The Power of Strategic Listening... and why our leaders seem deaf.
Let me offer you all a glimpse of wisdom from someone in the know... from a colleague of mine who is intimately involved in the details of our security operations. This is just a snippet from an unclassified conference on international security. Still, my friend had to be circumspect. Read the following carefully and see how he compares our OVERALL success (or lack thereof) in the generalized War on Terror -- and the intervention in Iraq -- vs our astonishingly competent and successful (so far) involvement in Afghanistan. (An enterprise that began, unknown to most, with the turn-key unleashing of an already existing war plan -- emphasizing professionalism and use of local resources, organized by Special Forces -- that had been crafted almost entirely under Clinton-Clarke, though credit for the go! order belongs to GW Bush.)
“ I spend my time working with the Special Operations community, which consistently gives me useful insights into the functioning of networks. Everyone knows that terror networks are powerful; how about civil society networks?
“Listening is everything in this war on terror – this is the war of hiders and finders. We are in our fifth year since September 11th, 2001. Five years after Pearl Harbor, everything had changed: the war was won, peace had followed, stability was returning to many countries, and so on. We are now in the fifth year after our own Pearl Harbor, and very little has changed. Is this a fight for the future based on commonly-held values, or is it a clash of civilizations? My Special Operations students spend their lives listening. Other soldiers have learned from them to utilize small groups, learn things, and find out information – by listening. By being in small groups and building relationships, they can curtail areas that enemies might otherwise control. So there are good things going on in Afghanistan. There is risk built into the system. I work with fine soldiers for whom every minute is an act of courage in a war that will not be won by carpet-bombing or "shock and awe".
“How does one listen? What is it that you are listening to? What are your messages comprised of? Let me give you some percentages: Mexico – 11%; Russia – 16%; Turkey – 18%; Argentina – 19%. These are the latest "approval ratings" for the United States in countries that we do not target with radio broadcasts or television stations. This is how they feel about us in the 5th year of our war against terror. Are we hearing a response to our public diplomacy or to our policies? The answer is, the latter. So listening has to be in terms of responses to what we say; we ping, and we get something back. The other kind of pinging is what we do in the world. This dimension is often neglected in the business of listening. We think that if we say something catchy or insightful, it will turn people's minds in the right direction. That is not the case. One's actions are powerful drivers of appearance. People's reactions worldwide are to what we do.
“If you were never going to change your policies, and just did what you were going to do, and your information strategy was designed to sell that approach, it would never work. It is a social contract; you need to be open to changing yourself. That is the heart and soul of listening and of strategy. All strategists should listen to Zana Briski when she tells us not to go in with pre-designated goals. Go in, adapt, and the answers will appear. The U.S. Navy, in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) -- (The Afghanistan Intervention) -- for the first time in their history went in without predetermined targets. They listened to sensors and learned what to hit. In the span of history between Alexander the Great and Alexander Lebed, no one conquered Afghanistan. But our commandos toppled a terrible regime and have a sustained operation in the country that is supported by NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). This is a great success story with a thimble full of military force and an ocean's worth of listening. “
You may interpret the subtle hints contained in this excerpt differently than I do I read an implicit contrast with the other war... the one that is bleeding America white, dissipating its credibility, ruining its alliances, shattering our internal unity and serving as a nightly recruiting ground for enemy memes.
The true losers have been moderate Americans, who approve of toppling Saddam, but who remember which bozos propped up that monster and deliberately left him in power when they had him in their hands, in 91.
Moderates who want to “spread freedom” -- and even are willing to do so forcefully, on careful occasion -- but who also remember that these bozos used to vehemently oppose “the discredited utopian notion of nation-building. “ Their sudden conversion to utopian adventurism might be heartening, if it were sincere and competently executed with sincere attention to listening, and learning, and winning the moral high ground. Notprimarily a boondoggle of gigantic no-bid contracts for cronies and a political excuse for Orwellian politics.
And yes, all of this has fed into the radicalization of America, resulting in the very most simplistic and dopey voices of the left seizing control over the anti-war movement. Voices that ignore the overwhelming necessity and competence and goodness of interventions like the one in Afghanistan, or Clinton’s successful foray into Bosnia, which left the European continent at peace for the first time in 4,000 years. Voices that would have us choose between moronic imperialist klepto-thumping and an almost-equally moronic turn away from our genuine duty to fight evil in a genuinely dangerous world.
