[This is the text of a speech (with links) given at the September 23rd, 2023 Mises Circle event in Nashville. You can also watch or listen to it here]
It is often noted that the phrase “Military Intelligence” is an oxymoron.
The US intelligence community collects data on the whole world, but only when that data becomes important to the US state is a deep analysis and targeted collection performed. While intelligence in wartime can and should be driven by decentralized requests from the field commanders, the intelligence community has long been organized around serving the ruling state, and giving the state what it asks for. This makes sense, because the US Congress has not declared war in over 80 years. At the same time, this makes no sense at all, because arguably the US state has been at war continually for over 80 years.
The implication of this dichotomy, and confirmation of the very title of this talk, was demonstrated a typical way on May 3rd of this year, when CENTCOM Commander General Erik Kurilla rushed to tweet that his command had conducted “a unilateral strike in Northwest Syria targeting a senior Al Qaeda official.” Twelve days later, CENTCOM investigated itself and discovered that they had actually targeted and killed a Syrian shepherd and father of ten, and there were no Al Qaeda or any other bad guys near the area. First response was to delete the tweet. 20 days after the tweetable event, CNN reported, well, it’s too bad, but at least some of his staff had urged Kurilla to hold off on the tweet until they knew who they actually killed.
Let’s think about that for a minute. The lesson learned here was “hold off on the tweet.” Notwithstanding what another famous shepherd in the Middle East may have have concluded, the US military and its intelligence system serves only one master – the state, and its propaganda.
In my time at the Pentagon, 1998 to 2003, I was a consumer of intelligence, not a producer of it. Intelligence is always a consumer product, but the orders are placed from above, or from the center. One or more of the 17 plus federal level intelligence agencies seek out the information that has been requested, and provide an intelligence product up the chain to the overarching state intelligence boss, the DNI – Director of National Intelligence – who then informs “the big guy.” The big guy – unless his name is Trump – always gets what he wants.
Incidentally this Office of the DNI was created in 2005. Before then, the CIA filled that post. Since 2005, there have only been seven confirmed DNIs and 4 acting DNIs. President Trump himself burned through two confirmed DNIs and three acting DNIs in his four-year term. The 7th and current DNI is Avril Haines. She was introduced to Congress during her confirmation almost 3 years ago as committed to “bringing non-politicized truth to power and restoring trust and confidence in the intelligence community and the American public.” Haines went from bookstore owner to national security expert and today leads and coordinates the 17 plus intelligence agencies. Yet she was well prepared for her role – it is based on what her buyers want, dependent on the satisfaction of her state employer.
Seventeen agencies is a lot. We are talking about the CIA and NSA, the DIA, Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and Special Operations Command intelligence agencies, Homeland Defense and FBI, Department of Energy, National Reconnaissance Office, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, DEA, Treasury, Department of Justice, the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and most recently the National Space Intelligence Center.
Given the militarized nature of the domestic agencies that have intelligence functions, and the subordination of the State Department to the economic, social, informational and literal warfighters, I consider all of these 17 agencies part of military intelligence, and every one of those agencies is corrupted by their political bosses-slash-customers.
These intelligence agencies were made infamous by the New York Times in 2016, when it reported Hillary Clinton’s false claim that “All 17 US intelligence agencies verified” a Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee emails. The Times retracted this years later – only three of the 17 agencies had ever agreed with this electioneering tripe. And that was three too many – because most of us and most of the rest of the world knew the Clinton/NYT claim was false. We knew because of the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich in the summer of 2016, who according to those who would know, was the source of leaked DNC emails. We knew because of the ceaseless work of 27 year CIA veteran Ray McGovern and others, who understood the evidence rationally. We knew because most of the world recognizes the NYT and the Washington Post as pure state media.
