Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft
8 March 1999. TTA.
Global Intelligence Update, Red Alert, 08 March 1999
Four Intelligence Scandals and a Culture War
Four intelligence scandals blew up in the past week or so: A blown U.S. intelligence collection operation in Iraq; Chinese theft of nuclear weapons secrets from Los Alamos; the claim that Israel's Mossad had taped Clinton having phone sex with Monica Lewinsky and was using it to blackmail Clinton into stopping a mole hunt for an Israeli agent in the White House; and suspicion that Greece had traded U.S. and NATO jamming codes to the Russians. However true each of these is, somebody has clearly launched a campaign against the Clinton White House. Depending on your point of view, this is either another in an endless series of attempts by a vast right-wing conspiracy to discredit the President or a desperate attempt to warn the country about the incompetence or malfeasance of the Administration. But it does not strike us as accidental that these four reports all hit the major media within a few days of each other. We see a "culture war" underway between the Clinton Administration and the national security apparatus. Underlying it is a fundamental disagreement as to the nature of the international system, the threat faced by the United States and the appropriate policies that ought to be followed.
Whoever the leakers were this week, they are trying to paint a picture of an Administration that was simply indifferent to the classical concept of national security. The end of the Lewinsky affair has, it appears to us, opened a new battlefield in which the stakes are much higher. The President and his Administration are being charged with being either fools or knaves when it comes to defending the security interests of the United States. Now, there is the obvious question as to whether the charges in their particulars are true. But it is clear that the Iraq and China stories are true. The congressional oversight committees will probe the truth of the Greek story. And if Mossad didn't tap Monica's phone, it was only because of pure luck and not by Presidential caution.
The real issue here is cultural. On one side, those leaking these charges are claiming that the national security state is not archaic, that protecting the integrity of U.S. military and covert operations remains a priority above all other considerations. On the other side, there is the view of the world in which national security considerations, properly understood, have created a new hierarchy of values. In this view, cooperating with China on maintaining financial stability in Asia is more important than weapons technology theft and working with Greece as a conduit to Serbia or the Kurds is more important than keeping jamming codes out of Russian hands. The argument is that maintaining operational security over a covert operation in Iraq is less important than the short-term goal of getting the information needed, since the U.S. has the ability to live through the embarrassment of exposure and the loss of exposed collection systems. Indeed, in the extreme, the argument is that the existence of an Israeli mole in the White House is less important than keeping Netanyahu at the bargaining table with Arafat.
Rulers have traditionally compromised intelligence operations for higher, policy goals. That is to be expected. What surfaced this week, however, has been the charge that the Administration systematically ignored national security issues such as collection systems, jamming codes, and even nuclear technology, in favor of policy goals of dubious value. This is the real debate: were these trade-offs worth it? What did the United States achieve by ignoring foreign operations or failing to maintain its own operational security?
Apart from the truly sensational revelations of the last week, there is a deep policy debate that involves how the United States views the world. If we view the world as having genuinely evolved to a point at which traditional security issues are now marginal, then the Clinton Administration's behavior (assuming the stories are true at all) is understandable. If, on the other hand, the world continues to behave today much as it did for the past few centuries, then national security considerations remain central. Scandals aside, this is what was being debated in Washington this week.
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