Best Defense

Ten Books to Help Us Win (9): Americans Need to Be Able to Trust Their Government

Intelligence and war are the most imperfect of human endeavors.

<> on September 22, 2014 in New York City.
<> on September 22, 2014 in New York City.


By Henry A. Crumpton

Best Defense guest columnist


  1. Trust. Intelligence and war are the most imperfect of human endeavors. Witness the horrific surprise of the 9/11 attacks followed by the deeply flawed invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 and created a huge trust gap between the United States and its citizens. Examine the San Bernardino attacks, with minimal signals for intelligence professionals to see or recognize, which rattled the public’s trust in the government’s ability to protect.

Intelligence will be more necessary and more imperfect in a world of growing complexity populated with smaller but more lethal enemies exploiting asymmetric faults in power-shifting societies, as explained by Moises Naim in his brilliant The End of Power. In his insightful study of the nature of power, the author emphasizes the need to restore trust in this new environment. Our country will suffer more attacks, from intimate on-line subversion to public deaths. Leaders and citizens should not default to intrusive defense, such as more surveillance and more searches, especially those that undermine our liberties, reinforce a brittle status quo, and erode trust of citizens.

We should all promote a civil society of networked liberal institutions, mutual respect, community vigilance, vibrant resilience, dynamic adaption, and valorous common purpose to defeat ISIS and their evil kind. In all this, trust will be the most important currency. No external enemy can defeat us, but like Rome, we can bring defeat upon ourselves.

Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, who led the CIA’s Afghanistan campaign 2001-02,

retired from government service in 2007. He is the author of The Art of Intelligence.

(To be continued)

Photo credit: ANDREW BURTON/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at @tomricks1
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