US peacetime intelligence is a $200 billion project, growing bigger each year. That’s $100 billion in the published budget, and another $100 billion in CIA and Defense black budget. All of these intelligence agencies – with some variation in technology and expertise – use much the same unclassified and classified sources to inform their agencies, conduct analyses, and make their reports. While the US isn’t engaged in any declared or legal wars, to paraphrase the famous warfighter and soldier, Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “what’s the point in having it if you can’t use it?” And it is used not to defend the country, but to defend and preserve the state.
Intelligence spending is the third largest part of discretionary federal spending after the defense/offense budget, and interest on the federal debt. It consumes more than any other non-military department – more than Agriculture, Veterans Benefits, Education with its massive student loan debt mill, more than the departments of housing, transportation, foreign affairs, energy, labor. We don’t think of intelligence spending separately because it is hidden, like an internal parasite, within the overall Defense Budget.
If we want to understand corrupt political influence on military intelligence, we need to consider the financial scope of the US investment in “state intelligence” – it’s significant. We need to think about who the customer is: US political figures and power players, our elite ruling class. And that ruling class, national and international, is at war with the people – us – for its very survival. In war, you use what you have – and the elite owns every one of the military and official intelligence producers. It’s their military intelligence, not ours.
Before I go on, let’s consider what technology, computing and AI advances have done to military intelligence. Battlefield and battlespace knowledge, and responses, are in many cases, post-human. If you can imagine computer games, if you can play them, this has become much of modern warfare. The intelligence for targeting is through sensors and data, and the priorities are rarely the result of a thinking human, but rather, just choosing from a set of options, delimited by logistics and calculated probability. The pilots who fly the F-35s are really quite optional. It’s not your grandad’s war fighting, at least at the general and admiral level – and boy oh boy do we have a lot of generals and admirals! More per capita than ever before in our history. One cannot even imagine most of our current flag officers anywhere near the front line of battle – and of course, there isn’t really a front line to stand on. The US hasn’t fought a war in decades that has made us better fighters, better strategists, better ethicists, better novelists, or better leaders. Instead, we play war games, and our political leaders get to watch them live from a safe room somewhere. Because of these trends, traditional intelligence that informs the strategy of war, for warfighters and soldiers, is simply not needed, not requested, and not produced. The computer is faster, and we’ve been playing war this way for the politicians and their cronies for decades.
For the vast intelligence sector to stay relevant, it has to offer what its customer wants, and what that customer wants isn’t defense, or even better war-fighting, it wants legitimate confirmation of its pre-existing prejudices, and information that supports a favored or dominant political narrative or agenda. It wants to stay in power, and to do that the people must believe the state. The only real HUMINT the intelligence community seems to do anymore is aimed at how to better read the political tea leaves in Washington, and maintain budget share.
As we have seen with the Snowden revelations, the NSA, for example, does not have to obey the Constitution, or federal law, unless and until it gets caught. Even then, with a wink and a nod, it continues to violate the law. We see similar behavior in the DoJ, FBI, and Homeland Security, of course, and this is has been the consistent habit of the CIA for decades, starting with its first director, Allen Dulles. The bureaucratic imperative is to grow influence and out-compete the other 16 agencies, for favor, credibility and budget share. In theory, these agencies do not compete, don’t overlap, and willingly share information and technology between them. But in fact, they compete with each other for relevance, their missions overlap in many ways, and they jealously guard their information, sources and technologies. Often ironically and sometimes hilariously, nearly all of what these agencies gather and produce is accessible and available in the open information system, often with far more accurate analyses.
