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20220423 – Spies, Lies, and Algorithms




This book reviews a few known successes and many failures of the American Intelligence community, its continuously growing structure, its history, its present dysfunctionality, and its increasingly complicated future. The main point this book makes is the dramatic increase of the information available to civilians, who are often capable of providing better analysis than multibillion-dollar agencies of the intelligence community. The second point is that cyber intelligence has become both: a growing business industry and a growing hobby for many people. The result is such an increase in the scale of intelligence community failures that one could not possibly even imagine a couple of dozen years ago. An excellent example would be an acquisition by Chinese intelligence of OPM security clearance data on millions of Americans.   


After reading about the apparent dysfunctionality of the American intelligence community, I should be distraught and scared, but I am not. Being somewhat familiar with both sides of Cold War intelligence and security competition, I believe that the stupidity and dysfunctionality of former Soviet and now Russian intelligence significantly exceeds the same of their American counterpart. I am pretty sure the same applies to Chinese. So, all things being otherwise equal, Americans would win. However, I would like to suggest a few upgrade measures that could make such an outcome guaranteed:

  1. Remove all generic security clearances and substitute them with clearances for a specific document. With current technology, it is not that difficult to keep in the database for each document names of individuals authorized to use this document. Similarly, it should not be a problem to save in the database entry for each individual code of documents this individual is authorized for. The ability of private Manning or technician Snowden not only to read but also download millions of classified documents was beyond any conceivable level of incompetency of officials responsible for the design of the security protocol.
  2. Combine all agencies into two, each of them covering the full scope of intelligence services and competing between themselves.
  3. Keep public track record for senior intelligence officials, so consistently failed individuals could be excluded from positions of responsibility.
  4. Change attitude to defectors from the enemy side by treating them as our own under suspicion in treason, meaning constant surveillance combined with conditional trust. Retaliate for any harm to them as if they were our own and provide them with the same level of support. For example, if Kennedy provided the same level of support to Cubans on Playa Giron as they were marines, Cuban people would not need to endure 70 years of communist tyranny.

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