The Intelligence Professional

Continuing my revisiting of earlier blogs, this one about how I earned my living before retiring so I could write full-time.

Chuck Griffin, the protagonist of my novel, Last of the Annamese, is a professional in the business of collecting and analyzing information from all sources about the North Vietnamese. He uses data from signals intelligence, aerial photography, interrogation reports, captured documents, human intelligence (spying), and even transcripts from the Liberation News Agency, the propaganda organ of the North Vietnamese, to determine what the enemy is up to. And he has the rare gift of being able to forecast what’s going to happen next.

Chuck’s profession is based on my own experience. I, too, was a professional. Most of my career I worked only with signals intelligence, but when I was supporting the troops on the ground in Vietnam and when I was working at Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), I was, by necessity, an all-source analyst. Like Chuck, I had the gift.

But I’ve discovered over the years that many Americans view intelligence with suspicion. They believe there’s something sneaky about it, and they distrust those engaged in it.

They’re right that intelligence is a sneaky enterprise. It has to be. If the target knows of efforts to collect information about him, he can usually put a stop to it. So the sources and methods of intelligence must remain secret, or intelligence will not succeed.

So many Americans cite intelligence failures. It’s an imperfect discipline and not always successful. But I posit that for every failure one can name, there are literally hundreds of spectacular successes about which the public knows nothing because sources and methods must remain secret.

To me, intelligence is an honorable profession. Its purpose is to uncover and reveal the truth. I take great—and to me completely justified—pride in the work I did in Vietnam. I saved many lives by discovering what the enemy was up to. I could have saved many more had the decision-makers listened to me when I warned them about what was about to happen. I called that the Cassandra Effect and have written about it elsewhere in this blog.

So I plead with Americans to honor spies who risk everything, even their lives, to provide the truth to our leaders. And I ask our leaders to listen to their intelligence experts before they act. I worry that our current president may court disaster by ignoring his intelligence professionals and sabotaging the U.S. intelligence agencies. But we have no way of knowing because all intelligence work is secret.

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