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These Suggestions Won't Fix "Broken" US Intelligence on Russia

You have to get outside the box

Mark Galeotti has just written a piece with helpful suggestions to Washington on how it can be less surprised by what Russia does: "And, let's be honest, Washington has been caught by surprise again and again when Moscow is concerned". Indeed it has and, as I argued on this site, the US is by no means the first country to be surprised by Russia.

His full piece is here so you can read it yourself but, to save you time, here are his four recommendations to repair the "broken" US intel on Russia.

  1. More human intelligence

  2. More analysis

  3. More creativity

  4. More listening to the intel people.

All well and good, but let's home in on number 3 – the creativity part. Now one would assume that Galeotti would consider himself to be "creative" or at least believe he could recognize it when he saw it. But, what do we see in his piece? "[T]he seizure of Crimea"; "The answer was the simplest one - that Moscow was lying - but the period of uncertainty allowed Russia's special forces to seize the peninsula in a smooth fait accompli"; "We do not even know for sure exactly whose advice Putin takes"; "regime"; "like most authoritarian leaders he has over the time become more insulated from reality, more steeped in his own mythology, this is a different man, heading a different team, for a different national purpose"; " If one accepts Clapper's assertion that Putin is "kind of winging it, day to day"; "[Putin's] paranoiac and persecutionist world view". That's creative? No, it's the same old crap: Putin is inscrutable; except that we know he's a deluded, unstable, fantasy-prone, boat-rocker whose actions cannot be predicted but can be predicted to be bad. Everything he does is sui generis and has nothing to do with reality except when he rages against our exceptionalism.

Well, that's a recipe for a lot more surprises.

So let me, with some experience of the NATO intelligence world, make my suggestions to reduce surprise.

  • Start respecting Russia and, by extension, Putin and his team. Cut out the bunkum about gas stations masquerading as a countries, Russia doesn't make anything and other feel-good nonsense; stop with Putin's bad posture, Putin's just a thug, bare chest, height and all the rest of the childish epithets. And that includes all the fatuous prejudgments like "paranoiac and persecutionist world view". No wonder Washington is always surprised by someone it's written off as negligible.

  • A little modesty wouldn't hurt. Maybe, just maybe, US actions in, say, the Middle East have not been a complete, 100%, unqualified success in every possible way. Maybe the "exceptional power" doesn't always get it completely and entirely right. I know that will be difficult, if not impossible, for the people running America to even begin to imagine, but it would be good – and a first baby step toward not-surprise – to at least imagine the possibility that there just might have been a different approach than the one taken.

  • But this is my really revolutionary suggestion and it is, from Galeotti's perspective and those he's talking to, truly creative. In fact it's so creative that it's obviously never occurred to anybody in Washington. And it's simply this. Putin talks a lot; he's always giving interviews and speeches and he holds lots of meetings in which he talks. Hundreds of thousands of his words are to be found on the Presidential website (Dear US Intelligence Community: since you probably can't find this amazing resource, I'll be happy – for a reasonable remuneration – to show you where it is). And, if you can't read Russian, they translate all this stuff into English. So, my creative advice is read what he says, think about it, compare it with what he's said before, watch what he does, see what he says about that and so on. You will be amazed how much you will learn about his intentions and actions.

My three little suggestions will do a lot more to reduce surprise than his four which amount to more of the same but with more money and more people.

But I know that I'm just amusing myself: Washington is far down the rabbit hole.

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