I mentioned the CENTCOM case earlier to show how the lapdogs in the military compete like golden retrievers for some political love. But Congress itself, parties, and the state media behave like canines as well – panting and slobbering over “Credible Patriotic Americans Doing Their Part for National Security Narratives.” Consider the first Trump impeachment. A uniformed military officer in the NSC, Lt Col Alexander Vindmann, “blew the whistle” over the perceived intent and tone of a July 25th, 2019 phone conversation between Trump and the now infamous Volodymyr Zelensky. Strangely enough, Trump was concerned about Ukrainian corruption, and he mentioned Burisma. Unlike military and civilian whistleblowers and truth tellers – I don’t know, like the late Daniel Ellsberg, Ray McGovern, Colleen Rowley, Katharine Gun, Sibel Edmonds, Bill Binney, Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Jeff Sterling, Jessica Radack, the list goes on and on – unlike these intelligence professionals and American patriots, instead of being harassed, defamed, targeted, imprisoned, or exiled – somehow, the US Congress and state media bent the knee in awe of the devotion to truth and justice exhibited by Vindmann, and his co-petitioners. It’s almost funny today to look back, given what the Congress and the media have been forced to acknowledge about Ukraine, the corrupt US government interaction with the puppet government it put in place there, and of course, what we all now know about the Biden crime syndicate.
My own experience with politicized intelligence – or the intelligence producers and product being manipulated to support a political agenda – was in the run-up to the second invasion of Iraq. A decade earlier, during the first invasion of Iraq, Desert Storm, in 1991, I did not realize much the same thing was happening. Then, as in 2002, instead of intelligence guiding our politicians, it was being used to shape the public opinion at home to support a longstanding neocon and DC agenda. In 1991, as in 2002, the war was driven more by ideology and petrodollar politics than by a physical threat to the United States.
After 9-11 – a day where some very strange things happened in our country – new requests for intelligence came down from the political leadership. Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld was yelling “Find everything you can on Iraq and Saddam Hussein” and VP Cheney started making visits to talk with CIA analysts. It didn’t take long for the intel community to understand it had a job to do, who their customer was, and what he/she/they wanted.
Where I worked, in the Near East South Asia directorate of OSD Plans, we had an SES civilian intelligence officer from DIA, who oversaw a staff of regional specialists. Our top DIA officer found out the hard way what happens when you provide actual intelligence and objective analysis to a political appointee who wants something different than that. After several workplace confrontations and some interesting verbal abuse, the senior career intelligence officer, was “fired” and sent back to DIA. A more compliant replacement eventually was found – but as I recall there wasn’t a big rush, because political appointees in my office and the Office of Special plans would simply take information, from wherever they could find it, and create the story they wanted to go up, and out. I worked next to a guy for a time who was not attached to the DIA intelligence office at all, but who happened to be an Arabic reader. He was told by the political appointees to scour the internet and find things that were being said and written in Arabic media that would please our boss, and his bosses, and “support the mission.” He enthusiastically did just that.
Intelligence – military and otherwise – is not like truth – where the truth serves only itself – its own goal, and its own reward. Intelligence must have an audience, it must be needed and wanted, and ideally, acted upon and utilized. If not, it is consequently buried, unneeded, unwanted and not acted upon – something that the intelligence bureaucracy itself recognizes as dangerous to its continued relevance and funding. Thus, responding to the “customer”– yes, this is the language used in intelligence – can easily become a slippery slope of simply tailoring truth, guesses, and possible lies into a presentable and acceptable package.
Now, in defense of most intelligence professionals I knew and knew of in and after 9-11, there was pushback and there were complaints. But what we didn’t have then were loud and proud patriots, perhaps like a Lt Col Vindmann, to uniform up and present his grave concerns to the media and to Congress. Perhaps if someone like Lt Col Vindmann had come forward with sincere complaints about the state of national security because of the actions of politicians and their political appointees in the Pentagon, telling the truth about fake intelligence, cherry picked factoids, the firing and sidelining of intelligence professionals who tried to stop it, and the direct pressures placed on lowly analysts by senior elected and appointed officials, well, maybe things would have been different!
It’s so sad that we didn’t have someone like Lt Col Vindmann when we could have really used him. Of course, I am being facetious and sarcastic. We had plenty of people who saw what was happening – the problem was if honest intelligence analysis had been wanted, it was there. But it wasn’t wanted, because honesty would have gotten in the way of the DC narrative.
