American Elephants

How Intelligence Works by The Elephant's Child

Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. He is a recipient of the U.S .National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, the author of several books, including Real-World Intelligence and Hard Thinking, and many of his speeches are available on YouTube.

In the most recent copy of Imprimus, an excerpt from a recent speech on Intelligence is fascinating. “How Intelligence Works (When It Does)

Just utter the word “intelligence” and most people conjure up images of spies, secret satellites peering down on foreign cities and terrorist camps, and rooms full of young technocrats reading private emails and listening to private conversations. These images are accurate, but they reflect the tools and techniques of our intelligence service, rather than its purpose.

To understand its purpose, think of a jumbo jet flying at night through turbulent skies—thunder clouds, lightning, other airplanes streaking in all directions and at all altitudes. To navigate through this, the pilot and his crew rely on their radar—the instrument that paints a picture of their environment, enabling them to see what’s going on around them and what lies ahead so they can chart a safe course. Radar doesn’t tell the captain and his crew what to do, but it gives them the accurate information they’ll need to make good decisions.

Our intelligence service is our nation’s radar. Its purpose is to provide the president and his national security team with an accurate picture of what’s going on in the world and what’s likely to happen in the days, months, and years ahead. The assumption is that if the president and his team have this information, they can chart a safe course for our country. And if they can see the distant future soon enough and clearly enough—and if they don’t like what they see—they can take steps to change the future before it happens.

Good intelligence is a combination, he says, of information and insight. Information is the raw material, while insight is the finished product.The key to producing good intelligence lies in getting this combination of information and insight right. …You start with a thesis—in other words you decide what you want to know, then you send your collectors out to get it. The key is asking the right question.

In the period from the end of World War II until 1981, every president’s objective had been not to lose the Cold War. If things were no worse when a president left office than when he took office—he’d done a good job. President Reagan, instead, wanted to win the Cold War. He had switched from Defense to Offense. His Director of Central Intelligence asked the CIA’s Soviet Division  two questions. Where is the Soviet Union weak? and Where is it most vulnerable? The answer he received was: We don’t know. No one’s ever asked this before.

You can read the rest of this most interesting post at the link above.

Imprimus is a brief publication from Hillsdale College delivered to your email once a month. You can subscribe, it’s free. They also offer a number of free courses you can take. Hillsdale receives no federal money, remains stubbornly independent and teaches subjects like the Constitution and American History, things like that. No safe spaces, no riots. Excellent professors. Real education.

“Why is the World So Dangerous?” by The Elephant's Child

“Herbert  E. Meyer (Herb) served as vice chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council under President Reagan. He was one of the few people in the 1980’s to perceive that the U.S. and its allies might have turned the corner and were on the way to winning the Cold War.”

You may not have noticed, but the media seldom talks about facts. It’s almost all opinion. Herb Meyer talks facts, and gives you the evidence on which the facts are based.  That original paper: “Why Is The World So Dangerous?” from 1983 has long since been declassified, and is available to be downloaded here. Most of his speeches are different versions of “Why is the World So Dangerous”— because that’s what we need to hear. This one was delivered to the Northwest Business Club on March 9th this year. He gives us his version of history, and explains what we need to know to cope. The address is a little over an hour and worth every minute, so try for some time this weekend. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll think a little differently about the world today. He is a great speaker, funny, charming, and utterly fascinating.

ADDENDUM: If you go to You Tube, there are lots of Herb Meyer’s speeches, many with the same name. I picked this one as one of the most recent. and they are similar because Mr. Meyer has to put you in the right historical frame of mind to grasp the changing nature of the trends. His basic argument does not change, because, well, he’s clearly right, and a little repetition merely reinforces the point.

History, Told by a Participant. An Explanation of the Cold War. by The Elephant's Child

Here is a fascinating take on Grenada, Poland and the Pope — and the history of the Cold War. This is from a lecture Herbert Meyer recently gave to the Young Americans Foundation on the occasion of the 100th birthday of William Casey, Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary CIA director. I was so interested in this (he’s a good storyteller) that I wish I had been there to hear the whole speech. And the next segment is equally good.  So who is Herb Meyer?

Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan Administration as Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence and Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. In these positions, he managed production of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimates and other top-secret projections for the President and his national security advisers. Mr. Meyer is widely credited with being the first U.S. Government official to forecast the Soviet Union’s collapse — a forecast for which he later was awarded the U.S. National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, which is the Intelligence Community’s highest honor.

Steven Hayward has posted these three videos over at Powerline, and his comments are certainly worth reading in their entirety. We are so apt to have little knowledge or understanding of fairly recent history, because we have always to a certain extent been low-information voters. I don’t use the term in a pejorative way. We are all busy our lives and work and activities and keeping up with news, politics and world affairs is why we elect representatives to do it for us, as they make the laws that will govern our lives. (Our hope is that they will do a better job of it than we do. Uh huh). But how many, even of those who lived through it, have any real understanding of the Cold War?  Steven Hayward said:


Bill Casey

American Cold War policy might be said to have begun with the famous “Long Telegram” from George (“Mr. X”) Kennan, and then NSC 68, the equally important strategy document written largely by Paul Nitze.  Both of these documents routinely find their way into nearly every history of the Cold War that has ever been published.

But a third document deserves to take its place next to Kennan’s “Sources of Soviet Conduct” and Nitze’s NSC 68: Herbert Meyer’s November 1983 memo to Casey (and Reagan) on “Why the World Is So Dangerous.” ¹ It was in this remarkable document that Meyer predicted that the United States under Reagan was on its way to winning the Cold War, and why.  His analysis of what was going to happen in the USSR (before Gorbachev, remember) was dead on.  The memo was later leaked in an attempt to embarrass Casey and Meyer (and Reagan, of course), but we can see who ended up embarrassed.  The CIA bureaucracy sniped at Meyer, but Casey told Meyer: “Not to worry.  You have two important fans and allies.  Me, and the president.”

Meyer’s description of Casey explaining why being a member of the Soviet Politburo in the 1980s was “not a lot of fun.”

¹ Herb Meyer’s memo is hard to read. It says “OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible.” Which is an understatement. But it’s kind of interesting to take run-together words apart and translate where they are missing.  Worthwhile anyway.

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