An 'Inconvenient Truth' About the NIE

Who knew that supposedly peace loving, environmentally friendly defenders of the Earth (I capitalized Earth to show my support for all things green) could be so damn aggressive and hostile?

Not too long ago, I happened to mention during a television program that I recently tried to watch the Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. I was on a plane heading back to New York from London and the film was one of the choices on the in-flight entertainment system. I had already watched Borat, the two available episodes of Blackadder and the second half of Bridge on the River Kwai.

Clearly it was time for something more, shall we say, educational.

I decided to give Al Gore’s much publicized and, choose one—loved or vilified— film a look-see. I made it through the first 10 minutes before dozing off. The beverage cart banged into my knee about 20 minutes later, at which point I rewound the film and started over. Ten, possibly 15 minutes into the second screening, I was back in dreamland.

Turbulence somewhere over Nova Scotia, or Prince Edwards Island, or whatever is north of New York, woke me up a while later. Determined to be a good citizen and caretaker of the environment, I restarted the documentary and stared hard at the screen. I woke up when the plane touched down at JFK airport.

Here’s where I got in trouble: Sometime after that flight, during a television interview, I innocently mentioned that I had apparently found "An Inconvenient Truth" to be unwatchable. This resulted in a torrent of hate mail from supporters of the documentary that was foul enough to be composted and later used to power my Prius (product placement).

Clearly there was a misunderstanding--possibly generated by my failure to fully explain my critique of the film, or by the oddly aggressive eco-warriors inability to absorb opinions at odds with their own.

I didn’t call "An Inconvenient Truth" unwatchable because I disagree with the arguments put forth during the documentary. Hell, I couldn’t stay with it long enough to take on board the overall message. Therein lies my critique: I was expecting that an Oscar winning documentary would be, uhh, I dunno’, more riveting? Perhaps more enthralling? So when I called it unwatchable, what I meant to say was that it was really, really hard to watch from a film and documentary lover’s perspective.

My point is this: What’s up with all the anger from the folks who took exception to my five second comment regarding the documentary? Get a grip. So I wasn’t captivated by Al’s message. In an interesting display of hostility and escalation, those of you who I’m talking to (and you know who you are because you’ve already been visited by the sinister government emissaries and likely have heard the black helicopters flying overhead) took my simple comment and assumed I was mounting a full blown attack (powered by fossil fuels) on Al, Leo DeCaprio, biodegradable products, flax seed, patchouli and Mother Earth herself.

This is the same sort of inane crap that litters our political landscape and makes reasonable discourse almost impossible. Witness the grandstanding that took place over the National Intelligence Estimate released a little over a week ago. But first, a moment of silence for the amazing transition we’ve just witnessed from one topic to another.

Back to our story. No sooner had the NIE been released than we were treated to various presidential candidates’ interpretations of the meaning of the document. Like the old parable of the blind folks walking around an elephant and individually describing entirely different looking animals, the NIE (an analysis designed to be objective) was alternately described as either a condemnation of the current administration’s policies, particularly in Iraq, or justification for our continued actions and policies, particularly in Iraq.

I realize my comment about the NIE process being designed to generate objective reviews will be scoffed at by some. For those of you who believe the government is filled with evil-doers who desire nothing less than world domination and delight in screwing the American public, there is probably little I can do to change your mind.

I’ve always thought that the best way to counter the conspiracy theorist is to have them actually work for the government for a while. Once you’ve peeked behind the curtain, you’re less likely to believe the government, regardless of which administration, is capable of engaging in half the shenanigans that they’re routinely given credit for.

Returning to the NIE, one of the key judgments from the document reads as follows:

“We assess that greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al Qaeda to attack the U.S. Homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the Homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11. These measures have helped disrupt known plots against the United States since 9/11.”

Another key judgment states:

“Al Qaeda is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to Al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qa’ida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.”

Whaddaya think? Is it just me or do those statements above, taken directly from the NIE, seem fairly straightforward and self explanatory?

Apparently, if you’re a Democratic presidential candidate, you get issued a special pair of between-the-lines reading glasses that allow you to divine the true meaning of statements such as those above. While you or I might read the key judgments and think, “…huh, we’ve had some success disrupting Al Qaeda, but apparently they’re still out there looking to kill us,” here’s how others interpret it:

Barack Obama issued a release on the day the NIE became public which, in part, said “… we are no safer than we were on 9/11.”

John Edwards' take on the NIE included the statement that “… 6 years after 9/11, Bin Laden is still alive, Al Qaeda is more powerful now than ever before, and we have fewer allies.”

Joe Biden, never particularly subtle when it comes to the current administration, looked at the NIE and called it “… a devastating indictment of the Administration’s failure to accomplish its most important mission: destroying Al Qaeda and the threat it poses.”

I suggest you get yourself on the internet and find an unedited version of the NIE. It’s a relatively short piece of work but well worth the read. Go through it with an objective frame of mind and ask yourself this… does the document make any of the following statements:

-- Al Qaeda is stronger than ever before…

-- Al Qaeda is stronger than before 9/11…

--Al Qaeda poses more of a risk to the U.S. than before the Iraq conflict restarted in 2003…

I’m just asking. We can’t even take an objective analysis (I hear some of you snorting…stop it) like the latest NIE report and have an intelligent discussion free of political spin.

Even prior to the latest NIE, some of the candidates latched on to the mantra that we need to get out of Iraq and focus our troops where it really matters, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s a clever position, in that they get to appeal to the voters who want out of Iraq, while demonstrating that they still intend to get tough on Al Qaeda in other locations.

Let’s think that campaign blather through for a moment. Aside from the increased chaos that a politically driven, hurried withdrawal will unleash inside Iraq, what exactly do we think will result from shoving more troops into Afghanistan? And how do we propose to carry out major military operations inside Pakistan without the support and cooperation of the Pakistanis?

I’d like to explore this further, but I’ve got to get home. I rented "An Inconvenient Truth" from the local DVD shop. We haven’t been sleeping much since the new baby arrived.

Till next week, stay safe.

Respond to the Writer

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.

Mike Baker is the Co-Founder of Diligence LLC, a leading global intelligence, security and risk management firm. Prior to starting Diligence, Mike spent over a decade and half with the CIA as a covert field operations officer. He is a regular contributor in the national and international media on intelligence, security, counterterrorism and political issues. He appears regularly on Fox News, as well as other major media outlets.