Author: Gary Hart

With multiple-meaning words, it is always necessary to designate which meaning is intended.  In everyday usage intelligence means knowledge, understanding, appreciation, ability to mentally process, and much else.  In official circles, especially since World War II, it means collection and processing of information necessary to make wise political and military judgments in the national interest.

The first is produced by education and study.  The second is produced by a constantly expanding network of official agencies and some unofficial collection sources.

Whether through cognitive processes or street-smart common sense, most Americans who bother to vote assume that public officials up to and including the president have the innate intelligence to understand and appreciate the significance of national security intelligence.

There is always the chance, remote as it may seem, that a president might not have the intelligence or even interest to appraise and evaluate the national security intelligence he is tasked with receiving on a daily basis.

This scenario, as frightening as it is, may result from lackadaisical schooling, self-chosen illiteracy, impatience, deficient attention span, or, worst of all, a sense that he or she possesses an intellect superior to the processed information/intelligence produced constantly by cadres of trained and experienced analysts.

The baseline attitude is: Don’t bore me with the facts.

Regardless of the reason, this is a danger to our security.  Security intelligence is focused not only on military deployments, nuclear and missile tests, troop strengths, and scenario evaluations.  It also provides crucial economic analyses, impending pandemics, climate data (yes), migration information, behind the scenes political information, leadership character studies, and much more crucial but not military information.

Reliance on intelligence requires the intelligence to be reliable and not the product of an effort to bolster or sway wrong-headed policy.  Then CIA Director George Tenet infamously told President George W. Bush that invasion of Iraq would be a “slam dunk”.  We are still in Iraq 16 years later.  True intelligence professionals resist the lure of pleasing power.

In addition to the mind-closing factors listed above that may impede intelligence about intelligence, the current administration seems to be made up of cabinet level officials who share one disturbing characteristic—conscious rejection of science and the scientific method.

Here we have entered the portal of the post-Enlightenment era.  If science that disproves ideological bias is systematically rejected, then rules do not apply.  The autocrat’s mantra is: “Who are you going to trust, me or your lying eyes.  Truth is what we say it is.  Truth is not in books or education; it is in our doctrine.

Thus, I as commander-in-chief do not need daily intelligence briefings, especially those that run counter to my own beliefs or that challenge my convictions.  I can take or leave the entire intelligence community and, by the way, the law enforcement community and the rule of law if they call into question my behavior and conduct.”

The long history of autocratic behavior repeatedly follows this model.  It succeeds when no political institutions question this pattern.  The majority in both Houses of Congress remain dumb to this threat and fearful of political reprisals from the “base”.

Civil servants, bound by oaths to protect and defend the Constitution, are daily tasked with following the laws or bowing to the agency heads out to undermine the very legal structures Congresses have erected over decades for them to administer.

When they choose to obey the laws and mandates laid down by Congress, they become the “deep state”.  The “deep state” is nothing more than civil servants performing duties required by law when the president and those around him command them not to.

It is one thing to empower a leader who “tells it like it is”.  It is another to empower a leader who “does it like he isn’t supposed to do it”.

Willful ignorance of information, facts, science, and the truth is not leadership.  It is unconstitutional autocracy.  Whether Americans realize it or not, we are in a day to day struggle over the soul of our nation.

[Credentials: Appellate lawyer, National Security Division, U.S. Department of Justice; member, U.S. Senate Commission to Investigate the Intelligence Agencies of the U.S. Government; charter member, Senate Permanent Intelligence Oversight Committee; co-chair, U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century; chair, Threat Reduction Advisory Committee, U.S. Department of Defense; chair, International Security Advisory Board, U.S. Department of State]

7 Responses to “Intelligence”

  1. Edward Goldstick Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    At first, I wondered whether your soliloquy was an appropriate angle to take on this solemn day… but then I checked the president’s “real” twitter feed to find a perfectly refined and polished video statement followed some two hours later – just minutes ago as I begin to type – by a happy narcissistic ode that manages to be both dubious and deceitful.

    I am sadly convinced that this man has successfully inverted the tried and true axiom that a life well-lived is one in which one serves a purpose greater than and, by implication, necessarily outside of oneself. Our metaphysical instincts makes each of us the center of the universe, and it takes a coherent cultural and personal experience to grow beyond that narrow-minded perspective. The same holds for our ability to recognize and acknowledge our errors.

    Trump takes the baser reflex his anchor, and he offers it to his supporters as the basic rationale for their support: “No matter what you say or do, *you* matter more than anyone or anything else and no-body [sic] can challenge your ultimate sovereignty (… and certainly not mine)”. Your reference to autocratic leadership rings true: within the claims of liberating the individual while holding society together, there is always a central figure to whom all can rally and parrot rather than create their own place in society, with loyalty the priority over autonomy.

    I understand and agree with your focus on “intelligence” as both a distinguishing characteristic of each of us as individuals as well as the aggregate knowledge of any social structure… especially those that govern. In that light, may I posit that intelligence is divided in two objective parts – memory and logic – which interact to form the foundation of intelligence along with the third, more personal, leg of the stool: purpose.

    It is therefore perfectly appropriate to raise the dark specter of our current government’s twisting of all three factors on this one day when we should remember, first and foremost, those who preceded us as citizens in defense of our imperfect republic, those who made the ultimate sacrifice too young to have fully benefited from its fruits as many of us already have.

