Will Snowflakes from SECDEF Repair a Broken OODA Loop???

October 31, 2003

Comment: #500

Discussion Threads - Comment #: 499 and related comments

Attached References:

[Ref.1] "Facing the truth of Sept. 11" The International Herald Tribune [Editorial from New York Times], October 30, 2003

We can use the word Intelligence in at least two ways: it may reflect the brain's ability to produce an OODA loop that successfully copes with, overcomes, or exploits the opportunities, constraints, threats, and uncertainties in that organism's environment, or it can relate to the information about an adversary in that environment of conflict.

This comment disseminates the essential parts of an Amazon web page describing an important book that analyzes the intelligence failure in Vietnam — in both of the ways described above.

It is particularly relevant reading now that we are enmeshed in an Iraqi dilemma of our own making, given the intelligence failures leading up to this war (not to mention 9-11), as well as the failures that are now becoming apparent in our efforts to cope with the emergence of the 4GW threats in Phase 2 of this war threats which many experts foresaw and warned about, at least in a qualitative if not particular sense.

George Allen, the author of None So Blind, shows how the failure in the second meaning of intelligence was less of a problem in Vietnam than in that of the first meaning.

A question now facing every American — one of paramount importance to our long-term security, vitality, and growth, particularly with respect to evolving a grand strategy that rebuilds our moral stature in the world — is to stop this deadly phenomenon from repeating itself in Iraq and the War on Terror.

This goal requires an aggressive desire to face the truth. Unfortunately, as Reference 1 below shows, that desire is not now evident in Versailles on the Potomac, which is playing domestic politics with that goal with respect to understanding the intelligence failures leading up to 9-11.

As we saw in the last comment (#499), the threat of folding ourselves back into another inwardly focused OODA loop — i.e., one that does not relate to exigencies of Iraq — is now a clear and present danger.

Although written before the fact, the analysis of George Allen in None So Blind shows why short memos (known in the Pentagon as Snowflakes from SECDEF) posing disjointed questions about progress in the War on Terror (including Phase 2 of the Second Iraq War), with the aim of resolving those questions via Saturday morning meetings of only the high rollers who are totally committed to a course of action they created, are unlikely to repair a national OODA loop that is now reacting more to its internal dynamics than the actions of the enemy.

Perhaps it is time to dust off and re-read Irving Janis' classic Groupthink (Houghton Mifflen Company, 1982), which is a study of the psychological failures in policy making by small groups working at high levels in the hothouse of national policy making.

None So Blind:

A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
by George W. Allen

Hardcover: 296 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.13 x 9.74 x 6.14

Publisher: Ivan R Dee, Inc.; (October 2001)

ISBN: 1566633877

Read the complete Amazon page at: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1566633877/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1/103-1369008-6798264

From Library Journal

The author, who specialized in Vietnam during his 30 years (1949-79) in military intelligence and the CIA, lays the blame for America's tragic failure in that country squarely on the heads of top policymakers in Washington, DC. He argues that in their frantic search for victory over communism, they ignored professional experts at home and in Indochina who offered opinions and information contrary to what the White House wanted to hear. Allen does believe that the government has learned... read more

All Customer Reviews

Avg. Customer Review:

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

Amazing book on US involvement in Vietnam, June 21, 2003
Reviewer: Frank from Los Altos

I have read a number of books on the US involvement in Vietnam, some of them quite good. This is the best, the ONE book you should read if you're limited to one book. Other recommended books are "To Bear Any Burden: The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath in the Words of Forty-Seven Americans and Southeast Asians" by Al Santoli, and "Our Vietnam/Nuoc Viet Ta: A History of the War 1954-1975" by A. J. Langguth.

With first-hand knowledge — not just reading from second-hand sources or going through one general's papers — George Allen describes what happened in Vietnam from before Dien Bien Phu through the fall of Saigon. He has detailed information on the US side, and informed accounts of what the North Vietnamese strategy was. He introduces us to the personalities and events so important to the way Vietnam happened, all in a very engaging and readable style.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the listing of the many times the US took action without a full examination of the complete situation. Allen writes, "In foreign affairs and national security matters, there is no substitute for thorough, conscientious, and objective analysis of all the factors bearing on a decision, of alternative courses of action, and of a weighing of the consequences — domestic as well as foreign — of all the options available." This was rarely done in Vietnam. Among the hasty decisions the US made were to

  • consider the northern Vietnamese as part of a monolithic Communist threat,

  • to aid the French in maintaining their empire,

  • to take over the French role in Vietnam,

  • to give the green light to the Diem coup,

  • to not realize the problems the lack of post-Diem leadership would create,

  • to not encourage South Vietnam to develop an effective political message and a stable appealing government,

  • to appear to favor Thieu as a candidate (by proclaiming neutrality),

  • by failing to build an effective intelligence system in south Vietnam,

  • by US in-country personnel repeatedly lying to their superiors

  • by exaggerating US success and minimizing enemy strength (thus depriving themselves of the needed resources to meet the real threat),

  • by the false "light at the end of the tunnel" PR campaign (setting the government up for an even bigger fall when Tet '68 came),

  • by giving South Vietnam false assurances of our post-withdrawal support, etc. etc.

