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Can we hold them back a grade?

A National Journal story about how life in DC will end up killing more of us:

It felt like the end of a traveling show. The players looked tired. A bittersweet air hung about them. For Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chair and vice chair of the 9/11 commission, Monday, Dec. 5, was the end of a long saga, the day they released their final assessment of the nation’s security following that fateful morning in September 2001. […]

Congress still hadn’t improved its oversight of intelligence agencies; those agencies still weren’t cooperating with each other or with law enforcement; airline cargo still wasn’t being fully checked for explosives; and the government still hadn’t figured out how to keep terrorists off airplanes
without ensnaring harmless citizens.

It is a long story but worth reading. I’ll focus on some of my favorite sections here:

Allocate homeland-security funds based on risk: F

After 9/11, Congress created several grant programs to help train and equip police officers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel to better respond to acts of terrorism. But rural states such as Wyoming and Alaska ended up receiving more money on a per capita basis than did more-likely targets, such as New York. Critics slammed the funding formula as just another vehicle for pork-barrel spending.

The 9/11 commission called its recommendation to revamp the funding formula a “no-brainer.” Yet the reform has repeatedly been blocked in Congress.

Not to hurt the feelings of people in rural states, but you’re not worth the same amount of homeland security dollars as a New Yorker or denizen of DC. There are all sorts of methodological reasons for saying this, but there is one aspect to rural areas that is so fundamental that I’m surprised no one brings it up: You notice strangers in the country. The best early warning and information sharing system in the world is a widowed busy-body looking out her living room window with a half-dozen bridge-club members and her hair stylist on speed-dial.

Change incentives for information-sharing: D
Improve government-wide information-sharing: D

Just about everyone says that had the CIA and FBI been better at information-sharing, they might have discovered the 9/11 plotters. Yet the commission gave the government D’s for its efforts to improve the information-sharing regime.

“Designating individuals to be in charge of information-sharing is not enough,” the commission wrote. “They need resources, active presidential backing, policies, and procedures in place that compel sharing, and systems of performance evaluation that appraise personnel on how they carry out information-sharing.”

That’s a polite way of saying that intelligence personnel aren’t being punished for not sharing. Intelligence agencies’ Cold War penchant for secrecy, which leads to information-hoarding, still persists, say many intelligence veterans.

Of course the most sure-fire way to speed sharing along is to make it a rateable item in performance evaluations (verified by those claimed to have been shared with). When your promotion/bonus (dismal as they are in the public sector) is on the line you stop giving things lip-service.

That the office designated to help improve sharing is staffed with detailees is all the evidence you need to know that the whole effort is doomed. As I’ve said before, no one sends their best to these jobs; they send those who can be spared. Imagine being a reject from your home agency and being asked to fight the bureaucracy . . . at your home agency.

Evolutions in technology and the increasing prevalence of single-source collection agencies to adopt all-source analytical approaches tends to argue for the eventual elimination of multiple analytical agencies (something I’ll be elaborating on in a separate piece). The fact of the matter is that the drive to “win” against sister intelligence agencies – by keeping share-able information from them so as to maintain a competitive advantage – is at least as strong as the drive to beat our adversaries, though on particularly bad days I used to wonder if it wasn’t STRONGER.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.