Stop the Presses! Donald Trump is RIGHT about the FBI, CIA, and State Department
by Rick Boettger…….
Yes, they are all blitheringly incompetent: bureaucracies whose structure and leadership take the most talented individuals we have, 80+% of their employees, and sideline their work into a bureaucratic morass.
I don’t write much on international issues any more, having more than my fill of local crimes to cover. But I have a great deal of personal and professional experience with such agencies that I have not seen discussed in other media, so, hooray, I still have the Blue Paper to share my thoughts.
My first insight into the incompetence of the CIA was after I left the Army Security Agency. I had my top secret clearance, MIT background, early promotion for proficiency in Russian, and was a natural to go into operations. Fortunately, I read three books by disgruntled former CIA agents, most prominently Philip Agee (Inside the Company), which convinced me the agency took people like me and Philip and discouraged us from doing good work in favor of filling out ass-covering forms.
Sure enough, if I had joined, I would have been killing Contras in Nicaragua. Thank God for Agee! Since then we have all seen their incompetence on the world stage. We “beat” Communism not because of the CIA, but despite them. They were outmaneuvered by the KGB at every level, worst being the betrayal of dozens of our Russian operatives by Aldrich Ames. Read Legacy of Ashes. Six hundred pages detailing their failures over the last fifty years.
They never saw the fall of communism coming. This despite my prime Berkeley mentor’s work on Gorbachev. My first published academic piece was co-authoring with Phillip Tetlock, probably the world’s pre-eminent social psychologist currently, on the “integrative complexity” of Gorbachev’s rhetoric. Among world leaders, only South Africa’s De Klerk was as smart and able to see and integrate both sides of an issue. De Klerk, of course, brought down apartheid in South Africa. Gorbachev did the same with communism.
The CIA undoubtedly read our paper. Phil was a long-time analytical consultant for them. But evidently they ignored it.
Second is the FBI and the security clearances they vet. It took 9 months and around $10,000 of our tax dollars for them to approve me. They did not interview the people I cited on my application. They asked those people for other friends of mine. The only person I know they interviewed at length was a kid I only played chess with, our trading 1 and 2 on our school’s chess ladder. He was easily my weirdest “friend.” He was a dead ringer for Beavis in the South Park spin-off, and had a full collection of Nazi memorabilia filling his room at home.
But I had no background of marijuana use or homosexuality, the only things they really care about. I know this for a fact because a fellow PhD classmate at Berkeley, doing her dissertation on trust, got to attend a conference for the folks who do the clearance checks. She told me she was surprised at their weird obsession with these two issues. There is no empirical justification for this prejudice. NONE of the last half dozen CIA people who betrayed us had those “problems.” I consider the clearance worthless, and who cares if Trump’s kids get them or not.
Also, I taught a case study in my last year teaching business at Berkeley about a top private-sector “change agent” taking over the bureau to correct the errors of 9/11. The case study pumped her up as though expecting great change to come out of her intervention.
She quit a month after the case study was published. The entrenched bureaucracy stifled her at every turn.
That is why the FBI has let us down as badly as the CIA has. There is no 600-page opus detailing their near-criminal incompetence like Legacy of Ashes, but the list famously goes on back to Hoover’s surveilling America’s heroes. Most recently, they were given a report of the molester’s crimes by a brave 14-year-old who detailed them to the president of the American skating association. He seriously reported to the FBI, who told him and the girl not to say anything while they were doing their investigation.
As reported recently in the New York Times, they waited 240 days before even interviewing the girl. A dozen more were molested while they were dithering.
Of course, now at Parkland, we see them doing nothing about the obvious monster as well, joined by every other level of law enforcement. But they see themselves as SPECIAL Agents, the top dogs, and they are anything but.
Finally, the FBI and CIA share a “neo-institutional” (explained at end) brotherhood with the Foreign Service. My insider knowledge is that my uncle was an Arab specialist, ending up as Consul General at our biggest consulate, in Alexandria. I spent months with him there in 1983 and, earlier, in Jerusalem when he was Deputy Chief of Mission in the Sinai Peace-Keeping Mission in the late 70’s.
I saw up-close and personal why our State Department has become a vestigial organ, like an appendix. Think: what has our State Department accomplished under Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton? I submit to you, nothing. The reason is, it’s basically a bunch of people who write unread reports and have swell dinner parties with the cream of society wherever they are. My uncle’s critical skill was nursing a cocktail for three hours while telling innocuous short jokes.
Out of the respect I had for him then, after Jerusalem, I applied. My top score on their written exam got me into the five-candidate interview. This started badly as they did not even inquire about language fluency. I had both the good Russian and German as well. They don’t care. A dirty secret is that most suck at languages, and it makes them feel bad if you are good at it. After 20 years as an Arabist, my uncle spoke negligible Arabic, just a few common words out of casual respect. I did not wear a jacket to the interview, knowing from my experience in my uncle’s offices that they all took their jackets off as soon as they got in. The other four candidates wore jackets. I did not advance.
