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FDL Book Salon Welcomes A. J. Rossmiller and Richard Clarke


(Please welcome in the comments Richard Clarke and A. J. Rossmiller, author of Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon — jh)

I came to know of AJ through my friend Rand Beers at the National Security Network, where AJ is a Fellow. I recognized instantly that he is a person with a keen interest in defense, intelligence and national security issues who actually gets it. He understands that for America to be strong at home and abroad, it needs its defense apparatus to work at not only the highest level possible, but also in a way that upholds the principles that made this country great — security balanced with morality; strength without arrogance. Unfortunately, what AJ experienced at the Defense Department did not live up to these values. Fortunately for all of us, he took his insight and his recommendations to AmericaBlog, where many of you have come to know him, and to NSN.

AJ’s views from Baghdad to the halls of the Pentagon are now shared in his book, Still Broken. His personal experiences shed much needed light on the failures he saw while also recognizing the unsung heroes who produce and utilize the "actionable intelligence" upon which our country builds its missions. As someone who relied on smart analysts like AJ throughout my government career, I recognize that we need more people of his ability and passion working to protect this country. And as he states eloquently in the book, we also need to make sure that their observations make their way up the chain:

The whole point of a counterinsurgency mission is to utilize actionable intelligence, which is basically what it sounds like: intelligence you can act on, either strategically or, more likely, at the tactical level. In-country Defense Department intelligence is heavily weighted toward supporting the shooters, but the group we replaced seemed to be providing a circular function, in that they produced materials for . . . one another. Nothing was broadly important enough to pass up to leadership, and nothing was specific enough to pass down to units.

Still Broken recounts the strategic shortcomings in our efforts to defend this country from enemies overseas — from how the Administration mismanaged the war in Iraq and turned our intelligence efforts into a ineffectual political apparatus to his eyewitness accounts of mistreatment of detainees likely guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Using humor and and intensity in equal parts, the book demonstrates AJ’s acute ability to recognize where failures exist, where progress is impeded, and where this country, because of President Bush’s failed policies, has fallen off track.

AJ’s mission here is clear:

From the beginning of my employment, and for most of my life, I had believed in the system, the government, and the goodness of civil servants, especially those paid to keep us safe. Most of all, I believed that it was better to be a part of the system, even if it was an uphill climb against all the ills of the bureaucracy, than to criticize it from the outside. I generally believe in solving problems quietly and efficiently, and the idea of taking a public stand on principle did not appeal to me. But I also knew that I might have an opportunity, however small, to affect some of the worst elements of the office simply by leaving it. It was no longer a question of whether I wanted to stay, but rather whether I would have the courage to depart.

I for one have deep sympathy for this perspective, and hope that we can all learn from the lessons AJ provides to reconstruct a government that doesn’t fail its people but does a job we can all be proud of. The book is insightful, courageous, and important, and I’m pleased to be able to discuss it with you this afternoon.

Without further delay, I’d like to introduce Alex Rossmiller, fellow with the National Security Network, writer at AmericaBlog, and author of Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, From Baghdad to the Pentagon.

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Richard A. Clarke

Richard A. Clarke