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Intelligence professionals will tell you that analyzing data, especially human intelligence data, is more of an art than a science. The pros in the military, the NSA, the CIA and all of the other alphabet agencies pore over reams of documents, photographs, interviews and other sources of information to try and separate those rare grains of wheat from the avalanche of chaff that characterizes intelligence work.
It’s a very difficult and demanding profession. And yet, a collection of computer hackers have essentially told the world that they know more about intelligence gathering than people who have been trained and who have spent their professional careers determining and evaluating enemy intentions.
It is a given that, when it comes to Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organizations, America faces an enemy that avoids a rigid, centralized command structure and that uses disinformation and distortion to hide its intentions. Will Al-Qaeda operatives attempt to deceive us? Of course they will. Can enhanced interrogation techniques like sleep deprivation and water-boarding break through the deceptions and yield useful information that saves innocent lives? Absolutely.
The flip side of that discussion is that no one can guarantee that any enhanced interrogation technique will be 100% successful, or that the information gleaned during those sessions will always be useful. Sometimes you strike out. Yet, if we were to apply the WikiLeaks test to intelligence gathering in this war against fundamentalist Islamic intolerance, the West might just as well wave a white flag.
Will America’s intelligence-gathering efforts ever be 100% accurate? No. We’ll always get something wrong, no matter how hard we try. “Press on” should be our motto of choice. Given that we have an enemy that doesn’t care in the lest about using supposed innocence to disguise an idealistic agenda, we need to drill down – as often as possible – to define exactly what those particular miscreants were trying to do. If it’s a matter of simple mischief, no problem. We’ve been there and done that. But, if the decision involves actual principle, it’s time to move on.
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