Triple Cross: A Comment
In his book, Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI, Peter Lance repeatedly points out how the FBI and the CIA failed to see Ali Mohamed for the al Qaeda spy he was. Throughout the 1990s and even earlier, there was evidence of Mohamed’s attachment to al Qaeda. In fact, in 1993, he revealed to an FBI agent that he was such a spy and yet the FBI and the CIA failed to follow up.
It’s interesting, to say the least, that despite all of the examples of failures of these agencies, Lance never asks whether all of these “might have beens,” as he calls them, are the result not of intermittent failures but of fundamental flaws endemic to these bureaucracies. That is, is it possible that these agencies are fundamentally defective and not just capable of making “mistakes,” as are all human beings and human organizations?
Bureaucracies are institutions created in order to control things. This is their primary function regardless of what they are “regulating.” Hence, the intel they gather is assessed through the lens of control. If intel is gathered that is deemed not to represent a threat, not to represent significant danger than it is not important or, at any rate, not important enough to invest a significant amount of time and money in. It is, in all likelihood, to be “filed away” in case it proves to be significant later.
What does this mean? Among other things, it means that bureaucrats and bureaucracies lack or suppress imagination. Bureaucrats are, it might be said, invested in “the effectual truth,” to borrow a phrase from Machiavelli’s The Prince, and not the whole truth. The whole truth only emerges through the use of imagination. What is called “evidence” is only what is evident, so evidence always presents only a partial picture of what is going on or what went on. There may situations where such partial pictures are beneficial, e.g., in criminal trials where the important thing is to determine if someone committed a particular act.
But in other situations such partial pictures are misleading, are even blinding, as it were. To put it bluntly, the effectual truth gets human beings to nuclear weapons; but it doesn’t and it can’t get human beings to thinking, after witnessing the use of such weapons, “Now, I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” The latter requires imagination, inspiration, even religious inspiration. And such imagination or inspiration is essential to understand the world that nuclear weapons have created, or what those armed with nuclear weapons are likely to become.