What has happened to turn these three organizations, who have their pick of candidates for their still prestigious and interesting jobs, but mis-manage these fine people into producing terrible work product for our country, was explained to me in my first year of PhD work at Berkeley. It was the then-new “Neo-Insitutional Theory” of W. Richard Scott at neighboring Stanford. Google it to have a richer understanding of the inexorable forces that cause our public bureaucracies to serve us so badly.
In brief, an organization starts off by serving a rational purpose, such as fighting crime. This fine purpose earns them resources, such as money and fine applicants. Originally they use these resources to do their job. But over time, the organization uses those resources to keep themselves in control of their activities and measures of performance. Instead of measuring crimes solved or prevented, they measure hours worked, blame avoided, processes like papers and studies produced.
They use what has become the “myth” of their rational purpose to support their own, un-fireable jobs. They do not want to change no matter how bad the outcomes. Think how the FBI and CIA both fatally screwed up 9/11, as detailed in a current TV miniseries, mainly due to protecting turf and refusing to share information. This was long ago proven. They are still just as bad at it.
If I were king, I would disband both of the agencies and rehire the bottom 80% into newly constructed organizations without the neo-institutional legacy of what we have today. It was my fondest hope that Trump could do this, redemption among the rest of the carnage. Of course, even he cannot.
12 thoughts on “Stop the Presses! Donald Trump is RIGHT about the FBI, CIA, and State Department”
I guess by now you realize that Delusional Donald can’t do much of anything because he doesn’t really give a damn about anything but social activities and his money. However, I do agree that government agencies are bad at what they’re supposed to do – just as Congress is bad. Everyone is in it for the security and what is possible after retirement, and CYA or especially those of your bosses is the norm. It’s hard to work for idiots, and our top-heavy departments and agencies are full of them. Even scientific studies these days are tainted. The only thing that has changed through the years is government has become larger – thanks to Republicans. It needs to be cut in half, the electoral college disbanded, term limits imposed on every elected position, and lots of color added. I’m tired of old white men making decisions affecting everyone but themselves.
Trump did not need money. He ran with a desire to try to fix what Odamit caused.It will take time but winning.
Didn’t say he needed it; just said he cares about his money or else why are his kiddies keeping him advised of the financial status of his organization? Oh yeah, his ego needs boosting periodically, that’s why. As well, he can’t fix anything because his attention span is about two minutes, and that’s only long enough to dismiss anyone who’s talking. Delusional Donald is merely a puppet.
it so amuses me when people decry the incompetence of the government as if by some magical spell, successful, highly educated men and women suddenly become bumbling nincompoops when they become public servants. when will you open your minds, realize that cognitive dissonance dominates your mental state, and accept the fact that what the government does, is exactly what the government intends to do, with the intended results achieved. the global state has existed for some time now, rendering the notion that intelligence agencies are competing with their foreign counterparts as quaint. think the Nazi’s were our enemy? then why were they financed and provided materials by the US throughout the war. think the cold war was real? the war on poverty? crime? drugs? terrorism? world events are not choreographed by nation states; they are choreographed by finance, and that, as Mr. Boettger should know, is a global. and if you accept that premise, then you need to accept that the “system” as you believe it to exist, is a false narrative. the incompetence decried in this article of the CIA, FBI, and State Dept., is no such thing; they are operating exactly as they are intended to operate.
Trying to unravel your first sentence, which is more akin to a book, took more time than my answer will take. I worked for the government with a security clearance for over 20 years, and I witnessed politics take over and dictate the functions of every department and agency. Our Federal government is broken, pure and simple, as is Congress and the Executive Branch. The Judicial branch, trying desparately to keep their heads above water, are heading that way. Some of this ‘underbelly of the beast’ did occur in history, but now it is blantant and perfuse and no one gives a damn.
so do you agree or not? my “book” of a sentence was at least understandable; your attempted retort is a little nebulous. Here, I’ll keep it simple; do you believe, as Mr. Boettger does, that it is bureaucracy itself that is the corrupting factor, or that it is a directed phenomena to achieve a result?
Doesn’t seem nebulous to me – it’s pure and simple – the system is broken. Rick forgot or ignored the one huge contributing factor in the mess we have today, and that is the influence of money – from lobbyists, from corporations, from wealthy individuals. Nearly all of our “elected” officials have been corrupted by the power of this money, and those of higher moral character who choose not to engage soon leave, many after only one term. The others are the career 80% who would like to do a good job but are prevented from doing so by the 20% who have been bought. So, to put it in plain English, the corrupting factor is money, and it has been that way throughout history.
so you agree with me, though I don’t think you realize it. money is created by private ownership. therefore, as I explained so “nebulously,” those who create it, control it, and own it, dictate how things work, or don’t work. that is a “directed phenomena.”