    All I will add is that I wish I could post a photo here of the two gravestones in our familial cemetery in Western Massachusetts: one is for my uncle who died in Australia in 1943 after contracting malaria in New Guinea at the beginning of WWII when deployed with the Army Air Force as a mechanic, while the adjacent stone is for a Harold Jack Weber who perished at Omaha Beach at the age of 21. According to my late father who also volunteered and who served as a paratrooper, his older brother was a bit of a scoundrel but who volunteered at the ripe old age of 30 because duty called, for adventure, and because his skills were needed… while his neighbor for all eternity was a young man whose origin story is unknown to me but whose sacrifice is all the more meaningful.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    Mr. Goldstick appropriately raises the question of theme and timing on the day set aside to honor our military generally and those who died in our nation’s service especially. We are daily more deeply in their debt than we realize. Reverence for their sacrifices is the only appropriate response not just one day a year but everyday.
    Were we to lift our drawbridges and disengage from the world we would dishonor their memories. On the other hand, their sacrifices must weigh heavily on commanders-in-chief today and tomorrow to study intelligence and question it before committing troops to combat. Our greatest thanks to those we remember can best be demonstrated by dedicating ourselves to closing the current civilian-military gap. Gary Hart

  3. Edward Goldstick Says:

    Hear! Hear!

    … and thank you.

  4. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Sen. Hart’s post was fitting for Memorial Day because without sound intelligence (in all senses of the word, including a moral and temperamental dimension) it can well be that “all is lost” for our soldiers and even our nation as a whole.

    On Memorial Day I thought (and tweeted) about my Uncle Sid (Soloway), my Mom’s brother, who enlisted as a 16 year old (underage) in the Navy during World War 2 in 1943: . He was deployed as a sailor on the USS (Ben) Franklin, the aircraft carrier that had the misfortune of being attacked twice by the Japanese military. (I believe my uncle was present only for the first attack as briefly discussed below.) The Franklin was first struck by a kamikaze which crashed through her flight deck on October 30, 1944 creating a conflagration, and was hit again on March 19, 1945 by a Japanese dive-bomber (dubbed a “Judy” aka “Bogey” when still unidentified) which managed to drop 2 500-pound bombs directly on the carrier’s hangar causing a horrific inferno: . The second attack killed over 800 sailors and aviators. Miraculously the ship didn’t sink. The Navy’s damage report is here:

    A brief online search turns up a very revealing and pertinent article about the ill-fated USS Franklin (linked at the top of this comment) written by James Holmes, a retired Navy officer and Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College. The conventional object-lessons to be drawn from the Franklin incidents, the author writes, concern the perils of unsound “naval architecture and shipboard practices, and about firefighting and damage control in particular”. But the more important lesson Prof. Holmes asserts (and one most pertinent today in my view) is about “toxic leadership”, in the Franklin’s case that of Captain Leslie E. Gehres who took over command of the ship following the kamikaze attack. What a piece of…work! (See article for details.) Who does Captain Gehres remind you of? (The president notoriously dodged the draft during the Vietnam war and despicably derided Sen. McCain and other vets who were “captured”. Had Trump patriotically served and made officer ranks there is no doubt the president would have been a textbook “toxic” officer.)

    During every visit my Uncle Sid made to Los Angeles from Tucson, Arizona (where he had settled) in the 1960s my cousins and I would insist that he re-tell the story of the firestorm that had engulfed the Franklin’s flight deck following the kamikaze attack and of his having had to jump overboard from the ship’s 20-story-high deck to escape it. He punctured his eardrum upon impact and with the help of an air-pocket-filled mailbag floated for hours perilously close to Japan’s mainland before being rescued. All of us youngsters were in awe of Sid’s heroism, valor and patriotism. And grateful that he came back basically normal psychologically for someone who had literally been through hell and had had a near-death experience. (He looked a bit like Arthur Miller and could have been one of his working class/self-employed characters.)

    Sid has been gone now for many years, and the president’s Memorial Day tweet to which Mr. Goldstick refers, in which Trump imagines veterans who died in battle (and inferentially all now-deceased veterans such as my uncle who served in combat in defense of our country) approving of the president’s toxic leadership, desecrates Sid Soloway’s memory. It was another galling inversion of truth and display of Mr. Trump’s obvious Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Our “cartoon-president” cited fake (socio-economic) metrics he himself (correctly) derided as fake and politicized (as virtually everything issued out of Beltway government offices has been to one-degree-or-another for the past conservative-dominated half-century) during the 2016 presidential campaign. The truth is that most of our deceased veterans (including my late Uncle Sid) are today “spinning in their graves.” As I put it in a tweet in reply to the president’s offensive tweet on Memorial Day :
    Replying to @realDonaldTrump
    On the contrary @POTUS most veterans KIA would deplore the way your administration is putting 50 years of continuous conservative rule in the US (since ’68) on steroids. Your feckless con-artist presidency is an American #Nakba: catastrophe in Arabic. We are all #Palestinians now
    6:09 PM – 28 May 2018

  5. Anna V. Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,
    can you kindly write, please, your personal memories, impressions and experience of the period around the ending of the Cold War.


    Senator Hart

    Missed the site, busy, mustn’t be thus, too much to not be here regularly, fondly aware of the affection , admiration for it , it’s host. contributors.

    The piece on Senator McCain was so powerful, read it now with two other ones I had not.

    Here is a powerhouse of intelligence in a pauper’s shack that could describe modern discourse were it not an insult to the poor in many senses, and a missing of the very many and obscure voices struggling to be heard but should be.

    Like those here.

  7. Paul G Says:


    “(Amid) willful ignorance of information, facts, science, and the truth … whether Americans realize it or not, we are in a day-to-day struggle over the soul of our nation.”

    – Gary W. Hart

    “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”

    – Robert F. Kennedy

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