I don’t want to play back the sordid history of the manipulation of intelligence that preceded 9-11, or that promulgated the Patriot Act, or that perverted the investigation into the letters sent to key congressmen and senators and media – letters containing US-manufactured and patented anthrax spores. I don’t want to review the sick and incredible destruction of Iraq as a unified country, and the perversion of our own law, at the behest of our government and others, our industries and their thinktanks. Then, as now, neoconservatives promoted the “mandate of democracy,” another oxymoronic idea that provides top cover for the real agenda of Washington DC – which is to control the world’s reserve currency, and by extension, the actions, decisions and resources of the rest of the world, and maintain their own elite dominance.
As the politicians and the ideologues see it, using military intelligence as tailored, politicized storytelling is a good thing. They see this as patriotic – in a truly fascist way – to use the entire energies of the state to energize the population of that state to expansive and never-ending war. To seize and shape the imaginations of over 300 million Americans and over 600 million NATO-stanis is seen as necessary. It is beyond necessary – it is very key to the survival of the state. If that isn’t a good use of military intelligence, the salivating, sweaty, pale-faced neocons don’t know what is.
I do want to spend a little time on Ukraine, and how – to use a phrase from the title of this talk – the corrupting political influence – has come into play. First, if military intelligence is an oxymoron, corrupting and political are repetition. A few years ago, then Vice President Robin Ware, or maybe it was Robert L Peters, famously told an audience how he got the anti-corruption Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Victor Shokin, removed. He threatened to withhold from then-President Poroshenko a billion dollars in loan guarantees, and gave him a couple of hours to decide. You’ve all heard it before, but it’s too much fun not to say it again. Biden told us all, “Well, son of a bitch! He got fired.”
Biden’s threat came in late 2015, and Shokin’s firing was in March 2016, so as usual, Biden exaggerated for comedic purposes. At the time, Shokin himself didn’t think Biden was why he had been fired, but he came to believe it was because he was thinking about looking into Burisma Holdings. Incidentally, when Trump decided to ask if anyone would look into Burisma, he too almost got himself fired. So no looking into Burisma, people. Do we have intelligence and surveillance in one or more of our 17 agencies that would clear all of this up? Of course we do, but our corrupted politicians don’t want it. There was a reason Trump went through so many Directors of National Intelligence, and it’s the same reason the deep state fears his possible return to DC. It’s life or death for them. It’s their intelligence bureaucracy, not yours, mine or Trump’s, nor will it be Bobby Kennedy’s.
But Burisma jokes aside, there was another, and very real, reason Biden, carrying the water for the deep state, wanted Shokin fired. Shokin was actively investigating US involvement the 2014 uprising, specifically he wanted to find out who planned and orchestrated sniper fire into the demonstrating crowd in the center of Kiev on February 20th. We know it today as the Maidan Massacre.
You’ll think I’m crazy, but it turns out, there was US involvement in the ouster of Ukrainian President Yanukovych. Thanks to a leaked phone conversation between State Department Under Secretary Vickie Nuland and then US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, the US neocons wanted the realistic and Russia-friendly Yanukovych out, they wanted him blamed for the massacre, and they were working to ensure their guy was put in place as the interim leader, in advance of the May elections. Nuland chose Arseniy Yatseniuk, or “Yats,” as she called him. Later that year, after a few months in Yats’s capable hands, the pro-NATO, pro-EU and pro-US Poroshenko was elected President, with 56% of the vote. Significantly this election was preceded by independence referendums in Crimea and parts of the Donbass, amidst effectively what was, and has remained, a civil war.
This is all verifiable, but there’s more, and Shokin was all over it. Fantastic stories abound about an infamous US sniper, Brian Boyenger, trained Ukrainians in this time frame. Boyenger is implicated in assisting Ukrainian and American coup plotters in taking down the Yanukovych government, including the pre-planned use of snipers around the Kiev square to make sure it went the way the US needed it to go.
