Connecting the dots — James Walsh on the recent attempted terrorist attack

James WalshOn his blog, Back Channels, James Walsh, author of The International Politics of Intelligence Sharing, examines the blame game that resulted in the aftermath of the failed terrorist attack on Christmas.

While newspapers and former government officials have pointed to the failures of bad judgment or technology, James Walsh believes politics is to blame. He writes:

Neither people or technology are the root cause of the difficulties in sharing intelligence. Politics is. Government agencies all want to contribute to stopping terrorist attacks, but bring to the table different specific skills and priorities. These differences can make them reluctant to share intelligence with their counterparts. Some fear that their counterparts will reveal methods of intelligence collection that need to be kept secret or will expose information that the terrorist can use to plan their next attack. Others are reluctant to share intelligence that casts a shadow on their efforts or undermines their skills and priorities. On the flip side, some agencies are unwilling to make decisions based on information they did not collect and cannot themselves verify.

Walsh believes that a culture that prizes intelligence sharing might help the situation but he also expresses some skepticism:

One solution might be to foster an intelligence culture that rewards sharing. The military has had some success in promoting inter-service cooperation by, for example, rewarding officers that serve in other areas of the military or government. But this is not an overnight cure. At best, it might create a culture of greater sharing in the next generation of intelligence professionals. Politics can be tamed, but it won’t go away.

For more on the book, you can also read Walsh’s recent post about the attack on the CIA base in Afghanistan or read an excerpt from the book.

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