Sunday, December 2, 2007

Nixon Could've Invented The Internet And Other Gems (Secrecy News)

Secrecy News reports on the recent declassification and release of a previously Top Secret/Sensistive/Codeword document regarding the strengths, weaknesses and, surprisingly, the methods of preparation of the CIA's President's Daily Brief (PDB) under Nixon and Kissinger. Secrecy News highlights the inconsistencies of the CIA's position with regard to the declassification of PDBs (According to Meredith Fuchs at the National Security Archive (and quoted in the Secrecy News piece), "What is most amazing is that one day they say the method of producing [the PDB] is so secret that nothing about the document can be disclosed, and then not long after they release this detailed, hour by hour explanation of how it is produced...") but there are other golden nuggets of information in this document:

  • Policymaking vs. Intelligence. There is an extensive discussion about the relationship between the PDB and the NSC's own policy and analysis "Situation Room document" and the degree to which they overlapped and competed. Andrew Marshall, the author of the memo to Kissinger, summed up with the comment "the success of the Situation Room Product probably has driven the CIA's PDB out of the focus of the President's attention". Ouch!
  • Office Politics And Intelligence. Check out this quote: "This situation presents a number of awkward problems. The CIA is not likely to suggest stopping production of the PDB. CIA has a major institutional stake in the PDB. It will not give it up easily. Moreover, in a recent discussion with Jack Smith, he strongly expressed his view that the CIA people almost consider themselves almost as part of the President's staff. They have no other natural superior. I told him I thought that view somewhat unrealistic in organizational and bureaucratic terms. But nonetheless, it may be the view of some of them and suggestive of their likely reluctance to given up production of the PDB. Over time they are likely to find out about the current situation if it persists." The condescension is almost palpable here. It is interesting to note that this reaction was only relevant to Nixon. Apparently (according to the document) Kennedy and Johnson thought highly of the CIA product.
    • It is also worth noting the number of clear statements of likelihood in this paragraph. The intelligence community has wrestled with the question of Words of Estimative Probability for many years and I wonder if there is a correlation between how the CIA products were being written at the time and the desires of the decisionmakers -- particularly Kissinger. If Kissinger liked, for example, documents with clear statements of likelihood (whether that preference were implicit or explicit), you would expect to find that mirrored in his staff's reports and, more importantly, in his staff's selection of reports for the President to read. Perhaps it was the way they were written that kept them off the President's desk...
  • Lack of Feedback and Information Overload. Both of these topics are covered extensively in this document. Like WEPs, these two problems have a long history with the intelligence community and it is interesting to see a senior level staffer address them so directly.
  • Nixon and the Internet. One of the most interesting discussions comes at the end of the document where the author cautiously recommends a new sort of intelligence portal for Kissinger and the President:

    • Sounds a lot like the internet to me, complete with hyperlinks, etc. Apparently it did not happen at least partly because, as the report itself notes, "the balance of experience has been that top-level executives don't like gadgets."

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