Tao of Deception: Why our intelligence community should be hiring business strategists and economists

Authored by:  Daniel T. Murphy

9-11 proved to us that our intelligence analysis at the tactical level was significantly lacking.  Our inability to connect the dots resulted in an unprecedented disaster.  Since 9-11, we have redirected resources, invested in personnel and infrastructure, and better integrated information across agencies at the federal, state and local levels.  Our war fighters have rigorously prosecuted the Global War on Terror, and made smart tactical decisions along the way.  The net result is that we have enjoyed a decade without an attack on US soil.  Similarly, on the battlefield, the net result of our improved ability to fuse and collaborate is that, compared with previous conflicts, coalition troops in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have been relatively low.

However, the world has evolved significantly since 9-11 into a world of swirling alliances and economic dynamics where all players deceive.  While our great vulnerability in the years leading up to 2001 was our inability to connect the dots at the tactical intelligence level, our greatest vulnerability today is our lack of sophistication in connecting the dots at the strategic intelligence level.  We are already in a fog of war, unable to connect the dots in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.   The greatest threat to our country comes from multiple adversaries who have very quietly allied against us to attack our obvious center of gravity . . . our economy.  And that war has already commenced.

There are multiple players who are seeking to either take our place as the world super power, or move the world toward a more shared power model.  Along with the obvious list of rogue states and terrorist organizations, the players on that list include emerging near-peer competitors like China, India, and Russia, as well as alliances of emerging nations like Brazil, Venezuela, Syria, Iran and even some European states.  In business nomenclature, it is a combined and aggressive attack on our market share.  A top performing company would recognize such an attack, and understand that it’s not personal, it’s just business.  The executives of that company would spend sufficient time and resources trying to understand the nature of the attack, and they would develop a strong strategy and capability set to counter the threat.

We currently do not have sufficiently deep understanding of who are the malign players, the tangle of alliances between their governments, and their long-term strategies and objectives from an economic and business perspective.  We don’t understand the synergies between national agendas and the agendas of multi-national corporations.  We don’t appreciate the nature and complexity of economics and politics in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.  We don’t appreciate that our competitors, especially the non-Western competitors, are consciously fighting a long war against the United States.  They intend to fight a subtle Sun Tzu-like fight, where kinetic events will only be used when absolutely necessary, in a logical continuation of a mostly economic and business-based fight.  Whereas the United States, in Clausewitzian fashion, does fight a multi-dimensional fight of combined kinetic and non-kinetic effects once battle has been joined, our competitors, ala Sun Tzu, are waging a deceptive and multi-dimensional fight against us right now, during peacetime.  Our intelligence agencies should be hiring business strategists, economists, sociologists and cultural anthropologists who can collaboratively untangle the dynamics of the threat.

When we failed to connect the dots prior to 9-11, the effects were disastrous.  But we were never truly existentially threatened.  It was the same story in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor.  When we failed to connect the dots prior to December 7, we lost a fleet.  But again, most historians would agree that the United States was not existentially threatened in Second World War.  The stakes, this time around, are higher than ever before.

Our competitors understand that our economy is our true center of gravity.  They are effectively practicing Sun Tzu’s Tao of deception – When your objective is distant, make it appear nearby.  If they are united, cause them to be separated.  Display profits to entice them.  Be deferential to foster their arrogance.  Go forth where they will not expect it. 

We are under attack right now, and the threat is very much existential.

Copyright 2012:  Daniel T. Murphy