Le virtualisme analysé et activé

Notes de lectures


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Le virtualisme analysé et activé

John J. Hamre est le prédécesseur, à la deuxième génération, de Paul Wolfowitz. Il fut n°2 du Pentagone de 1997 à 1999, il est aujourd’hui directeur général du Center for Strategic and International Studies, à Georgetown University. Le texte que nous présentons ici, d’abord publié dans Aviation Week & Space Technology du 22 septembre, est un extrait du témoignage de Hamre devant la Commission du renseignement de la Chambre des Représentants, à propos de la question du renseignement et de l’évaluation dans l’affaire des armes de destruction massive (Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMD), censées se trouver en Irak et qui se sont révélées n’y pas être.

Texte remarquablement intéressant parce qu’il s’agit d’une réflexion d’un homme du sérail sur les conditions qui font que les hommes de pouvoir sont complètement isolés de la réalité. On dira : voilà un lieu commun. Oui, bien sûr, — et puis non, sans aucun doute. On s’explique : si c’est un lieu commun, il est devenu d’une telle puissance qu’il a changé de substance par rapport au lieu commun initial (la psychologie humaine fait qu’un homme au pouvoir, par ses responsabilités, a souvent tendance à s’isoler de la réalité, etc). Ici, Hamre décrit les mécanismes, la carapace, la gangue à la fois structurelle, organisationnelle, technique, qui isolent les hommes au pouvoir de la réalité. L’on découvre alors que ce n’est pas seulement l’homme au pouvoir qui est isolé, mais l’appareil général du pouvoir qui s’isole mécaniquement de la réalité en créant une autre réalité par sa puissance de création et de diffusion de l’information. Hamre parle du “group thinking” et l’on ne s’empêchera pas de penser qu’il s’agit tout bonnement du conformisme institutionnalisé et mécanisé. Quant à la définition générale du phénomène, — isolement structurel et création d’une autre réalité, — nos lecteurs concluront aussitôt qu’il s’agit de la définition de notre virtualisme. Résultat : les hommes du pouvoir croient au monde artificiel qu’on leur fabrique, et aux WMD en Irak :

« Group consciousness develops in the intelligence and policy world when basic propositions are accepted as true. As we saw recently, the entire intelligence community and the policy community — and I include myself here — were convinced we would find major stocks of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. We have not. »

Pour compléter ce texte, un deuxième texte, la reproduction d’un éditorial du New York Times, qui constate avec une certaine inquiétude que leur président est dans une bulle. A la différence d’Hamre, lui, GW, s’y complaît sans s’interroger.


Intel Plus “Group Think” Equaled WMD in Iraq

Viewpoint, by John J. Hamre, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 22 September, 2003

As I reflect on my time as the deputy secretary of Defense, I am often reminded of how isolated I was in that position. I had a fabulous staff. I was never denied anything I requested. Organizations and individuals actively sought to get on my calendar to tell me of their work. Having said that, anyone who serves in these positions is very isolated. This is a product of several factors.

First, the volume of material that comes to the secretary or deputy secretary is enormous. It has to be channeled for efficiency. Someone who works for you is deciding if you need to see it and when you need to see it. This is not a bad thing. This is just a fact of life. Second, everyone who meets with you or sends you a piece of paper is trying to create a positive impression. This means that subconsciously, and even consciously, everyone who briefs you wants to be seen in the best light. Before they walk in the door, they ask their colleagues and themselves, ''What is he interested in? What sets him off? How do we discuss this so as to get a constructive outcome from the meeting?''

I found that I had to be careful not to distort the intelligence I received by the ways I asked questions and reacted to information. If I reacted harshly when presented with bad news, future meetings could be tempered with overly optimistic perspectives. If I expressed interest in one subject, the briefer would take note and that aspect of a problem was always emphasized in future briefings. I do not believe it is intentional, but the information you get is affected by the attitude you adopt. I don't know that this shapes analysis, but it does affect the way it is presented to you.

Another observation I would make concerns what philosophers call epistemological questions: How do we know what we know, and how good is the information that comprises this knowledge? It is reliable? Is it true? This is the core of the intelligence community's problem. The intelligence analyst is always working with fragmentary information. The question is a fragment of what? Is it a key fact that unlocks an understanding of a development, or is it unrelated to the hypothesis under consideration?

In relationship to this quest for certainty, I noticed that fragments of information gained greater certainty the farther away they were from the intelligence professional. The intelligence analyst is usually careful to note the reliability and timeliness of the intelligence ''fact,'' but the qualifiers are often summarized and dropped as the intelligence briefing moves up the decision-making ladder. Alternative hypotheses are often omitted. A data element of questionable reliability can gain credibility as it rises through the intelligence hierarchy until it becomes authoritative evidence. This does not mean the intelligence fact was wrong. It does mean there is a tendency to bestow greater credibility to the data the more removed it becomes from the intelligence professional.

I also noticed that once a general proposition was accepted as valid, it was usually repeated without question in subsequent analyses. Group consciousness develops in the intelligence and policy world when basic propositions are accepted as true. As we saw recently, the entire intelligence community and the policy community — and I include myself here — were convinced we would find major stocks of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. We have not. This demonstrates that a group consciousness, and the failure to adequately explore alternative hypotheses, can overcome the intelligence and policy world in the quest for certainty in what is inherently an uncertain enterprise.

