Imperial Hubris IV

The early press coverage of the forthcoming Imperial Hubris continues, with a second NYT mention in as many days, this one a full feature.

NYT — Book By C.I.A. Officer Says U.S. Is Losing Fight Against Terror [RSS]

A new book by the senior Central Intelligence Agency officer who headed a special office to track Osama bin Laden and his followers warns that the United States is losing the war against radical Islam and that the invasion of Iraq has only played into the enemy’s hands. In the book, “Imperial Hubris,” the author is identified only as “Anonymous,” but former intelligence officials identified him as a 22-year veteran of the C.I.A. who is still serving in a senior counterterrorism post at the agency and headed the bin Laden station from 1996 to 1999. The 309-page book, obtained by The New York Times, provides an unusual glimpse into a school of thought inside the C.I.A., and includes harsh criticism of both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

“U.S. leaders refuse to accept the obvious,” the officer writes. “We are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency ? not criminality or terrorism ? and our policy and procedures have failed to make more than a modest dent in enemy forces.” The author says the threat is rooted in opposition not to American values, but to policies and actions, particularly in the Islamic world.

While I agree that we are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency, it is one using criminal and terrorist tactics. These are not mutually exclusive phenomena. Much of the insurgency is funded by narcotics, especially heroin, trafficking and the laundering of money through bogus Islamic charities. And, certainly, the intentional targetting of civilians and other targets used by al Qaeda and its allies qualify as terrorism.

And, as noted yesterday, while it’s certainly true that US policies have triggered the latest wave of this jihad, it is clear from reading Anonymous’ first book that they do indeed hate our values. Our non-Muslim, secular, free lifestyle is a major target of the propaganda machine that helps recruit more terrorists for the insurgency.

The piece also confirms my rebuttal of the Guardian piece that initiated the media attention of this book:

It is rare for a C.I.A. officer to publish a book while still serving at the agency and highly unusual for the book to focus on such a politically explosive topic. Under C.I.A. rules, the book had to be cleared by the agency before it could be published. It was approved for release on condition that the author and his internal agency not be identified.

The book itself identifies “Anonymous” only as “a senior U.S. intelligence official with nearly two decades of experience in national security issues related to Afghanistan and South Asia.” It identifies a previous book, “Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America,” as being written by the same author. Former intelligence officials identified the officer to The Times and noted that he was an overt employee of the C.I.A., but an intelligence official asked that his full name not be published because it could make him a target of Al Qaeda. The senior intelligence official said the book had been vetted to insure that it not include classified information. “We still have freedom of speech,” the official said. “It doesn’t mean that we endorse the book, but employees are free to express their opinions.”


In a report issued in March, the staff of the Sept. 11 commission described the bin Laden unit as a place where a “sense of alarm about bin Laden was not widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities.” Another new book, “Ghost Wars,” by Steve Coll of The Washington Post, was based in part on interviews with the officer, identified by his first name, Mike. Mr. Coll reported that the White House sometimes complained to George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, that the officer was “too myopic” in his approach to manage the bin Laden group.

In the book, the author denounced the American invasion of Iraq as “an avaricious, premeditated unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat,” and said it would fuel the anti-American sentiments on which Mr. bin Laden and his followers draw. “There is nothing that bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq,” he writes.

I would note, too, that the author said that the invasion of Aghanistan was exactly what UBL wanted, too. I’m sure a significant number of Anonymous’ CIA colleagues share his assessment.

There are, however, good reasons that neither intelligence nor military officers are put in direct control of our foreign policy. There is a reflexive reaction on the part of some that we should “leave war to the professionals” and “get politicians out of it.” That’s exactly wrong. War is fought to achieve political objectives. Generals and intelligence officers–like any other bureaucrats–are necessarily myopic. Many of them are brilliant and they’re certainly better educated and more knowledgeable, on the main, than their civilian bosses. But we elect presidents and legislatures to look at the bigger picture and represent the wishes of the people. Doing the thing that makes the most sense from the perspective of the national security apparatus may often not coincide with the best interests of the citizenry.

Other OTB posts relating to Anonymous and his books:

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Intelligence, Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bob M says:

    “we elect presidents and legislatures to look at the bigger picture …”

    That’s the goal, anyway, and some elected officials do. I think many in the current administration do, but so do some Dems, such as Joe L. But many in both parties don’t. They look at the short term of self interest– election, money, and power for election, money, and power’s sake, seeing the political opponents as the enemy. It does get discouraging sometimes.

  2. Joseph Marshall says:

    I would point out, first, that “the bigger picture”, “the wishes of the people”, and “the best interests of the citizenry” are not synonyms for each other.

    As far as the bigger picture goes, the notion of looking at it implies that we really know what we’re looking at. It seems to me that Anonymous’ point is that both we and our leaders do not know what we are looking at, largely because we take our own values for granted and act as if there were no alternative points of view.

    This results in a view of Islam, Islamic fundamentalism, and Islamic insurgency that has all the depth and subtlety of the average editorial cartoon. And in this matter our leaders largely appear to me to be no wiser than we are. I think Anonymous would agree.

    As far as “the wishes of the people” goes, I would argue that most Americans have no wishes whatsoever about the rest of the world other than the wish that “terrorism” would go away and the wish to eradicate it by force if it doesn’t. The details of our foreign policy occur largely by Presidential fiat.

    Consider, for example, what I think was by far the greatest foreign policy blunder of the post 9/11 era: George Bush suddenly declaring his support (taking everybody by surprise) for a separate Palestinian state. There was no basis whatever in the “will of the people” for this, and I strongly suspect that it torpedoed the entire peace process. I also stongly suspect that it came from the above mentioned ignorance looking at the bigger picture.

    In the current case, no explanation of why we are doing what we are doing (“fighting terrorism”, “hunting Osama”, “eradicating weapons of mass destruction”, “spreading democracy through the Muslim world”) lasts long enough to take seriously as a basis for policy and I frankly don’t think that the current President is any clearer about what he wants from the world than the average American voter.

    And as far as the “best interests of the citizenry” are concerned–there is little, if any, consensus in this country at the moment about what that might be in either the foreign or the domestic sphere. The whole notion is, in frank fact, the major ideological football of our politics.

    As long as our leaders act, without consulting us, as if our best interests were identical with those of the Israeli Knesset or the House of Saud, we are hardly likely to come to such a consensus no matter who “wins” the election.

    In other words, our policy generally is opportunist and incoherant. We are facing a very coherant ememy and we are largely not bright enough to realize how clear and coherant his point of view is in comparison to our own.

  3. Mike says:

    Mr. Marshall,
    That is most relevant and clear statement put forth in quite a long time. I agree completely.