Thebastidge: Insulated from Reality: Problems of Intelligence
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    Thursday, January 20, 2005

    Insulated from Reality: Problems of Intelligence

    No, this is not a rant about liberal fantasies. Not this time, anyway.

    An old friend recently arrived in my neck of the woods, and over copious beers, we discussed old times. One thing that came up was how much pure, unadulterated bullshit we'd seen when we were both working in military intelligence back in theold days.

    This is NOT to say that MI is not an important mission, or that the people who do that job are milking the system or incompetent. It's a difficult job without much reward. Indeed, I couldn't take it any more after 6 years of active duty, and I got the hell out. I did go back in the military after a couple years, but into an entirely different field, and I really don't ever want to work in intelligence ever again.

    But the main thing that came up was how seriously everyone took themselves... Not just to the point of being responsible, but to the point of thinking themselves better, smarter, and more important than other people. I was quite often censured for not hanging out with other MI types off-duty. Why would I possibly want to hang out with meat-head maintainer or security police types when the uber-cool linguists and analysts were partying withing our own insular little group? Must be because I had an attitude problem and wasn't a team player. So if I ever mentioned something being screwed up at work, it obviously was not because I had a legitimate concern, it was because of my widely-noted attitude problem.

    I've been slowly (oh so busy lately) reading through Thomas Barnett's Pentagon's New Map, and I must absolutely agree, vehemently and with much head nodding, with chapter 7. He makes the point that once you're inside, it doesn't much matter what you hear or see outside, because you already know more/better than other people.

    Additionally, there's very little interest in anything outside specific targets. This is not because people don't care, in fact they care deeply and take it all very seriously. It's just a hunter's sort of tunnel vision.

    Oddly, mentorship that I found to be reasonably common in other parts of the military was dismally lacking in the intelligence field. People were much more likely to build empires, have turf wars, and screw over their colleagues to try to look better in comparison. There was little concern with developing a subordinate's career, guiding them down the right path. I always felt like an outsider in my own work center, even while I got along great with other military folks that I met on base and would work with on occasion.

    Part of this willingness to screw people over comes as an institutional paranoia, reinforced by bastards like Aldrich Ames, but even still, 99% of security is choosing the right people- you're forced to trust, there is no possible way to physically enforce security 24x7 in thousands of facilities world-wide. Our security procedures are designed primarily to prevent accidental disclosure of classified information, with the random spot checks for compliance serving as a minor threat to people who might intentionally betray us, but again, it's primarily to prevent people from forgetting the rules, taking shortcuts through laziness, or pure accidents.

    Another part of the problem with the intelligence communities stems from the types of people: Most of us are freaks and geeks with no social skills to speak of. This doesn't exactly lead to great leadership ability. Perhaps we need a better name for the intelligence community- the name seems to confuse people. They think 'military intelligence' means we need people who are book-smart. Most of us come with great test scores, and squeaky clean backgrounds. At the Defense Language Institute, it wasn't uncommon for groups of us to spend an entire weekend in someone's barracks room, drinking Mountain Dew and playing Dungeon's and Dragons, unshowered, unshaved, empty pizza boxes lying around for marathon 48 hours sessions.

    And then unstable mental problems that we saw there, my word! Most DLI kids fell into two groups: smart-ass slackers and overachievers. The slackers were the kind of kids who drifted through high school getting A's and B's without trying or doing much homework. The over-acheivers were the ones who studied every night, couldn't STAND anyone getting better grades than them, and were highly competitive at everything. Well, guess what: hard work only gets you so far in adult learning of a foreign language. Some natural talent is required as well. This drove the overacheivers freaking nuts. Likewise the fact that most of the kids there, slackers or acheivers, all had roughly the same (high) test scores, and all of a sudden, momma's precious isn't so special anymore.

    Just before my time, an airman attempted suicide by hanging himself. It didn't quite work as planned. He took a floor buffer from his barracks closet, wedged it quite carefully into his room so it wouldn't slip, wrapped the end of the cord around his neck, and jumped out the window. The second floor window. Now the average 2nd floor is what, 10 feet above ground? Most industrial floor buffers have around 30-50 feet of cord. Needless to say, his calculations were a little off, and he hit the ground outside hard enough to break both legs. He was found by other airmen responding to his screams of pain, with the cord still wrapped around his neck.

    Then there was Airman Janine; her last name is a good fit for cum jokes, but other than that hint, I'll leave it off. 19 years old, and away from home for the first time, she gets caught in the Naval Post Graduate School enlisted club, drunk as hell, giving a blowjob to some Marine under a table. It's hushed up, she's put on base restriction, cautioned about similar behaviour, and if she'd kept her nose clean, would've been fine. Did she keep her nose clean? No; the very next weekend, she's caught in the same situation with a different Marine. This time she's informed that she is confined to base, a guard is posted (the lucky airmen from her flight have to take turns at this glamorous duty) and she will be sent for psychological evaluation. She can't stand the shame of that (apparently sexual favours in public is much less embarassing) and attempts suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of aspirin. She tells her guard, who does her duty and gets help. So Janine is taken to the hospital to get her stomache pumped, and then put on suicide watchm which means the lucky airmen from her flight have to be physically present AND awake until she is shipped of to the rubber room for eval and therapy. Happy days ensued, however, for the rumour mill processed the gossip back to us at the DLI, and we find that she found true love at Wilford Hall. She met an Army PFC who was also in for psych eval, and they fell in love. When he got out before her, he was kind enough to send her a brick of C-4 so that she could escape and they could get married earlier. She decided that turning that in to authorities and waiting was a better idea, but later I heard they were married and pumping out puppies, presumably in a trailer park somewhere...

    There's at least a dozen stories like that from my time at the DLI.

    Not all intel types are nuts, of course, but there are enough wierdos (eccentrics, to be nice) that they really could use a good leavening of reality from outside influences now and then.


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