I share this story, in part because we don’t know all of it – and because I’m very confident that the US intelligence community does know all of it, and likely contributed to it. Shokin was looking into the snipers of the Maidan Massacre, a year after it happened, and Obama’s State Department couldn’t let that happen. I share this story because the EU leadership at the time knew about the US coup in Ukraine, at the time, and some of them were not supportive. Intercepted phone calls showed that among others, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, and EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton were aware – and concerned – that Ambassador Pyatt and US Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland were deeply involved in the coup, and were specifically responsible the Maidan Massacre. Did Ambassador Pyatt make sure former US soldier (and maybe still on the US dime) Brian Boyenger was able to enter Ukraine, just in time for a little sniper action? Our intelligence community knows. It probably assisted.
EU’s Catherine Ashton and her vocal concerns, among other EU cautions and resistance to US cowboying in Kiev is precisely the kind of thing Nuland was reacting to when she made her infamous epithet “Fuck the EU!”
I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know – this is what the US government does – and it does so using the intelligence community, which it owns. Those 17 agencies work hard to justify, legitimize, and cover-up the ongoing corruption of our so-called Republic, because that’s what their bosses tell them to do.
We could choose a country, a political movement, and an era in US history, and fill an encyclopedia how how this has worked and how it works today. Someone is getting their $200 billion dollars’ worth, but I’m confident it is not the American people.
A system where no one can accurately determine the real value of goods and service is exactly what we have in the US government, and we can see this specifically in the state intelligence sector. Mises explained how a planned economy cannot make rational calculations – rationality is only possible where there is a free market. He writes,
In their role as consumers, the market participants determine the ranking of goods ready for being used in consumption. In their role as producers, businessmen select those capital goods that promise to render the highest yield. This way, not only the consumer goods but also the production goods, receive a ranking according to the present urgencies and the given state of the production technology. The interplay of the two evaluation processes ensures that the economic principle prevails everywhere, in consumption as well as in production.
He notes that this “interplay of two evaluation processes” is not possible in a socialist economy. And yet that’s exactly what we have evolved in the military and state intelligence apparatus today – a socialist economy, a planned economy, presumably of important, accurate and timely government knowledge, for the defense of the nation – and it does not work. It cannot work. That is it politically corrupted is more than a symptom – that’s actually the point!
The great Seymour Hersh wrote an essay just last week, entitled “When the Intelligence is Inconvenient: What goes wrong when politics suppresses the truth.” Hersh has spent a lifetime documenting and reporting inconvenient intelligence, and he has watched how the political and elite wagons have circled and locked down. Decades earlier, he, and truth seekers like him, won Pulitzer Prizes and were published on the most trusted of newspapers; today state media is united against him, defaming him and spiking his reports.
Hersh writes, “The DIA’s assessments …. are now the intelligence of choice inside the White House.” He goes on to show that some of the actual intelligence gathered and assessed inside the US system, and within DIA, had accurately put forth the likelihood that the sarin attack in Syria in 2013 was conducted not by the Assad government – but by the US Government’s ally, the Al Nushra Front. This actual intelligence was rejected, and DIA was being taught a lesson that customer desires drive the product, not objective facts or honest analysis. Our political customers do not want to be informed, they want to be obeyed. Ten years later, we find DIA is now the preferred White House source of intelligence – all hail, DIA has learned its lesson! First and always, satisfy the customer! Hersh worries, as do all moral and thinking people, that the way this system works is taking the US, Russia and the world, into full blown war, possibly nuclear war.
Having multiple intelligence sources all vying for a pat on the head by ideologues, psychopaths and idiots who hold political power is not an accident. Emergent totalitarian states tend to develop systems with competitive spies, and both domestic and foreign intelligence. Elites and political oligarchs want intelligence agencies to compete for their approval – this is one of the easiest ways to find out which people, and which organizations, are loyal. It’s not complicated. It’s happened predictably everywhere there is tyranny, and tyrannical government.