In light of these phenomena, what should we do? How do we insulate ourselves from the problems that we confront as a consequence of these factors? One of the most important ways is to ensure competition among analysts. To accomplish this, we need redundant analytic capabilities in our intelligence community. We need competing organizations that report to different bosses in the federal government so we profit from the competition that is inherent in bureaucratic politics. This will not ensure that no mistakes will be made--witness the errors we made concerning WMD in Iraq. But, it is one of the important steps we can take to bring as much dispassionate analysis as possible to inherently uncertain questions.

Second, to counter the instinct toward ''group think,'' we must augment the intelligence process through so-called open-source methods. We must, of course, have classified research. But, I believe open-source methods serve to broaden the perspectives of those who work within the confines of classification. The intellectual community advances through open competition of ideas. Analysts in the intelligence community need to interact with the wider ideas community, and the only feasible way to do that is for the intelligence community to create open-source disciplines to parallel classified work.

Third, all of us in the policy community have to realize we do shape the quality of ideas that come to us from the intelligence community by the way we interact with that group. This is not to say we should be passive consumers of intelligence product. Far from it. Intelligence analysts need to be asked to explicitly discuss the quality and depth of data that underlie their analysis. They should be explicit in identifying gaps and contra-proofs of their reasoning. These elements of introspection should be explicit annotations to the reports themselves, so policymakers are aware of analysts' constraints.

The years that lie ahead for America will be very challenging, and we will be very dependent on a healthy and vibrant intelligence community to chart these dangerous waters. We must take appropriate steps to ensure that this community remains healthy and vibrant.

John J. Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, was deputy secretary of Defense from 1997-99. He recently testified before the Intelligence Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

[Notre recommandation est que ce texte doit être lu avec la mention classique à l'esprit, — “Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.”.]




La bulle du Président (avec les réflexions de John J. Hamre)

Ce que décrit John Hamre, avec un esprit critique très développé mais tout en reconnaissant son impuissance à endiguer le mal qu’il constate, on en trouve une illustration au plus haut niveau, “autour” de l’homme soi-disant “le plus puissant du monde”. Cet éditorial du New York Times illustre donc le propos de John Hamre. Il nous décrit un GW complètement coupé du monde, tenu hors de tout contact avec la réalité, comme si elle brûlait, comme par une sorte de cordon sanitaire, comme Howard Hughes l’était du monde extérieur par peur des microbes sur la fin de sa vie, comme l’étaient les empereurs des empires passés (et souvent décadents), installés dans leurs palais ou dans leur chancellerie, ou n’importe où ailleurs, comme l’est un malade mental tenu éloigné de la réalité par l’enfermement de son esprit dans la paranoïa.

La différence aujourd’hui, c’est la puissance des dispositifs, des moyens de communication, de tout ce qui contribue à créer, non seulement un mur autour de soi, mais un monde autour de soi. Pur virtualisme, on l’a dit. La “bulle” du président est sphérique, comme la représentation que nous nous faisons de l’univers, comme la planète, — en un mot comme le monde qui nous entoure. La bulle du président, c’est son monde, où les armes de destruction massive pullulent dans les déserts irakiens, où Saddam complote avec Ben Laden en lançant des fléchettes sur une cible représentant la Maison-Blanche, où les Irakiens, les Nord-Coréens, les Iraniens ont l’âme également noire, où... Cet homme n’a plus aucun rapport avec nous. A la différence de John Hamre, la faiblesse de son caractère fait qu’il accepte ce monde pour vrai, sans se douter de rien et sans rien mettre en doute.


The Presidential Bubble

The New York Times, September 25, 2003

Four progressive political groups sued the Bush administration this week, charging that the Secret Service is systematically keeping protesters away from the president's public appearances. They make a serious point about free speech rights, but they also point out a disturbing aspect of the Bush White House: the country has a chief executive who seems to embrace the presidential bubble.

Security concerns make it inevitable that a modern American president will be somewhat cut off from the country he leads. He cannot insert himself into any part of normal life without a phalanx of security guards.

Protesters cannot be permitted to get close enough to pose a threat, but they ought to be able to get close enough so the president can see that they are there. Sometimes seeing a glimpse of placard-wielding demonstrators is as close as the commander in chief can get to seeing the face of national discontent.

At Mr. Bush's public appearances, his critics are routinely shunted into ''protest zones'' as much as a half-mile away. At the Columbia, S.C., airport last year, a protester with a ''No War for Oil'' sign was ordered to move a half-mile from the area where Mr. Bush's supporters were allowed to stand. When the protester refused, he was arrested.

Mr. Bush and his aides also seem to go to great lengths to underline the degree to which the president closes himself off from the news media. In an interview with Fox News this week, the president said he learned most of what he needs to know from morning briefings by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and his chief of staff, Andrew Card.

As for newspapers, Mr. Bush said, ''I glance at the headlines'' but ''rarely read the stories.'' The people who brief him on current events encounter many of the newsmakers personally, he said, and in any case ''probably read the news themselves.''

Some of this may be a pose that is designed to tweak the media by making the news appear to be below the president's notice. During the Iraqi invasion, when the rest of the nation was glued to TV, Mr. Bush's spokesman claimed that his boss had barely glanced at the pictures of what was going on.

But it is worrisome when one of the most incurious men ever to occupy the White House takes pains to insist that he gets his information on what the world is saying only in predigested bits from his appointees.

Mr. Bush thinks of himself as a man of the people, but carefully staged contacts with groups of supporters or small children does not constitute getting in touch with the people. It is in Mr. Bush's interest, as well as the nation's, for him to burst the bubble he has been inhabiting, and take a hard look at the real world.

[Notre recommandation est que ce texte doit être lu avec la mention classique à l'esprit, — “Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.”.]