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Intelligence in American Society

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Intelligence in America

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The second great challenge to intelligence in the postwar world is that of modern communications. Some call this the "information explosion." So it is, but it is also the all too human truth that people who have information feel compelled to share it with others. Modern communications provide them the means to do so, and make the conduct of foreign policy a nightmare.
A little over a century ago an ambassador in a foreign capital was very much on his own. His communications moved by sailing ship, and he could not seek new instructions when faced with the unexpected. If there was a rebellion he had to decide, for instance, whether to recognize the new government. Two weeks later, when the dust settled, he could write a dispatch to his foreign office elegantly summarizing what had happened and what he had done about it. By the time his foreign minister could answer, another six weeks had gone by. The revolution was then history rather than foreign policy.
Today is another story. The ambassador can and does report each rifle shot as he hears it, and sends home almost verbatim accounts of every conversation. Each of his required decisions is debated in a dozen cable exchanges, and Washington groans under a surfeit of words.
Note, however, that the pressure for full and instantaneous reporting is not just a device to fuel the bureaucratic machine. In today's nuclear world it is often risky to leave what seems to be a local matter wholly in the hands of the man on the spot, however wise. In Berlin in the summer of 1961 Soviet and American tanks, muzzle to muzzle on opposite sides of the Wall, were controlled minute by minute from the White House, and apparently from the Kremlin, even down to the individual tank commander.
Nor is technology through with us yet. One shield against the paper hurricane has always been the need for trained personnel to turn words into electrical impulses-to punch a key or a keyboard Even that shield has now been pierced. Xerox Corporation has built a highspeed facsimile transmitter and we have learned how to encipher its signal. Now an untrained operator can take a document and automatically encipher and transmit it-at 6-plus pages a minute. The entire Encyclopedia Britannica could be sent from our Headquarters to the State Department in a little over 60 hours.
No man can read a tenth of the high-priority paper that flows into Washington. Elaborate mechanisms must be built for screening and
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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:11 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 12:48 PM