learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...


learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...




A. Denis Clift

(Originally published as a speech, MASINT Conference, National Reconnaissance

Office, February 2, 2005.)

“We pursue the impossible, because our adversaries believe it will never work.”

These words shaping the mission and the esprit of the Measurement and Signature

Intelligence staff here at the National Reconnaissance Office should be adopted and

embraced by the Intelligence Community and by leaders in the private sector engaged

in the work of intelligence.

We meet at a time when the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 urges a new Director of

National Intelligence, not yet in place, to exercise bold leadership and initiative. It is a

time when the initiatives called for by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 are still taking

form. It is a time when the nation sits in the center of a crossroads it has been able to steer

around before — the crossroads bringing together foreign intelligence and enhanced

national — or domestic — intelligence in a manner that strengthens our security at the

same time it safeguards the freedoms and rights we cherish in this democracy.

It is a time when intelligence is being called on to understand arms races underway,

some of which are only dimly understood — and, a time when there are weapons and

components of weapons around the world, which in the hands of either nations or nonnation

players can do this nation harm. There are people around the world, who in settings

of dictatorship, extremism, and poverty are being led to believe that their one opportunity

for glory and martyrdom is to land a blow against this nation and our allies.

At the same time that the probe from the Cassini-Huygens space mission dazzles us

with its descent through Titan’s ground fog and its first successful transfer of images from

this moon of Saturn, we are still staggering against the virulence of contagious disease

and against the extreme blows of nature on this planet.

We turn to the challenge of pursuing the impossible in the work of intelligence

against the daunting obstacles of bias and mindset. In the book Wings of Gold, retired

Admiral Noel Gayler, a 1935 Naval Academy graduate and a pioneering, young aviator

at the dawn of the 1940s, reflects on the factors contributing to the success of the Japanese

attack on Pearl Harbor. Far more than a failure of intelligence or the ins and outs of

whether the President wanted war, the failure, to his thinking, was the mindset of the

commanders who had been brought up in the big-gun battleship Navy. “I don’t think

any of them actually imagined than an air attack could be more than a raid... The image


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