A.J. Rossmiller: "Still Broken"

An intelligence officer with the DIA volunteers to go to Iraq, leaves the job after two years, and writes a superb new book detailing firsthand the wholesale corruption of the intelligence process.

Published February 25, 2008 1:28PM (EST)

In 2001, A.J. Rossmiller -- now a blogger at AmericaBlog -- was a student at Middlebury College in Vermont. He had been considering a career in intelligence, and had a particular interest in the Middle East which had led him to spend time studying there. As was true for millions of Americans, the 9/11 attack had a profound impact on him -- he grew up in New York and his father at the time worked in downtown Manhattan -- and that event solidified his intention to become an intelligence officer.

In 2004, Rossmiller, upon graduating, joined the Defense Intelligence Agency, the intelligence branch of the Pentagon, as an intelligence officer. Roughly six months later, Rossmiller saw a DIA bulletin requesting volunteers to be assigned to Iraq to gather and analyze intelligence in the key war zones. Despite the fact that the memo absurdly imposed a deadline of 24 hours later for volunteering, despite the fact that he was a Democrat who was against the Iraq War from the start, and despite the fact that virtually everyone with whom he spoke -- from friends and family members to DIA supervisors -- was against his volunteering for such a dangerous and almost certainly futile mission, Rossmiller submitted his name to go to Iraq. He was sent there a couple of months later.

Rossmiller has now written a truly superb book about his experiences as a DIA intelligence officer, with a focus on his work in Iraq: Still Broken: A Recruit's Insider Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon. The book documents with well-documented facts and abundant details how the intelligence process has become completely corrupted by the same disease that has infected virtually every arm of the federal government, from the Justice Department to the FDA, under the Bush administration: the subordination of objective facts and basic competence to political, ideological and propagandistic aims.

Rossmiller provides numerous first-hand accounts of how intelligence officers in Iraq were blocked from issuing intelligence conclusions regarding Iraq's internal affairs that would undermine the political goals of the White House, and were often forced to sign on to unduly optimistic conclusions which they rejected because those conclusions were politically beneficial in selling the President's policies and ensuring ongoing public support for the war. The principal strength of the book is that Rossmiller avoids grandiose assessments and instead confines the narrative to what he knows, to what he witnessed and experienced first-hand.

As the title of his book suggests, the structural corruption of the intelligence community is not merely a matter of historical interest but one of ongoing concern. Under this administration, intelligence officers -- like federal prosecutors and drug regulators -- have become trained to know that their careers advance when they issue conclusions and make decisions which are politically pleasing to administration ideologues (even if wrong), and they suffer if they opine or decide in a way that undermines the White House's agenda (even when they are right). That creates -- has created -- a climate where corrupted and politicized intelligence (like corrupted and politicized prosecutions) has become institutionalized, normalized.

Rossmiller's observations in Still Broken, grounded as they are in plainly dispassionate and personal accounts, illustrate both the breadth and ongoing dangers from this corruption as vividly and persuasively as anything I've read. Although there have been widespread reports about hostility in the intelligence community towards the Bush administration for subverting the apolitical nature of intelligence-gathering, very few members of the intelligence community have had the courage and integrity to do what Rossmiller did: namely, leave their jobs as intelligence officers and do everything possible to alert the country about how profoundly corrupted the intelligence process has become as a result of the ideologues running the Bush administration.

Last Thursday, I interviewed Rossmiller regarding his book and experiences as a DIA officer. That interview can be heard here. I had planned on interviewing him for 15 minutes or so, but like his book, I found his commentary in the interview very illuminating and so the interview lasted roughly double that time. I highly recommend buying Rossmiller's book, which you can do here at Amazon or most bookstores, both because it's a rare look into specifically how the Bush administration has subverted the basic elements of intelligence gathering for political ends, and because the more attention this book and its revelations receive, the better.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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