. They told us about Al Qaeda at flight schools. They warned of an Al Qaeda attack in the homeland. They're getting all kinds of important things right all the time. The sharp turn towards error coincided with the political pressure. So I don't think you can sustain your claim that it's just in the nature of the CIA to be wrong all the time due to the funding source. They've been right with this funding structure time and time again.

Darf Ferrara said...

We're kind of going in a circle here, but to reiterate, there were colossal intelligence failures outside of the team B, including Pearl Harbor (which has been rumored to be politically motivated) and the Russian bomb (the article you linked to called it an epic fail) which there is no evidence of politics motivating the decision and you don't really know how good the CIA has been on intelligence.

But what is the moral you take away from this? How is it possible to create a system that is resistant to political pressure when the funding comes from the political process?

Jon said...

I've addressed why I don't think the H-bomb failure is of the same caliber as things like submarines and Nigerian documents. As I said regarding the H-bomb the Soviets aggressively attempted to deceive and apparently had some success. Otherwise the CIA has been very successful.

I think what should be done is to back the corporate influence out. I don't pretend that I've created the link, but that's my opinion.