These just touch the surface. Allen explains how even minor decisions like insisting ARVN units included artillery support, and not replacing ONE incompetent colonel, possibly had very significant bad effects. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Vietnam, recent American history, or politics. It should be required reading for US policy-makers.

Hopefully someday we'll have someone the caliber of George Allen tell the true story of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq.

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:

Balanced Deep Trustworthy View of Policy-Intelligence Gaps, February 8, 2002
Reviewer: Robert D. Steele from Oakton, VA United States

This book is destined to be a classic. There is no other person who spent over 17 years focused on intelligence about Viet-Nam, and very rare is the person who can say they have spent over 50 years in continuous intelligence appointments, 20 of them after retirement. It is a personal story that I consider to be balanced, deep, and trustworthy. While it has gaps, these are easily addressed by reading, at least on the intelligence side, such books at Bruce Jones' "War Without Windows", Orrin DeForest's "SLOW BURN", Douglas Valentine's "The Phoenix Program", Jim Witz's "The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War", Tom Mangold & John Penycate's "The Tunnels of Chu Chi", and the Viet-Nam portions of Jim Bamford's "Body of Secrets."

I mention these books in part to emphasize that George Allen has produced a book that will stand the test of time and should be regarded as an exceptional historical, policy, intelligence, and public administration case study. It is truly humbling and sobering to read such a calm, complete, and broad treatment of the history of both American intelligence in relation to Viet-Nam, and the consistent manner in which policy-makers refused to listen to accurate intelligence estimates, while their Generals and Ambassadors steadfastly "cooked the books." The manipulation of truth from the Saigon end, and the refusal to listen to truth on the Washington end, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, Vietnamese, Loatian, Cambodian, and American, as well as allied nationalities.

This book is gripping. I could not put it down. It is one of the most serious personal accounts I have ever read where the vivid realities of intelligence, ignorance, and policy come together. The author excells at painting the details in context, and his many specific portraits of key individuals and situations are superior.

This book is relevant to today's war on terrorism. Many of the same issues prevail—rather than enumerate them, I will give this book my very highest mark, and simply say that you cannot understand intelligence, or the intelligence-policy relationship, without having absorbed all this author has to say.

He's hit it out of the park. Every voter who wonders what it will take to hold politicians accountable for "due diligence" in decision-making, needs to read this book.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

Excellent perspective on the Vietnam war, January 9, 2002
Reviewer: bsully54 from Boston, MA USA

I initially expected this book to be interesting, but fairly dry in parts. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself unable to put the book down.

Mr. Allen, a top official with the CIA during the Vietnam war, shares his experiences, insights and perspectives as to "the intelligence failure" in the war. Based on Mr. Allen's account, the real intelligence failure was on the part of the military and political leaders of the time; they simply refused to lend any credence at all to any intelligence that didn't tell them what they had already determined they wanted to hear.

This book will make you angry at times as you read of the author's continued frustration at people either ignoring his message or "killing the messenger". This is a very well-written book. I would consider it essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Vietnam, the war, or the politics of that era.

Chuck Spinney

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 1

Facing the truth of Sept. 11

The International Herald Tribune [Editorial from New York Times]
Thursday, October 30, 2003


The commission chairman, former Governor Thomas Kean of New Jersey, a Republican, is threatening to subpoena the administration for documents that officials should forthrightly turn over. Among the key questions is the nature of an intelligence report to President George W. Bush a month before the attacks - only sketchily confirmed thus far by the White House - that Al Qaeda might try to hijack passenger airplanes.

The commission is up to the task of scrutinizing the failures of intelligence and other government agencies, and classified secrets can be adequately safeguarded. Congress should prepare to extend the commission's 18-month timetable beyond next May, the deadline.

How can an unstinting investigation of the truth of Sept. 11 not be of paramount concern to any official sworn to protect the public? The approaching presidential election makes the Bush administration's evasions even more suspect. Failure to document and face the truth will only feed conspiracy theories and undermine America's chances of weathering future threats.

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