Austin Bay

Morale matters -- especially in a time of war.

Morale even matters in an "overseas contingency operation," the hazy bureaucratic phrase the Obama administration sought to substitute for "The Global War on Terror." The GWOT is a poor name in my opinion (terror is a tactic), but at least it sketched the wicked problem al-Qaida's 9-11 attack posed -- a war fought on a global scale, where transportation, weapons and communications technologies had shrunk the planet. Sept. 11 demonstrated that the distance between "over there" (overseas) and "over here" could be easily bridged by a terrorist organization.

Knowledge is the first line of defense in any conflict, and by knowledge I mean intelligence. Preventing future surprise 9-11s requires superior intelligence. Targeting terrorist perpetrators requires superior intelligence. Producing superior intelligence requires a decent intelligence organization, but always requires superior intelligence officers. America has extraordinary spy satellites, incomparable electronic intelligence-gathering technologies and unparalleled code-breaking computer systems, but ultimately intelligence products are produced by intelligent people with insight. Burrowing into terrorist cells in order to gain information means fielding human spies (HUMINT in the jargon), and this is a delicate, time-consuming and often dirty business.

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Morale is a special psychological fuel for human beings, the extra spark that powers extra efforts -- the kind of efforts that are required to identify and thwart the next 9-11.

At the moment, however, morale at the Central Intelligence Agency appears to be plummeting. If we can believe U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, CIA officers will be prosecuted for alleged torture of al-Qaida terrorists, or at least "misuse" of "enhanced interrogation techniques."

"Enhanced interrogation techniques" is bureaucratese for "scaring the hell out of the terrorist so that he talks." Is this torture? Maybe, maybe not, but indicting CIA interrogators is a mistake for many reasons -- the long-term effects on agency morale and recruiting being two of the most important. If Holder is truly serious about the subject of torture -- if he really believes torture occurred -- he should indict former President George Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. But he hasn't got the guts to do that, and if Cheney's public rebuttals are any indication, Holder doesn't have the evidence, either.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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