As has become painfully clear since 9/11, intelligence is only as good as the worldview of the person receiving it. The team of former intelligence professionals who have come together to advise Barack Obama describe a candidate who they believe is open-minded and intellectually inclined to absorb information—not just the recognized current threats (terrorism, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, a resurgent and more belligerent Russia), but the ones on the horizon (nuclear terrorism, water wars, climate change and the conflicts it could generate). But they also are urging him to rethink the architecture of the intelligence community to grapple with both current and emerging threats, and to do away with the Bush administration’s legacy of excessive secrecy and its tendency to view complex international challenges in black-and-white terms.

“The world is a very complicated place and there are not always easy solutions to a lot of the problems out there,” says John Brennan, a top Obama intelligence advisor and former senior CIA official who co-founded the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the National Counterterrorism Center, a post-9/11 effort to integrate the US government’s terror threat intelligence. “If you look at the world in black and white, you miss a lot of the subtleties out there. ‘Either with us or against’—the world is not divided into good and evil a lot of time. Despite America’s military might, a lot of these problems do not lend themselves to kinetic solutions”—i.e. the use of force. And world dynamics are likely to get more complicated and nuanced, not less, by 2025. An intelligence forecast being prepared by the US intelligence community for the next president “envisions a steady decline in US dominance in the coming decades, as the world is reshaped by globalization, battered by climate change, and destabilized by regional upheavals over shortages of food, water and energy,” according to the Washington Post.

Peter Fray

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