Seymour Hersh wrote his latest essay now, because he sees this same politicization of intelligence happening in Ukraine. He marvels at the sheer un-informed and simply wrong beliefs and assessments of guys like Blinken and Sullivan and those still supporting Biden’s $100 billion proxy war against Russia. Politicization of intelligence – corrupt intelligence production that supports the state narrative, rather than the God’s honest truth – is the reason.
Along with many of you, I thought that the General Erik Kurilla’s premature Twitter ejaculation last May about his latest drone strike was both sad and psychopathic. But sad, psychopathic, and ridiculous is the rule these days. Last week, retiring Chief of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, took a CBS news crew into the Pentagon ops center where he “runs” the US proxy war in Ukraine. CBS very earnestly broadcasted the live Ukrainian force strengths and locations shown on a flat screen in this top secret operations center in the impenetrable basement of the Pentagon, as Milley contentedly explained what he does all day.
Set aside for a minute whether or not this was a gross breach of classification, and whether the DOJ will indict the general [Spoiler alert: They won’t!]. This Milley news story was pure war theater, versus actual war where ensuring our generals know and use verifiable honest truth is an imperative, more valuable than gold. Milley tells CBS that he speaks with General Zaluzhnyi, his Ukrainian Live Action Role Play counterpart three times a week. We watch in disbelief and horror as one deaf and blind general cheerfully advises another, in the name of neoconservative ideology and a shared strategy of “I hope this works out.” Meanwhile, Ukraine is being steadily destroyed, and Ukrainians themselves slaughtered, maimed, impoverished and forced into diaspora.
All of this is the direct and predictable result of the political corruption of intelligence. Curiously, we can still talk about this in public – and we as people, communities, organizations, and businesses have a fantastic ability to gather information, test and check our theories, ideologies and prejudices. Actual data, contact with and first hand information from experts around the world, is available on nearly every subject, to almost anyone who wishes to have it. Access to history, whether a thousand years ago or last week, is at our fingertips today. There is nothing in this world that is truly stopping any of us from thinking, evaluating, judging, and learning. We have that power.
US decision-makers, politicians and intel customers, on the other hand, imagine they have a monopoly on honest information and truth – and that they can shape “truth” to justify their ambitions. The billions spent each year on information gathering and analysis by government is wasted on these politicians and ideologues, and it is a waste of money for the American people who – truth be told – are at least as well-informed today as your average politician, with far better instincts and ethics.
I have talked mostly this afternoon about the corrupt political influence on intelligence – and I haven’t directly addressed the fundamental role of the so-called intelligence community in shaping and strengthening state propaganda. But in every case I mentioned today, state propaganda was always served, and never exposed, by the intelligence apparatus. The intelligence community has given, and gives, credence to state’s near constant efforts to fool and confuse Americans and the world – and it does this because it is rewarded by the state for doing so, punished when it fails to comply, and the state is their only customer. There are thousands of examples of how this has worked in previous years and decades. For example, we just discovered that the CIA bribed and pressured its own scientific analysts to support the state propaganda campaign around the origins of the COVID 19 virus. All aspects of state messaging are, must be, and will be aggressively supported by state intelligence agencies.
There is light at the end of this tunnel for Americans, and the rest of the world. Demographic and technological change in our society favors both peace, and truth. The rapid decline of US economic and political power abroad is both parallel, and precursor, to an even more rapid decline in the state’s economic and political control at home. The rest of the world is no longer going to finance our quality of life, our blind spots, and the American regime’s militarism. I doubt coming generations of Americans are going to pay for it either. Corrupt state narratives posing as wisdom and truth, with the backing of a captive and subservient intelligence apparatus, cannot prosper or persist in a free market of information – and all of us here today, and millions more around the world, are living proof that that market is unstoppable.
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