Policy makers understanding of intelligence weak: book

New Delhi: America`s collective understanding and appreciation of intelligence lag far behind its needs as has often been the case throughout its history, says a new book by an ex-CIA agent.

"We need leaders like George Washington and Lincoln who understand intelligence and accept their responsibility for it," says Henry A Crumpton in his book "The Art of Intelligence, Lessons from a Life in the CIA`s Clandestine Service" published by Penguin.

Randomness and uncertainty, often acute in times of rapid change, can breed anxiety and fear. We need leaders who embrace intellectual integrity, constructive political discourse and hardnosed governance rather than prideful ignorance, dogmatic rhetoric, and divisive ideology on the left and the right, he says.

As the nature of war continues to shift, the role of intelligence will grow. All citizens, not just the government officials, need a better grasp of intelligence, both its capabilities and its limits, he says.

After the US and the allies won the Cold War and the Iron Curtain collapsed in 1989, many leaders such as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan voiced their doubts about the need for robust intelligence. Some questioned need for a Clandestine service. The Congress cashed in the `peace dividend` and slashed intelligence budgets to the bone. "It was as if our leaders expected that geopolitical risk would fade away," Crumpton says.

In the prosperous calm after the Cold War, America as a nation enjoyed a delusional respite, in an imaginary world without serious threats and deadly enemies. Then Al-Qaeda attacked the US in September 2011 and Osama Bin Laden and his 19 hijackers murdered 2977 people. America and the world, shocked and outraged, struggled to grasp what the attack meant.

In the decade after 9/11, US intelligence budgets and bureaucracies exploded in an orgy of growth, replication, and confusion. The annual intelligence budget ballooned from a few billion dollars to 75 billion dollars by 2011. Overnight US political leaders became champions of intelligence.

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic administrations, along with Congress, selectively abused the CIA to garner political benefit while demanding more from the agency than ever. Popular media and entertainment business hyped and distorted all sides on the intelligence spectrum, from painting superhero portraits to loathsome images of intelligence operatives and their missions.

At the root of all this, it seemed, was a weak understanding of intelligence among policy makers, elected officials, and leaders, both in government and in the broader society, Crumpton says, adding that he wondered how much was honest ignorance and how much was cynicism and manipulation by politicians, journalists, entertainers and profiteers.

"If intelligence plays such a paramount role in our national security and is deemed to assume even greater importance, and if citizens need to understand this arcane art, how is that best accomplished," Crumpton asks.

"Here lies the paradox," he says. "Because of deep functional and cultural bias toward secrecy among spies, intelligence leaders often dismiss the need for public outreach or education. Political leaders generally reinforce this attitude, not wanting any expert views divergent from their own surfacing in the public domain. In fact politicians want to protect intelligence for their own use, even among themselves. This necessary secrecy, particularly of sources and methods, all too often prevents a deeper public understanding of intelligence", the author says.

Now head of a global business group, Crumpton was the US Coordinator for counter-terrorism with the rank of ambassador -at-large after serving in the CIA for 24 years.

The book, the author says, outlines a new world of risk and the role of intelligence collection and covert action. "I hope to cast some light on the art of intelligence by relating some lessons learned over the course of my career, reinforced by experiences and views of others. The book is my attempt to describe the value of intelligence and how it can protect liberal institutions," he says.

As CIA`s Clandestine Service agent Crumpton says he was all excited when was told about a new assignment- he was allowed to return to university as a student.

It was here as student of advanced international studies that he explored how George Washington, one of America`s great spymasters, ran agents with superb tactical tradecraft and then brilliantly exploited their intelligence for strategic value. And that how value of intelligence was increasing in a world which was rapidly transforming.

In 2005, Crumpton says he was asked by Secretary of State Coldoleezza Rice to serve as the coordinator for counter- terrorism with the rank of ambassador-at-large. This was a presidential appointment and required a public Senate confirmation.

"I accepted the offer, realising that my life as a spy was over," he says. After all, from the closed world of `Clandestine Service` of the CIA, he had changed role on the stage of global public diplomacy as the president`s and secretary`s representative for counter-terrorism.

"From spy to diplomat, from clandestine operations to international interviews, from a mix of aliases to an Honorable title." It is good intelligence, like fine art, understood and treasured by the beholder. He quotes Aristotle- "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance". So too with intelligence, Crumpton says.