Monday, September 11, 2006

Ignorance trumps knowledge on volume alone

Babble on.

In each of the past four years, this anniversary has left me with different thoughts and emotions, like my subconscious needs to choose a theme. This year, the strongest of those is curiosity, combined with all-too-familiar frustration. Specifically, as I reflect today upon the events of September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent shift in geopolitics precipitated by that event, I keep coming back to Russia.

I'd guess that Russia had more and better intelligence from inside Afghanistan than any other major power in the world on September 10th, 2001. I'm wondering how much they would have shared with the Western powers on September 10th, and how much they started to share on September 12th. I wonder how active they've been in influencing first, U.S. efforts, and second, NATO efforts in the country. They've undoubtedly provided intelligence support to Western nations, but I wonder how useful and reliable that intelligence has been, and I wonder what they've held back. I'm curious about what the West disregarded and what it heeded, and whether lessons have been learned about how to best utilize Russia's purported help.

If that story has been told, I sure can't find it. My guess is that, even within the intelligence organs of the West privy to Russian cooperation, the story isn't a complete and coherent one. Leadership often requires that hard decisions be made on incomplete information, but how can we refine our efforts if we don't even know what we're doing right and wrong - what we know and what we don't?

The discouraging thing is that Russia's influence upon in this great conflict is such a small part of what we don't know - about that day, about the events leading up to it, and about our efforts and those of the enemy subsequent to it. I'd guess that today I'm focused on such a sliver of 9/11 because it's practically impossible to focus on everything about that day. You have to pick something within it, or the magnitude of the problem can overwhelm you.

Who knows what about whom and whether they really know what they think they know, not to mention whether anyone trusts what anyone else knows, let alone trusts their own information, is a confusing tangle of uncertainties. In order to even make a start, you have to pick something out of the mess, and concentrate upon it. But if you focus too tightly upon a particular aspect with no vision of the whole, your lack of context hobbles the entire effort anyhow. What a frustrating game intelligence can be.

Especially when real people die, and remind us that national security intelligence is not a game at all.

***

RIP, Bernard Mascarenhas, a former colleague, and a human face on a tragedy that would have defied my comprehesion without a personal dimension to anchor it. My condolences on this terrible anniversary to his friends and family.

Babble off.

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