When US muddled at policy level
Reviewed by
Rakesh Datta

The Art of Intelligence
By Henry A Crumpton. The Penguin Press, New York. Pages 338. $27.95

Clausewitz in his classic On War stressed that the art of war in its highest sense is policy – a policy that fights. It equally brings out the role of intelligence generally responsible for major conflicts in the world. For instance, when Al-Qaida (AQ) assaulted US chancelleries in Dar-es-Salam and Nairobi in August, 1998, killing more than 200 people including Americans, it actually brought the onset of new techniques of warfare to which the US was not prepared as a matter of policy.

The role of intelligence and how it has geared to identify threats, discern enemy forces and guide US power is covered by the book in hand authored by Henry A Crumpton. It is a graphic account of the author in the US clandestine services, running into 14 chapters. The book is a tribute to the late CIA Director Allen Dulles and Sun Tzu, impressing upon the fact that while intelligence is not new, the world of intelligence is in a great flux suffering from cold and allergy.

While there was scant collection of information against Al-Qaida, it took more than 10 years for CIA Counter-Terrorism Centre (CTC) to become functional. According to the author, "It was hard to fight when our leaders and nation do not realise, we are at war". However, the success of millennium plot, when underscored the significance of understanding Al-Qaida plans, it also shifted CIA focus to Afghanistan targeting Osama bin Laden. A country with only 6 per cent of people with electricity posed a serious threat to the sole world super power. As confessed by the author, all such attempts had brought Bin laden in the electro-optical sight of the CIA, but the lack of realistic policy, authority and meaningful resources to engage the target with lethal speed failed to appreciate the threat. It was merely viewed as a law-enforcement matter.

Another counter-attack failed to emerge when the Al-Qaida almost sank USS Cole in Aden harbour, Yemen on October 12, 2000. Later, the Bush administration, with the change of guard at White House in 2001, continued to follow the fundamental style of Cold war tactics in contrast to asymmetric war waged by the Al-Qaida led by Osama.

The intelligence briefing by CTC communicating strategic warnings about Laden’s intended strike at Washington was reported as late as on August 8, 2011 to the President and NSC and thereafter 10 days before the tragic day ‘with no flies on eye ball’. 9/11 was the worst homeland crisis since Pearl Harbor, writes the author, and it changed the complexion of the United States. It reflected how war was evolving; how asymmetric conflict by non-state actors across the global battle field was upending the US concept of war; while there was no National Army for Pentagon to fight and no Foreign Ministry for the State Department to engage with.

Bin Laden and his 19 hijackers killed around 3,000 people on that fateful day. The US was shocked and outraged and started struggling to grasp - What attack meant, writes the author. The question raised were, Who was the Enemy? What US has done to protect its citizens and what could be done in response? The violation of homeland sparked the debate about war and security, with intelligence at the forefront.

The Congress established the 9/11 Commission which concluded that it was colossal intelligence failure and not a policy failure. The intelligence was at fault and it is now important. The US needed more resources for intelligence. Its budget ballooned from few billion dollars to $75 billion by 2011. The US political leadership established more critical commissions and besides creating more rules and regulations also built organisations such as Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). An incisive account of the author’s years in the secret service in the years when the Al-Qaida was building its roots under watchful eyes of CIA. A blend of intelligence and statecraft, the book makes for an interesting reading for the specialists in the field of intelligence, policy analysts and academia.