What I’m reading (and reviewing)

>Still Broken: A recruit’s inside account of intelligence failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon, by A. J. Rossmiller

Rossmiller was in college when the towers fell on 9/11. Like many Americans, he channeled his outrage and decided to serve his country in whatever capacity he could. Resisting the urge to enlist immediately, Rossmiller finished college and became an analyst for the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), a branch of the Department of Defense. Driven by a desire to serve which was not satisfied in the cubicles of the Pentagon, Rossmiller volunteered for service in Iraq.

We honestly expect bureaucratic waste and confusion in office environments like the Pentagon, but we hope that a theater of war, where lives are at stake, is run with more efficiency. Not so, reports Rossmiller, who tells of scores of innocent bystanders taken into custody, interrogated with crude methods, and imprisoned for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Considering that the single most vital element in fighting an insurgency is to eliminate popular support for the fighters, rounding up and incarcerating as many people as possible is exceptionally counterproductive,” says Rossmiller in a typical understatement. “Practically speaking, the United States is creating more insurgents than it is eliminating when it detains or kills innocents.”

When Rossmiller returned to the Pentagon, he and his colleagues tried to create useful analysis for the intelligence community, but their reports were routinely edited and often completely altered for political reasons—they were told that the reports were “off message” and “too pessimistic.” Rossmiller’s greatest concern is that politicization of analysis has become ingrained into the intelligence community, which is “the first line of defense in the protection of the United States.” He believes that “we are institutionalizing processes that make future failures a near inevitability.”

Still Broken is the tale of a well-intentioned citizen who came to realize that the very system he wished to serve all but prevented him from doing so. It is impossible to read this book without shaking your head in disbelief, or without feeling Rossmiller’s mounting frustration as his efforts are continually disregarded or altered to fit political agendas.

The book is written with an engaging mix of naïve idealism, self-deprecation, and a fine-tuned sense of irony—undoubtedly honed by the grinding bureaucracy of the federal government. Underlying the entire account is a simmering frustration with what seems to be a conscious and willful avoidance of success in Iraq on the part of the U.S. government. One almost suspects a conspiracy, except that a conspiracy of such sublimity is not to be credited—it is far more likely and believable (if tragic) that our decision-makers are simply short-sighted and disinclined to share information, power, or responsibility.

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