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May 20, 2004 4:38 pm


Human Intelligence



For two days, I sat, riveted, watching the 9/11 Commission hearings that took place in the auditorium of the New School, in Greenwich Village, NYC. These hearings were not broadcast on any of the networks nationwide, but there wasn't a single major network in this city that wasn't carrying it.

For all that has been said about yesterday's appearance by former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one thing that has not been noted was Giuliani's insistence that the intelligence community needs to depend more on actual human beings to do the work of interpreting the mounds of information collected by a vast technological apparatus.

The problem, he said, was that too much of the government's efforts have gone into the technology of intelligence, but that there is no substitute for human intelligence: actual people who might infiltrate potential terrorist organizations to get the information that enables better, more accurate and effective interpretation of disparate bits of data.

When the debate centers around imminent threat or illusion, truth or lies, accurate intelligence can make all the difference between war and peace.

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Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 5/21/2004

Jason, as a libertarian, I too have the same concerns you have about the intelligence community. All the more reason to keep important safeguards on the ways in which that community operates vis-a-vis law-abiding American citizens. I think that most libertarians have been less-than-enthusiastic toward organizations like the CIA, only because they have been less-than-enthusiastic toward the overall foreign policy of the US, which has engendered the kind of clandestine work that the CIA has done.

There has to be some distinction between gathering information for the purposes of defending the rights of American citizens, and using those same intelligence organizations to topple foreign governments or to prop-up "friendly" US autocrats in foreign lands. I suspect that if the long-run role of the US were diminished in these foreign lands, there would be less of a need for spy agencies. But, as you say, in the current context, the alternatives are far worse.


Jason Pappas - 5/20/2004

In a war that is mainly covert, bad intelligence can lead to false positives (Iraq) and false negatives (9/11). Both are extremely costly in lives, wealth, and the long term cultural/political/structural ramifications.

Now libertarians (myself included) haven't always been enthusiastic towards many of the intelligence agencies and their operation. But given the present state of the culture and feasible near-term changes, the alternatives are far worse.

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