.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, January 26

The enemy within and a question about John Negroponte

"Montaperto's conviction [for espionage] was a blow to the influential group of China affairs specialists in the U.S. government and private sector who share similar benign views of China. The group has been called the Red Team by critics and are known to harshly criticize or discredit anyone who questions or criticizes China's communist government and its activities."(1)

Ronald Montaperto's treason was punished by loss of his job at the Defense Intelligence Agency and three months in prison. That was in June 2006. A year earlier, a report for John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, concluded that US intelligence agencies had failed to recognize more than a dozen key military developments in China during the previous decade.

The report blamed the intelligence failures on China's "excessive secrecy" about their military affairs and US spies for not gathering enough intel on China's military and for failing to work their way into China's government. But Bill Gertz of The Washington Times noted that officials who criticized the report claimed that it wasn't spies or China's secrecy but US intelligence analysts who were to blame for the failures. The analysts played down or dismissed growing evidence of growing Chinese military capabilities.
[The officials said] the report looks like a bid to exonerate analysts within the close-knit fraternity of government China specialists, who for the past 10 years dismissed or played down intelligence showing that Beijing was engaged in a major military buildup.

"This report conceals the efforts of dissenting analysts [in the intelligence community] who argued that China was a threat," one official said, adding that covering up the failure of intelligence analysts on China would prevent a major reorganization of the system.

A former U.S. official said the report should help expose a "self-selected group" of specialists who fooled the U.S. government on China for 10 years.

"This group's desire to have good relations with China has prevented them from highlighting how little they know and suppressing occasional evidence that China views the United States as its main enemy."(2)
Bill Gertz added that the report had been sent to Thomas Fingar, "a longtime intelligence analyst on China who was recently appointed by John D. Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence, as his office's top intelligence analyst."

Yesterday, 18 months after he filed that report, Gertz reported for The Washington Times:
A senior U.S. intelligence analyst has been formally criticized for "poor judgment" after writing a letter and e-mails in support of a convicted former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, U.S. intelligence officials said.

Lonnie Henley, the deputy national intelligence officer (NIO) for East Asia, was given a letter of reprimand several months ago after an investigation within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

Mr. Henley, who could not be reached for comment, was a close friend and protege of former DIA analyst Ronald Montaperto, who was convicted in June on espionage charges that included supplying secrets to Chinese military intelligence. Mr. Henley wrote a letter to the judge supporting Montaperto, and an e-mail that criticized the FBI investigation of the former analyst. [...]

Montaperto's admissions of passing highly classified data to the Chinese coincided with the loss of a major U.S. electronic eavesdropping operation against China in the late 1980s, U.S. officials said.

Mr. Henley is in line for promotion to the top post of NIO for East Asia, but the appointment could be derailed by the reprimand, officials familiar with the internal inquiry said.

Mr. Henley is favored for the job by National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar, who officials say shares the views of Mr. Henley and Montaperto on China.(1)
Just to be clear, the military advances somehow missed by US intelligence were not things like new camouflage uniforms and an advance in hand grenade technology. This was major stuff, which included:
> China's development of a new long-range cruise missile.
> The deployment of a new warship equipped with a stolen Chinese version of the U.S. Aegis battle management technology.
>Deployment of a new attack submarine known as the Yuan class that was missed by U.S. intelligence until photos of the submarine appeared on the Internet.
> Development of precision-guided munitions, including new air-to-ground missiles and new, more accurate warheads.
> China's development of surface-to-surface missiles for targeting U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups.
> The importation of advanced weaponry, including Russian submarines, warships and fighter-bombers.(2)
The DNI office refused to comment on Mr Henley's reprimand, saying that it was an internal administrative matter. It's not just an internal matter, when Mr Henley is line for promotion to a very influential position with regard to China affairs, and when the man favoring his promotion is the chair of the National Intelligence Council and a fellow member of the Red Team.

Henley sent his email to:
[...] a closed group of more than 100 China specialists known as "Chinasec" that included several high-ranking CIA and other U.S. intelligence officials and private China affairs specialists.

The two-page e-mail criticized the FBI for investigating Montaperto. Mr. Henley stated that he had spoken with Montaperto and that he regarded his passing of secrets to Chinese intelligence as inadvertent and minor security violations.(2)
Let us assume for the sake of discussion that Henley's view of Montaperto's espionage activities is correct. After all, why shouldn't we extend the benefit of the doubt, given that it's US policy to adhere to a double standard on China?

The Red Team is not a rogue element in the US government; the Chinasec specialists are supposed to shape intelligence so that it supports the State Department's line on China and the line favored by successive Democratic and Republican administrations going back to Nixon. During the Cold War, the US military outright gave China US military secrets as part of the effort to play China against the Soviets.

From that perspective, anything Montaperto handed the Chinese was espionage only on a technicality. But the issue of espionage is almost beside the point. The central question is how US intelligence agencies failed to report on a country's weapons buildup that was as obvious as a herd of elephants galloping across a plain. By 2000 China's big military buildup was open knowledge in Washington. It's just that the knowledge was blocked from official intelligence reports and analysis, so that it could not be worked into policy decisions on China -- and US defense.

If all the above sounds familiar, substitute "Saudi Arabia" for China and you have the willful blindness during the 1990s that led to US intelligence failures on the Arab threat to the US. In the same manner as China, the Arabists in successive US administrations demanded intelligence reports that were shaped to downplay and dismiss the threat from state sponsors of Arab terrorism.

In fact, you can go down the list of massive US intelligence failures since the late 1980s and see the same pattern in effect with regard to the entire Middle East, the entire FSU region, and all of Latin America, and Africa.

The pattern is the same, no matter which country is involved: an analysis conclusion gets written up as policy, then all acceptable analysis follows the same conclusion -- no matter how much new data emerges since the policy was formed!

So my question is whether John Negroponte wants to downplay the role that analysis played in the intelligence failures on China. If yes, this does not bode well for his role at State, where he'll have the number two position there, and where one of his specific duties will be overseeing the China desk and negotiations with North Korea, which is a Chinese satellite.

It is perfectly possible to massage the data and arrive at the conclusion that China poses no military threat to the US. It is equally possible derive the opposite conclusion from the same data. So what is the guideline? Is there an objective filter that can be applied for analysts?

Sure. All Messrs Henley and Montaperto needed to insure their objectivity was to study their I.D. badge, which had "defense" written on it, not "China policy." Their job at the defense agency was not to analyze China, but to analyze possible threats to the United States from China. A big part of their job boils down to plowing through mountains of data in search of bad news. Then it's for people much higher on the decision tree to determine whether the intel adds up to a threat to the US. The analysts just needed to do their job, but clearly they lost their job description.

If they say they couldn't do their job without being fired -- then it's the job of the Congress to impress on US intelligence directors that intelligence analysis needs to oriented to the empirical viewpoint. Studiously ignoring the viewpoint at the official level is America's greatest enemy within.

1) Analyst rebuked over his support of spy for China

2) Analysts missed Chinese buildup
Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?