Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Awaiting the return of she -- a variation

"Well, not exactly," would be my response to the question should anyone actually interpret the title of this post as a literary allusion to Ayesha. More likely, however, no one reading this post has ever heard of Ayesha or of the novels, "She" and "Ayesha, the Return of She," by H. Rider Haggard. However, without ever realizing it you may have brushed against Ayesha in a metaphorical sense as characters based on her who have appeared in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or wondered who she was had you read Sigmund Freud's, "The Interpretation of Dreams," or spent some time absorbing the essays of Carl Jung. So, if your curiosity has not been aroused by now, it is not because I did not try. As for my title on this post, on occasion I have referred to myself as "He" -- usually in the context of "He who waits for She." I assume you get my drift. If not, suffice to say summer has returned, and a new season of my wait for "She" is under way.

Where is the homeland?

H. Rider Haggard was a writer of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, so you might have an excuse if you have not heard of him. All right, let us travel to the mid-Twentieth Century and mention a writer of that era: How many of you know who Jack Kerouac was?

How many of you are familiar with the words he wrote in a 1949 letter: "All of life is a foreign country."

How many of you think you know what Kerouac meant with those words?

How many of you care what that sentence means and sometimes think thoughts like that?

I go back and forth on Kerouac's literary significance. I first read his "On the Road" in college. I thought even then that Kerouac -- "the man" -- was more interesting than the book -- or any other book that he ever wrote, for that matter. Nothing has changed my mind since. He was a man's man who was more of a recorder of life around him than he was a novelist. Does that really change anything?

Once upon a time, I had the opportunity to interview Kerouac's buddy, Allen Ginsberg. He truly was a boring man, I thought at the time. But, he was speaking on the college circuit then, and, perhaps, he was bored from presenting the same talk to the idolizing child-students in his audiences and was reflecting or radiating that feeling toward anyone who spoke to him. I mention this because I would have much preferred to have interviewed Kerouac, but he was long dead by the time my path crossed with Ginsberg.

So, why am I writing these rambling thoughts? In recent weeks, I keep being reminded of the Kerouac quote: "All of life is a foreign country."

Being reminded of it often keeps me thinking about it often. And, I wonder. If Kerouac were right -- that life is a foreign country -- and, I think he might have been, then where is the homeland? The native soil? The land where I belong?

Asking questions is easy. Finding answers to them is what actually takes talent and ability. So far, I have not found the answer to that question. Possibly, the place where I belong is the place where "She” dwells.

Hmmmm. I wonder. I wonder if she sits beneath the branches of some other old tree waiting for me to arrive while, at the same time, I sit here -- beneath my World Tree (Yggdrasil) -- waiting for her.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A leap from here to there & where

As sort of promised (or sort of threatened -- your choice of words) a few days ago, here is a review of Henry "Hank" Crumpton's book, "The Art of Intelligence." (See May 15 post.) The review comes from Sue Mi Terry of The Wall Street Journal. It was published May 18 in the Journal. My own thoughts regarding the book and the review are irrelevant at this point, so instead I will ask you to turn your attention for a moment to the magnificent specimen of wolfhood leaping from the snowy bank of a cold stream to .... to what? To where? To the opposite side of the cold stream, obviously .... well, maybe obviously, but the answer to the question involves what is on the unseen other side of the cold stream. More snow? That would seem to be the logical conclusion. But, perhaps summer is on the opposite side of the stream. Perhaps, it is not a stream  at all, but a lake, and our friend wolf is destined to find himself over his head in deep water. Remember, Horatio, there are more things in heaven .... and, why does our wolf make the leap in the first place? Whatever .... I will leave it to you to write your own ending to the story told in this photograph. By the same token, write your own ending to the music: Would Johann Pachelbel tap his foot to Yngwie Malmsteen's rendition of his magnum opus, Canon in D Major, or would he run from the room screaming?

As threatened, a book review just for you:
"The Art of Intelligence"

By Sue Mi Terry
The Wall Street Journal

'Go get 'em," was the directive from President George W. Bush. It was a Saturday morning soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Years later, veteran CIA officer Henry "Hank" Crumpton recalled that, on the drive back from Camp David, he was stunned. The lead role in the imminent Afghanistan campaign had just fallen on him and his crew—men who had "no military experience" and had made "only a few visits to South Asia, and never to Afghanistan." But it was the president himself who had asked him to go. "So we go," he thought. "As hard and as fast as possible, go."

At the heart of Mr. Crumpton's memoir, "The Art of Intelligence," is an engrossing tale of how a seasoned CIA officer spearheaded the first campaign in America's war on terror. Under his direction, in the fall of 2001, small teams of CIA operatives and U.S. Special Forces, together with Afghan allies, came to kill thousands of al Qaeda and Taliban combatants and to break their hold on Afghanistan in less than three months. Even though Osama bin Laden slipped away, and the Taliban eventually returned to foment a new insurgency in Afghanistan, this ground-breaking campaign was a success beyond all reasonable expectations.

