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Tuesday, February 8

Pundita attends the National Intelligence Conference & Exposition (Intelcon): Day One

We arrived fashionably late, which in this case was halfway through the luncheon salad course and James Woolsey's keynote speech. This meant we missed the panel discussion of the media that John Batchelor moderated. Pundita consoled herself with Chicken Marsala, roasted potatoes, baby carrots and broccoli, and raspberry chocolate torte a la Hyatt Regency.

We munched in silence. The eight other diners at the ten-seat round table, perhaps after seeing our name tag (which screeched "Just a Member of the Public") avoided looking at Pundita until we piped up, "Please pass the butter" and in a childish bid for more attention set about mashing balls of butter into our roast potatoes.

The ballroom was packed. Pundita gave up trying to count the number of ten-seat tables, virtually of all which were filled, but there might have been as many as 400 diners. We divided our attention between eavesdropping on a conversation next to us and mulling over Woolsey's words.

A man who represented a company that produces some kind of gizmo or questionnaire to supplement the lie detector test told a story to illustrate the effectiveness of the product. It was the kind of story Sherlock Holmes would have liked:

Fires broke out in several places in a man's house. The man, who was seen running from the burning house, was suspected of committing arson for the insurance money. The man admitted that he had started the fires but adamantly maintained that this was accidental. Understandably the investigators did not believe his story, even after he passed a lie detector test.

Finally, the storyteller's company was asked to question the man. It turned out he had told the literal truth, which is why he passed the lie detector test. He had not intended to burn down his house. He had intended to kill himself by carbon monoxide poisoning. He thought that if he made enough smoke by starting small fires, that would do the trick. However, as so often happens with suicide attempts, there is nothing like imminent death to put life's blows in context. The survival instinct took over when the fires got out of control; the man fled in panic, leaving the house to burn down.

The story illustrates the very complex nature of police detective work and defense intelligence analysis. Being 'almost' right can mean the difference between solving a case (or extracting reliable intelligence) and chasing red herring.

Admiral Woolsey's speech, the part Pundita caught, was a thumping call to frame the hate-filled Wahabist doctrine as this era's Communist Threat and marshal the West's resources to battling the newest scourge of humankind.

After lunch Pundita wandered into the tender sunshine of a warm day--warm for this time of year in Arlington. We avoided the benches outside the Hyatt Regency entrance. Spying a bench near an alcove at a little distance from the entrance we settled down to peruse the contents of the Intelcon conference binder.

Hearing a sound behind us we turned to see an African man, dressed nearly in rags, carefully arranging a tattered prayer rug on the ground. He knelt on the rug; we politely returned to the conference book, so to allow him to pray in peace. Later we saw the man outside his taxi, talking with other drivers in the taxi line outside the hotel entrance.

Pundita doesn't like conferences. So many "tracks" and seminars to choose from and after making the choices we invariably wonder whether we're missing something more interesting in a concurrent seminar. This leads to room-hopping, which is impolite.

We doggedly set course for the seminar we'd chosen but halted in dread at the sound of the familiar voice, which had grated on Pundita's nerves over the course of many John Batchelor broadcasts. With never an approving word for the Bush doctrine, with not so much as a smidgen of praise for the US military's invasion of Iraq, with nothing but criticisms and complaints about US intelligence efforts in the Middle East, Yossef Bodansky was among Pundita's least-favorite Batchelor show regulars.

The man looked nothing like his voice sounded. The eyes behind the glasses held no fear of what others thought of him, only piercing assessment. He reminded Pundita of the Peregrine falcon member of our foreign policy team. We blurted, "When are you speaking?" He looked at his watch and replied, "Soon."

Thus, after years of wandering in the desert, Pundita arrived at the heart of the problem with US foreign policy--and learned why Dr. Bodansky is so harshly critical of the Bush administration, the Congress, and the US intelligence community.

His criticism is not political or personal, nor is directed exclusively at the United States. His talk at Intelcon addressed a systemic problem--a massive problem, of the kind that leads to bad defense/foreign policy decisions and a nation's blindness to looming enemy attacks.

With the able assistance of John Loftus (Intecon Program Director), and with wry humor and unfusty examples free of jargon, Bodansky summarized decades of "insider" criticism voiced by the wisest and most experienced defense intelligence analysts. How this interfaces with the formulation of US foreign policy requires the understanding of the American public, if our government is to be prodded to embrace the solutions.

To be continued.




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