As a retired intelligence analyst, I am prompted today to offer my point of view regarding the news industry.
Bob Schieffer, in recent interviews because of his May 31st retirement from hosting ‘Face the Nation’, said some interesting things about his own point of view : “We now don’t know where people get their news, but what we do know is they’re bombarded with information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most of the information is wrong and some of it is wrong on purpose. It is our job, I think, in mainstream journalism to try to cut through this mall of information and tell people what we think is relevant in what they need to know.”
When I was in the Air Force, my commanders were in exactly the same position then as we all are in today. How could they know what it was important for them to know? They needed someone to filter the mountains of information and ‘help’ them make sense of reality. (Bob Schieffer suggests that journalists within the mainstream media are assigned this job. I, on the other hand, suggest that hired analysts are a better choice.) Despite what movies and the media itself often suggest, ‘reality’ itself is the arbiter of truth on the battlefield. And intelligence analysts are expected to tell their managers the truth.
Yet, “everyone” lies. This is axiomatic. How can analysts and their employers navigate their way to reality through this fog of war? The answer is “all-source fusion”. This is just a pompous way of saying they gather information from all kinds of sources, both deceitful and reliable, to build a compelling case. Then they draw conclusions about what they believe is the most probable view of reality. They take open-sources (the news media; i.e. “deceitful” sources) and classified sources (secrets they intercept or steal, i.e. “reliable” sources) and sift them to discern the truth. Even propaganda contains truth; the best propaganda is almost entirely composed of truth. Ironically, reading propaganda can save analysts a lot of time and effort doing research.
The problem for the general public is that we don’t have direct access to intelligence analysts. Instead, we must rely on what politicians or press secretaries tell us. And there is a huge difference between what an experienced but otherwise nameless intelligence analyst knows and what a politician says. For its part, the mainstream media only makes this distance greater; they generate an inference or speculation about what the politicians are talking about and call it “news”. In fairness, they also go out and investigate for themselves. But the intelligence community has a name for such investigation; it is called “HUMINT”, or human intelligence. In short, HUMINT is what people tell you. SIGINT or COMINT and FIGMINT (joke) are secrets that are stolen but HUMINT is what a human wants to tell you. And “everyone” lies. So journalists rely most heavily on two sources. The first is the propaganda uttered by politicians and the second is opinions uttered by unnamed sources. Then they add in something that isn’t even a source at all, they add their own reasoning to the mix. Now that’s comforting. We can all go to sleep knowing that the media has our backs covered.
So, you might ask, am I suggesting that I as a retired intelligence analyst have some corner on the truth and a secret window into reality? No. I am suggesting, however, that the “methods” used by the intelligence community are readily available and accessible to the general public. (But trusting some brand-name media outlet is not “it”.)
All-source fusion is something that we can all do, given the time. First, hire one fully educated but low-profile person to collect and analyze information. (Or do it yourself.) “Information” per se includes books and reference materials as well as media reports. Note: “Classified Intelligence” is mostly just the same as what the news media publishes–only it is published earlier, often before events unfold. So we do-it-yourself analysts have access to the same facts, just a few days later. By comparing media reports from diverse outlets with knowledge derived from books, academia and reference materials, one can compile a solid set of facts about any topic.
This is not rocket science.
But Bob Schieffer says that the general public can’t do this. He says that they should turn off the “Internet” and return to the mainstream media to “tell people what we think … they need to know”.
Oh. My bad. I guess I’ll just delete this status report and go back to sleep…