Mr. Keysbum and I have regularly disagreed on the incompetence vs.conspiracy explanation for adverse governmental effects. Oddly, in my post just last week on FDOT I was entertaining Keysbum’s view that FDOT’s actions in Key West have gone past simple incompetence, and into intentionally malevolent action. And this is not exactly a conspiracy with FDOT, as they are quite open about it.
But with the bureaucracies in this column, I am going for the incompetence theory. I agree that people do not “suddenly become bumbling nincompoops,” but rather the dysfunctional constraints of the system degrade their best-intentioned intelligent efforts, resulting in outcomes good for the leaders, but bad for the society they are supposed to serve.
My belief is that even the smart ones are not so devious as to be doing this with intentionality to subvert the system for their own benefit. I believe it is an emergent phenomenon of what I think of more as stupidity rather than conspiratorial malevolence.
I’m not sure how Miata’s ascription to “politics” fits into this dichotomy, if it does at all. Some political actions are stupid. Others are devious, essentially conspiratorial. What do you think, Miata?
I guess working for the Federal government for so many years and bucking the system because I couldn’t sit at a desk with a pacifier on one corner and toilet tissue on the other, “political consequences” was drilled into me so often that I became one of the 80%, just waiting to retire – but I had fun while waiting!
your use of “conspiracy” as a pejorative is a disappointing, and purposely dismissive rejoinder to the question. do you not believe/know that finance runs the world? do you not believe/know that the financial system is global? surely you know where money/credit comes from? surely you know that central banks are privately owned. surely you know that the same people that own the central banks own the retail banks. these are facts, not conspiracies. so if you own the “money,” don’t you own everything you want to own? would that not include governments? would those governments not do exactly what you wanted them to do? is that a conspiracy theory? how do you the reconcile the incompetence of the CIA with the scientific wonders/achievements of NASA? under your theory, NASA shouldn’t be able to launch a firecracker let alone put a rover on Mars. would you characterize the Waco massacre as a lapse in judgement by bumbling bureaucrats, or rather as an intentional statement of force and brutality to the nation? would you characterize the US War Machine and its endless war as a boys will be boys thing, directed by wanna be GI Joe’s, or purposeful homicidal social control? why do police kill with impunity and rarely face the judicial system? are judges and DA’s just stupid, or is something directing them?
you believe what you like, but remember, corporations are bureaucracies too, and they seem to be doing very well. last I looked, Goldman Sachs, populated as they are with sociopaths, is very efficient at what they do. it seems a stretch to me that once those same sociopaths go into high level government positions, they magically transition into bumbling nincompoops.
Hey, Rick –
Do ya think 9/11 was at least partially an inside job? If not, I’d love to know how that 3rd building came straight down, even though it was not struck by an airplane. I’d love to know how Arab hijackers with piper cub basic training could maneuver giant airliners in ways that I read professional airline pilots were reported as saying would be a strain for them to do. I’d love to know why it seems no aircraft parts were found at the part of the Pentagon a giant aircraft was said to strike, or why it was reported no aircraft parts were found of the 4th aircraft that was reported to go down in Pennsylvania.
Not that I don’t think Osama bin Laden was in on it, for I do, and he outfoxed them all, while his Saudi Arabian fellow citizens were allowed by the U.S. to leave America when its borders were close to people leaving after 9/11.
Did you ever read a book called, “World Without Cancer”? It purports to be written by a man who had set out to learn why laetrile was not allowed in America, because American pharmaceutical giants didn’t want it in America, but the tale morphed to the old German giant I.B. Farbin, being behind the laetrile drama, as Farbin, which had morphed into something else, controlled the American pharmaceutical companies. The author claimed to have learned that Farbin’s HQ in a German city was not destroyed by Allied bombing, and that building was used as Allied HQ after WWII, and the high-ranking Allied American officers at that HQ were high-ranking American corporate executives in big American companies controlled by Farbin during WW II (and after), and, what Keysbum wrote about America supplying the Nazis during WW II was correct, and American artificial rubber producers would not, at first, make tires for the American military, because Farbin owned the artificial rubber patent. Theno Congress got wind of it and there was a commotion and it was all hushed up in Congress.
That’s recollection from reading that book in the early 1990s, perhaps I didn’t recall it all pluperfect.
I agree with you that the government bureaucracy is an animal concerned first and foremost with its own survival, and that includes the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency. In that respect, they are no different from Donald Trump. Alas, I think those agencies are not totally incompetent, which Edward Snowden revealed about NSA cyber snooping on American citizens.
The way Trump carries on causes me to think he does not think Robert Mueller is on a witch hunt, unless Trump is a witch and he is terrified of Mueller proving it.