The United States of America spent $80B dollars on intelligence gathering activities (spying, espionage, etc.) in 2010. But we do not know who is leading the Libyan rebel army running around the North African desert tonight under the protective wings of American, Canadian, and European airplanes.
We spend more money on intelligence gathering than we do on Homeland Security and the Department of Justice (FBI) combined – much more than federal spend on Education! From reports to Congress, it appears that we spend a lot of that money keeping tabs on subversives here at home – like you and me. It costs a lot of money to gather information about our telephone calls and, I am sure, our Facebook, Twitter and, yes, blogging/podcasting activities.
But, our government’s response to recent events in the Middle East and North Africa raises questions about how much money we are spending to increase our knowledge and influence in the geographies of strategic importance? More importantly, how well are we spending that money? Instinctively, it appears we don’t even know what we don’t know!
I love a good spy thriller. I confess that I am a huge fan of Vince Flynn and his fictional alter ego, Mitch Rapp. Mitch is what I always thought defined a CIA spy – fearless, patriotic, smart, resourceful, able to operate any where and remain invisible and unheralded when successful – as well as stunningly handsome and possessing the soul of a poet. He ducks Congressional hearings and offers Presidents “plausible deniability”. Most importantly, Mitch gets results every year without going to war!
Ah, but that is the CIA we wish we had, not the one we do have. We can only hope there is a Mitch Rapp in Libya tonight? What we know for sure is that our $80B a year network of intelligence analysts and electronic eavesdroppers did not anticipate that a relatively bloodless revolt in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt would lead to the current events in Libya.
The 9/11 Commission suggested the creation of the Director of National Intelligence to gather and analyze the dots and blobs of data from CIA, Pentagon, State Department, NSA etc. and crunch it into useful information for the President and his team.
- what is happening around the world
- what might happen and what should the response be in each scenario where the US has strategic national interest
- what could happen next and how should we react if it does?
We have spent, perhaps as much as, $650B over the last decade building this intelligence gathering capability. And despite all that money, people and technology, we find ourselves embroiled in yet another military adventure in the Middle East because
- we didn’t recognize the dominos as they started to fall
- we failed to advise the President and National Security Council that the US needed a PLAN to get ahead of those dominos
- and we lack the clandestine assets to execute a Plan – if we had one.
In just four days, the US Navy shot off close to 200 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to destroy Libyan targets, at $1M a piece and the US Air Force lost one F15 fighter plane worth approximately $30M. We’ve increased Pentagon spending by roughly $250M – on the way to an estimated $1B – in support of an action that we didn’t anticipate – and, from which, we appear to have no clear Exit PLAN. It is important to remember that the US still has ground troops stationed in Kosovo 15 years after the no fly zone mission there ended!
All of this leads us to wonder:
- How much should it have cost to develop an ACTIONABLE INTELLIGENCE capability – I suspect a fraction of what we have spent –
- How long can we allow Libya to distract us from our strategic interests in the region – Egypt,Yemen, Bahrain, Israel, Palestine and Jordan –
- And where is Mitch Rapp when his country really needs him?