Intelligence involves art along with science
“Here is a book you should have, Mr. Director,” and with that Jacqueline Kennedy handed CIA director Allen Dulles a copy of “From Russia with Love” by Ian Fleming, the latest novel in the series featuring lethal British agent James Bond. Their 1957 encounter in Palm Beach bears on continuing controversies, and too many recent embarrassments, involving U.S. government intelligence.
The conversation is recounted by Peter Grose in his important book “Gentleman Spy,” a compre- hensive biography of Dulles, who was a world-class networker. That skill was important to his rise to the top of the highly competitive world of intelligence. Mrs. Kennedy’s husband had emerged as a serious contender for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination.
President John F. Kennedy’s fondness for Bond novels sparked the durable movie franchise. The movie Bond’s fetish for high-tech equipment, however, contrasts with the Bond of Fleming’s novels.
On Aug. 16, The New York Times revealed in a front-page story that telecom giant AT&T has been cooperating intimately with the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) in routinely reviewing the electronic communication records of millions of Americans and others.
Both Dulles and Fleming served as intelligence officers during World War II, when close cooperation between American and British intelligence began. Agent Fleming recommended in detail the sort of American who should head a new office in New York. Dulles fit Fleming’s description precisely, and was hired.
Dulles later managed operations in Switzerland, a neutral operating ground for agents of the Allies and Nazis. A vast cast of characters in between encompassed fanatics, fools, fraudsters and geniuses. Electronic surveillance existed, but the working environment and challenges were overwhelmingly human.
Allen Dulles handled an overwhelming job skillfully, contributed to ultimate Allied victory and was picked by Dwight Eisenhower to run the CIA. The agency’s generally effective combination of human and tech intelligence nevertheless did not prevent the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion early in JFK’s administration.
The NSA traditionally favors sophisticated electronic means. In March 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He argued any alarm over electronic monitoring is misplaced, and explicitly denied collecting mass data on Americans.
According to him, business as usual continued, and there was no cause for alarm — or debate. Not surprisingly, controversy followed Edward Snowden’s June 2013 revelations on government data collection.
The renewal of the Patriot Act, initially passed shortly after the 9/ 11 attacks, included limitations on surveillance. The Obama administration has added restrictions.
U. S. government surveillance of large numbers of citizens is not unprecedented. Long before 9/11, Cold War concerns led to com- parable practices, some of which were illegal.
In 1967, amid civil rights and anti- Vietnam War protests, U. S. Army Gen. William P. Yarborough, Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, initiated unprecedented extensive domestic surveillance involving Army Intelligence and the CIA as well as the NSA.
In the following decade, public exposure by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee led by Sen. Frank Church (Democrat, Idaho) curtailed the program. Various reforms followed. The earlier multiagency spying emphasized both electronic and human surveillance. The NSA today minimizes human dimensions.
Unfair critics after 9/11 denigrated the Clinton administration for cutting back on human intelligence. Military and security budgets generally were reduced after the Cold War. Americans favor technology tools, reflected in the cuts.
We must resist this imbalance. Accurate important intelligence is difficult to collect and evaluate effectively even when multiple means are used. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact him at email@example.com