For all its engaging detail, there are few revelations in "The Art of Intelligence." The overthrow of the Taliban has been chronicled before—by Mr. Crumpton's fellow CIA officers in other memoirs, such as Gary Berntsen's "Jawbreaker" (2005) and Gary Schroen's "First In" (2005), and in works of history such as Doug Stanton's "Horse Soldiers" (2009). Nevertheless, Mr. Crumpton's narrative, especially when chronicling the response to the 9/11 attacks, moves like a thriller, presenting a story of ingenuity and courage under fire. Along the way, he casts light on the transformation of the CIA in recent decades.

Mr. Crumpton first became interested in CIA service, he tells us, when he was a boy. At age 10 or 11, he wrote a letter to the agency explaining his desire to join it one day. To his surprise, he received a reply thanking him for his interest and encouraging him to apply when he got older. At the time—the mid-1960s—the CIA was at the height of its Cold War glory, waging battles against communism around the world and engaging in paramilitary operations in Southeast Asia.

But the ethos that had animated the agency's founders was shattered by the opposition to the Vietnam War. A significant percentage of the American elite, from whom the CIA had drawn its initial recruits, turned against the war and against the intelligence community. One result of this shift in outlook was the Church Committee hearings of the mid-1970s, which uncovered past CIA assassination plots and other covert activities. A couple of years later, there were severe cutbacks under Jimmy Carter's CIA director, Stansfield Turner, who was not shy about laying off veteran Cold Warriors.

Thus the CIA that the young Mr. Crumpton joined in 1981 was an agency in crisis—and in the midst of a cultural transformation. More and more CIA officers were cut in the mold of Mr. Crumpton himself, a small-town Georgia boy who had graduated from the University of New Mexico, not Harvard or Yale.

The agency was partially revived by William Casey, who as Ronald Reagan's CIA director oversaw a vast covert program to undermine the Soviet Union—most spectacularly in Afghanistan, where the CIA funneled weapons to the mujahedeen. Mr. Crumpton was not involved in these covert actions; in his early days at the agency he was focused on traditional intelligence gathering, mostly in Africa. A crisp style makes his personal recollections from these years compelling, not least when he recounts how he recruited various spies—from repugnant delinquents motivated by greed to idealistic nationalists motivated by ideology.

Mr. Crumpton steadily rose into the agency's senior ranks and returned from overseas in the late 1990s, when the Cold War was over and the agency was searching for a new mission. These were the years when the focus was on economic intelligence and other "soft" subjects. They were also the years when the al Qaeda threat was growing. Mr. Crumpton was soon at the forefront of the effort to respond to this threat.

In 1998-99, on loan from CIA, he served as deputy chief in the FBI's International Terrorism Operations Section. He then served as deputy chief of the CIA's counterterrorism center, between 1999 and 2001. Mr. Crumpton and his colleagues, he notes, were stymied by a pervasive caution among policy makers and bureaucrats, and among their own superiors. Mr. Crumpton says that he pushed for sending Special Operations and CIA commando teams deep into Afghanistan before 9/11 to engage al Qaeda, but to no avail. There was, he says, insufficient political will in Washington. At one point in 2000, Mr. Crumpton writes, "we had Bin Laden in our electrical-optical sights, but we had no realistic policy, no clear authority, and no meaningful resources to engage the target with lethal speed and precision. It was all sadly absurd."

That "absurd" policy did not change when the Bush administration came into office. But it changed with a vengeance after 9/11, when Mr. Crumpton and his fellow operatives were unleashed to take risks that would have been unimaginable before. Under President Obama, the pace of counterterrorist operations has expanded still more, including drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

That expansion, in turn, has led to a major institutional change at the CIA. The agency, which had all but gotten out of the paramilitary business after Vietnam, has returned to its old form. In fact, the CIA's greatest successes in the past decade have come from identifying and killing terrorists; its biggest failures have involved assessing non-terrorist targets, such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Mr. Crumpton's memoir is a compelling account of the changes that have allowed the CIA to fight the war on terror with unprecedented resources and success. There is no doubt that the CIA will in the future have to devote more resources to intelligence gathering. The agency should apply to its traditional operations the same ruthless, results-oriented ethos that Mr. Crumpton and his colleagues applied to fighting al Qaeda.

Ms. Terry, a senior research scholar at Columbia University, has served as a senior East Asia analyst at the CIA and as a member of the National Security Council. A version of this article appeared May 18, 2012, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Agency Goes to War.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sorry, but here comes another war story

"There are more foreign spies on U.S. soil now than at the peak of the Cold War, according to Hank Crumpton, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency's National Resources Division, a highly sensitive operation charged with collecting foreign intelligence here in the U.S. Crumpton also led the covert response to 9/11 in Afghanistan, where the CIA helped topple the Taliban." Those were the words a CBS spokesperson used on the May 13 edition of its news program, "Sixty Minutes." Crumpton has written a book, "The Art of Intelligence, Lessons from a Life in the CIA's Clandestne Service," just published this week, which traces his career in the CIA. As of a few hours before publishing this post, I have not been able to locate a review of the book. So, here is a publisher's promotional piece regarding Crumpton's career and a video of his interview on "Sixty Minutes." If I run across an actual review of the book, I might slip it in here later, but, of course, there is no reason you cannot buy the book and read it yourself. It might be educational and even jolt you into reality.

