Warburg Speaker Glenn L. Carle Speaks with Ambassador Bellamy

October 01, 2015

Glenn Carle

Glenn L. Carle will deliver the Warburg Lecture, "Collective Delusions: Losing Our Way in the Fight Against Terrorism" on October 6th.

On Tuesday, October 6, 2015, Glenn L. Carle, former CIA official and acclaimed author, will deliver the Fall 2015 Warburg Lecture, entitled “Collective Delusions: Losing our Way in the Fight Against Terrorism” from 5:00–6:30 pm in the Linda K. Paresky Conference Center.

Last week, Warburg Professor Mark Bellamy spoke with Mr. Carle about his work at the CIA, the so-called ‘War on Terror,’ and his advice for students. A brief excerpt is below. Download the PDF for the full text of their conversation.

In your memoir The Interrogator you cast strong doubt on the effectiveness of our intelligence agencies following 9/11. Did the methods used by your colleagues serve to keep us “safe,” as some politicians claim?

Glenn Carle: Oh my. This “keep us safe” refrain is patent, politicized garbage. Of course the CIA, and other national security institutions, did frequently heroic, often effective, counterterrorism work after (and before) the attacks of 9/11. Much of what the national security establishment did to counter terrorist threats has been effective. There are countless former colleagues of mine whose devotion, talents, and work has literally moved me to tears of appreciation.

But the working title of my book, right until publication, was “Victims of Delusion”. Virtually the entire “Global War on Terror” conceptual framework is wrong. John Locke said the definition of insanity is to reason correctly from erroneous premises. The analogy I make in my book is to liken our counterterrorism framework – the entire edifice of the Neocons’ GWOT, especially that of Vice President Cheney – to Ptolemy’s Theory of the Spheres. Ptolemy explained in detail, and with highly predictive accuracy, the motions of the heavens. Very impressive. It took two thousand years for man to realize that the entire theory was delusional; it had nothing to do with reality.

So, we reasoned sensibly within the delusional framework, and often did fine work, for all the conceptual lunacy and Kafkaesque operational acts I describe. The GWOT framework finds political and tactical coherency, where one should see sociological phenomena. But, as my superiors told me on several occasions: Glenn, we don’t do sociology. Just find me the terrorists. The conceptual framework in which so much has been done has described an apocalyptic threat, when we have been confronted by numbers of terrorists, a much, much smaller problem. This conceptual error led to many analytical and operational errors. That said, there are jihadists who would happily slit my throat, or yours, and enslave your or my daughters. It is a nasty world.

Glenn L. Carle is a former CIA official and acclaimed author.

Amb. (ret.) William M. Bellamy holds the Warburg Chair in International Relations at Simmons College.