Still, despite my distrust of some of the excesses you will find at reflex sites like Truthout.org, the activists at that site are vastly more truthful than CNN or Fox News or O’Reilly (Murdoch’s hand puppet and the great Defender of Christmas). Take the following devastating denunciation by Sen. Byrd, recently reprinted by Truthout.
Monday 19 December 2005 -- Americans have been stunned at the recent news of the abuses of power by an overzealous President. It has become apparent that this Administration has engaged in a consistent and unrelenting pattern of abuse against our Country's law-abiding citizens, and against our Constitution.
We have been stunned to hear reports about the Pentagon gathering information and creating databases to spy on ordinary Americans whose only sin is choosing to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Those Americans who choose to question the Administration's flawed policy in Iraq are labeled by this Administration as "domestic terrorists."
We now know that the F.B.I.'s use of National Security Letters on American citizens has increased one hundred fold, requiring tens of thousands of individuals to turn over personal information and records. These letters are issued without prior judicial review, and provide no real means for an individual to challenge a permanent gag order.
Through news reports, we have been shocked to learn of the CIA's practice of rendition, and the so-called "black sites," secret locations in foreign countries where abuse and interrogation have been exported to escape the reach of U.S. laws protecting against human rights abuses.
We know that Vice President Dick Cheney has asked for exemptions for the CIA from the language contained in the McCain torture amendment banning cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Thank God his pleas have been rejected by this Congress.
Now comes the stomach-churning revelation that through an executive order, President Bush has circumvented both the Congress and the courts. He has usurped the Third Branch of government - the branch charged with protecting the civil liberties of our people - by directing the National Security Agency to intercept and eavesdrop on the phone conversations and e-mails of American citizens without a warrant, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. He has stiff-armed the People's Branch of government. He has rationalized the use of domestic, civilian surveillance with a flimsy claim that he has such authority because we are at war. The executive order, which has been acknowledged by the President, is an end-run around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it unlawful for any official to monitor the communications of an individual on American soil without the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
What is the President thinking? Congress has provided for the very situations which the President is blatantly exploiting. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, housed in the Department of Justice, reviews requests for warrants for domestic surveillance. The Court can review these requests expeditiously and in times of great emergency. In extreme cases, where time is of the essence and national security is at stake, surveillance can be conducted before the warrant is even applied for.
This secret court was established so that sensitive surveillance could be conducted, and information could be gathered without compromising the security of the investigation. The purpose of the FISA Court is to balance the government's role in fighting the war on terror with the Fourth Amendment rights afforded to each and every American.
The American public is given vague and empty assurances by the President that amount to little more than "trust me." But, we are a nation of laws and not of men. Where is the source of that authority he claims? I defy the Administration to show me where in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the U.S. Constitution, they are allowed to steal into the lives of innocent America citizens and spy.
When asked yesterday what the source of this authority was, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had no answer. Secretary Rice seemed to insinuate that eavesdropping on Americans was acceptable because FISA was an outdated law, and could not address the needs of the government in combating the new war on terror. This is a patent falsehood. The USA Patriot Act expanded FISA significantly, equipping the government with the tools it needed to fight terrorism. Further amendments to FISA were granted under the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In fact, in its final report, the 9/11 Commission noted that the removal of the pre-9/11 "wall" between intelligence officials and law enforcement was significant in that it "opened up new opportunities for cooperative action."
The President claims that these powers are within his role as Commander in Chief. Make no mistake, the powers granted to the Commander in Chief are specifically those as head of the Armed Forces. These warrantless searches are conducted not against a foreign power, but against unsuspecting and unknowing American citizens. They are conducted against individuals living on American soil, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. There is nothing within the powers granted in the Commander in Chief clause that grants the President the ability to conduct clandestine surveillance of American civilians. We must not allow such groundless, foolish claims to stand.
To which, let me add this. Just imagine what would have happened had Bill Clinton done a tenth of these things. How many Timothy McVeighs would have emerged, declaring that the way was being paved for UN black helicopters to land in all of our yards? Or if, instead of REDUCING government secrecy, Clinton had augmented it even a tenth as much as the Bushites have? The utter hypocrisy of decrying any hint of Big Brother when the aroma rises from your chosen foe, but pretzel-bending like taffy in order to excuse total lack of accountability, when it the masks and smoke and veils are spread by your chosen team.