[Book Review] The author, David Sanger, appears to have better access to classified information than most gov’t intel analysts; he certainly has better access to policy makers and strategists. The coverage of cyber operations, especially Stuxnet and Olympic Games, is the most powerful and revealing section of the book – given that Sanger was at the forefront of breaking these stories in the media, hardly a surprise.
The book, with its insider, high-level accounts of foreign policy strategy and operations covering much of Obama’s first term, practically puts you in the White House, but, perhaps inadvertently, it also serves as a reminder of the large gap between high level policymakers and low-level analysis/analysts. Specifically, as a former Asia analyst for the Joint Chiefs, it reminded me that academics and the media, even with only limited access to (formerly) classified information, are often better at predicting and spotting new, unexpected trends than those buried deep within government. So much intel analysis focuses on dealing with our software systems, building collections databases, and making link diagrams – all useful at a mechanical, tactical level – that the focus can narrow and turn reactive, missing broader, strategic level developments often apparent to those on the ground overseas … ala some members of the media, academia, and expat business folks.
While not an explicit message of Sanger’s book, which focuses much of its attention on how Obama’s team handled its foreign policy “inheritance” from the Bush era wars, the gap between inside intel and outside reporting becomes an easy takeaway.