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Archive for July, 1992

[Originally published in the Hartford Courant.]

Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War has not ended our need for intelligence.  Even with the old Soviet nuclear threat all but gone, anyone who thinks the world is now a safer place is simply not paying attention.

even though there is no country in the world today that has the will and the means to obliterate us, the world is far less stable now than it was under US/Soviet bipolar domination.

The critical intelligence requirement of all US administrations is reliable information on the intentions and on the military-related R&D efforts of any nation or group that can impact US interests.  Without such intelligence, we are flying blind in critical foreign policy areas.  To know what sorts of weapons a Saddam Hussein is building and what he intends to do with them requires intelligence collection through old fashioned spies.  We have to know his most sensitive intentions, what he shares with his closest advisors.  Nothing else will provide what we need .

It is easy to prefer photographic collection from satellites (which is flashy, clean and inanimate) over spying (which is mundane, messy and has the inherent potential to cause embarrassing incidents).  In fact, satellite photography never really had the potential to produce intelligence on Soviet intentions or military-related R&D, our main targets of the time.  Can a camera read a man’s mind?

Much of the intelligence needed in today’s world will have to be gathered through old fashioned spying.  Satellite photography is unlikely to shed much light on the threats of our new world.  Certainly, despite satellite photography and absent the Gulf War, we would have remained unaware that the Iraqis were getting close to a viable atomic attack on Tel Aviv because we apparently did not have well placed spies.  Only spies can tell us that some country or group intends to build weapons of mass destruction or carry out a destabilizing assassination, terrorist operation or coup.

This produces major problems for those who manage intelligence operations  It was easy when we all knew the real enemy was the Soviet Union!  We ignored much of the rest of the world, particularly Soviet client states, because we knew the Soviets would keep them in check.  It is unlikely that the Soviets would have sat idly by and let the Iraqis invade Kuwait in August 1990.  They would have concluded easily that US national interests would prompt our intervention, leaving them the unacceptable choice of watching the Soviet trained and equipped Iraqi army get demolished, or of intervening to stop it.

The world facing us today is new and confusing.  With some exceptions, enemies will no longer be enemies by national origin.  Instead, we will have to cover any and all potentially dangerous groups.  Many of our targets will tend to be diffuse, shadowy and hard to identify.

Any country that has disgruntled national or ethnic minorities is ripe for unrest.  Current events in Yugoslavia offer a blueprint for the CIS, for Romania, Czechoslovakia, and perhaps for Hungary.  In that part of the world there is no longer any central authority with the will and the means to keep old national and ethnic animosities in check.  We cannot ignore the destabilization that such ethnic strife will bring and we have to worry about the existing missiles in the CIS.

And what of the rest of the world?   The volatile Middle East could create extraordinary complications for us and our energy needs, not to mention our treaty obligations to Israel!  To avoid disaster, we must know what the radical muslim states, who do not like us and whose interests are often diametrically opposed to ours, are planning both directly and indirectly against Israel and the conservative Arab states.

In Latin America, military dictatorships and the uneven distribution of wealth will continue to cause instability.  Post-colonial Africa’s instability caused by poverty and population growth will haunt us.  In Asia, solutions to age-old national and ethnic problems elude us.  What will happen if central authority in China disappears?  Will old divisive animosities rule there as in the CIS?  Finally, there are things we need to know about major powers in Europe and Asia.  We will increasingly seek intelligence on politically friendly countries as economic competition heats up, particularly if we become less competitive.

Americans seeking a cutback in intelligence spending as a part of a “peace dividend” will probably be disappointed.  A new, increasingly unstable world in which small countries and small groups will have the potential to make major problems for the US argues strongly that we not greatly diminish our foreign intelligence collection activities.  A reoriented, fine-tuned and effective intelligence effort is our best, if not only hope for avoiding costly and dangerous international incidents.

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