January 22, 2010 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Real Warriors Needed as Leaders in War on Terrorism

It was the "tale of a dream."

In The Defense of Duffer's Drift, Lt. Backsight Forethought (a penname for the ages!) recounted a series of nightmares that plagued a young lieutenant during the second Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa.

In the first dream, the young officer was charged with defending, at "all costs" an outpost overlooking a drift (a ford in a stream). While reconnoitering the area, he encounters a Boer farmer.

"Such a nice man too," the lieutenant concludes, "with a pleasant face and long beard." Accompanied by his sons, "[t]he three of them positively bristled with dog's-eared and dirty passes from every Provost Marshal in South Africa, and these they insisted on showing me.... Funny, simple fellows! They asked and got permission from me to sell milk, eggs and butter in the camp, and I strolled on my way, congratulating myself ...."

Pleased that he has successfully established the camp and encouraged good relations with the locals, the lieutenant heads off to bed.

The next morning the position is overrun by the Boers. Taken prisoner, the lieutenant meets the captain of the enemy company--the Boer farmer he had let in the camp the previous day. While plying his goods around the camp, the "simple fellow" had scoped-out the defenses and devised an attack to overwhelm them.

"Backsight Foresight" was actually Earnest Swinton, a noted English soldier, author, and professor. He penned The Defense of Duffer's Drifting 1905 based on his experiences as a captain during the war.

Swinton wrote the brief treatise to outline some of the basic elements of leadership in battle--and some of the bone-headed mistakes that those unprepared for war so often make. His tale quickly became a minor military classic, republished many times.

His "tale of a dream" has been told and retold for over 100 years now. Which makes it all the more tragic to see CIA operatives in Afghanistan fall for the same kind of ruse last month.

The attack occurred at Forward Operation Base Chapman in Khowst on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Seven CIA officers died in a suicide strike. They knew their killer.

Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi was the double agent who talked his way onto the compound with the promise of revealing the location of top al Qaeda leaders. Rather than scout out the camp, he used the opportunity to enter the base without being inspected, smuggling a deadly bomb underneath his clothes.

It was one of the most deadly strikes against the CIA in its history. The attack disrupted U.S. intelligence-gathering in the country. It also provided a huge lift to al Qaeda. "Our James Bond -- who is he? He is Abu Dujana! (Balawi's online moniker) His motto: Let me die or live free!" exclaimed one al Qaeda supporter in a post on the Internet.

The appalling breakdown in CIA security was soon overshadowed by the appalling breakdown in intelligence that allowed a Nigerian student to smuggle a bomb aboard a Christmas Day flight bound for Detroit. The attack in Afghanistan, however, is arguably far more inexcusable.The CIA made a sophomore mistake against a deadly serious enemy.

Regrettably, the White House has so far shown little understanding of how to deal with the missteps and miscues of the intelligence community. President Obama has trotted out promises to reform the processes by which the intelligence community operates. He wants to fix the "system."That just sounds like more bureaucracy, more red tape, and more passing the buck.

Indeed, the White House has already heaped more than enough "reform" on our intelligence system--taking away the CIA's authority to lead counterterrorism interrogations; sending muddled messages about investigating and indicting agents for interrogations during the Bush era; and turning the Detroit bomber over to the courts rather than the intelligence community.

What is needed is less micro-management and more taking responsibility.

Speaking for the administration, CIA chief Leon Panetta recently wrote the Washington Post, "We have found no consolation... in public commentary suggesting that those who gave their lives somehow brought it upon themselves because of 'poor tradecraft."

Panetta's lament shows he doesn't get it. We don't blame the dead. We blame the leaders. Leaders are supposed to ensure that people are prepared for their mission and have the resources to get the job done. When tragedies like this happen, we must ask, "Are our leaders really leading?"

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First Appeared in Washington Examiner