Hamlet .... Act 1, Scene 5:
"Swear by my sword
Never to speak of this that you have heard"

 A legendary CIA spy and counterterrorism expert tells the spellbinding story of his high-risk, action-packed career while illustrating the growing importance of America's intelligence officers and their secret missions.

For a crucial period, Henry "Hank" Crumpton led the CIA's global covert operations against America's terrorist enemies, including Al Qaeda. In the days after 9/11, the CIA tasked Crumpton to organize and lead the Afghanistan campaign.

With Crumpton's strategic initiative and bold leadership, from the battlefield to the Oval Office, U.S. and Afghan allies routed Al Qaeda and the Taliban in less than ninety days after the Twin Towers fell. At the height of combat against the Taliban in late 2001, there were fewer than five hundred Americans on the ground in Afghanistan, a dynamic blend of CIA and Special Forces. The campaign changed the way America wages war. This book will change the way America views the CIA.

"The Art of Intelligence" draws from the full arc of Crumpton's espionage and covert action exploits to explain what America's spies do and why their service is more valuable than ever.

From his early years in Africa, where he recruited and ran sources, from loathsome criminals to heroic warriors; to his liaison assignment at the FBI, the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, the development of the UAV Predator program, and the Afghanistan war; to his later work running all CIA clandestine operations inside the United States, he employs enthralling storytelling to teach important lessons about national security, but also about duty, honor, and love of country.

No book like "The Art of Intelligence, Lessons from a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Service" has ever been written -- not with Crumpton's unique perspective, in a time when America faced such grave and uncertain risk. It is an epic, sure to be a classic in the annals of espionage and war.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The war within a war

Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's clandestine service,  has written "Hard Measures," a book in which he defends the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on high-level Al Qaeda detainees. Here is a review of the book by Husna Hag, a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, followed by a two-part video interview with Rodriguez aired on the CBS television news program, "Sixty Minutes." Both the book review and the interview appeared on April 30. Look them over and offer your thoughts, opinions or beliefs -- if you have any ....

Enhanced interrogation:
Good idea or bad policy?

By Husna Hag
The Christian Science Monitor

Talk about explosive. We can already see the policy arguments, newsroom discussions, and dinnertime brawls emanating from the latest terrorism book to hit shelves, one that already has the blogosphere buzzing.

In “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives,” by former head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, and the CIA’s former top spokesman, Bill Harlow, Rodriguez argues for the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” like waterboarding, methods some consider torture.

In the book, Rodriguez, who for years was unable to publicly respond to criticism of his interrogation techniques, defends his waterboarding program and his order to destroy videotapes of harsh interrogation sessions in which suspected Al Qaeda members were held down and subjected to simulated drowning. He also goes on the counterattack, pointing a finger at those he says hindered the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

According to the Daily Beast, which earlier obtained a copy of the controversial memoir, those targets include the government of Pakistan, Washington’s supposed ally in the war on terror, whom Rodriguez says is actually assisting terrorists.

“We got close to [9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed / KSM] a couple of times,” Rodriguez writes.

“At one point we had narrowed down his whereabouts to a few square miles in Karachi. Working with Pakistani liaison, we tried to narrow it down. But then a corrupt Pakistani policeman who had somehow learned of the effort tipped off KSM. An email from the crooked cop was intercepted. In it, he told KSM, ‘They know where you are.’”

Rodriguez also goes after the FBI, whom he said publicly criticized the CIA’s interrogation methods and hampered its efforts. “Could we have gotten the same information using FBI practices?” Rodriguez asks. “Maybe. If we had all the time in the world, perhaps we could have. But we did not.”

He also skewers CIA critics in Congress, none more so than House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, challenging her assertion that she was not informed about the use of waterboarding.

“Pelosi said that we only briefly mentioned waterboarding and left the impression that it had not been used,” Rodriguez writes, explaining that he himself briefed her about waterboarding and its use, according to the Daily Beast review. He also says Pelosi posed no objection to the technique. “I know she got it.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that she, like almost all Americans less than a year after, wanted us to be aggressive to make sure that Al Qaeda wasn’t able to replicate their attack…. Pelosi was another member of Congress reinventing the truth.”

Rodriguez even goes after the CIA inspector general’s office, which reprimanded him for the destruction of the interrogation videotapes and the Obama administration, whom he says has become too reliant on missile-armed drones to kill, instead of capture, terrorists.

“Drones can be a highly effective way of dealing with high-priority targets,” Rodriguez writes in the book. “But they should not become the drug of choice for an administration that is afraid to use successful, legal and safe tactics of the past.” He adds, “Needless to say, there is no opportunity to interrogate or learn anything from a suspect who is vaporized by a missile launched by a keystroke executed thousands of miles away.”

We’re pretty sure this won’t be the last we hear of “Hard Measures.”

Something special ....