Here comes the judge
- The fundamental cause of the ambitious reorganization of the intelligence community that we are living through is not, I believe, some deep flaws in the system as it existed on the eve of the 9/11 attacks. Rather, it is a deep misunderstanding of the limitations of national-security intelligence. It is the kind of misunderstanding that the commissioner of baseball might harbor if he thought it a scandal that 70 percent of the time even the best hitters fail to get a hit, and if he proposed to boost batting averages to 1.000 by reorganizing the leagues.
- My guess, and it is only that, is that in the end the reorganization of the intelligence community will amount to rather little. The continuing debacle that is the Department of Homeland Security, still floundering desperately despite the efforts of its able secretary and his corps of excellent deputies, should make us all suspicious of ambitious reorganizations. That Congress has yet not tried to consolidate the intelligence agencies into a single department, on the model of the Department of Homeland Security, is only a small comfort.
- When a bureaucratic layer is added on top of a group of agencies, the result is delay, loss or distortion of information from the bottom up, delay and misunderstanding of commands from the top down, turf fights for the attention of the top layer (rival agencies now have a single boss for whose favor they can fight), demoralization of agencies that have been demoted by the insertion of a new layer of command between them and the president, and underspecialization, since the new top echelon can’t be expected to be an expert in all the diverse missions of the agencies below.
- What makes coordination of the three competing cultures in the intelligence community–the military, civilian intelligence, and the FBI–so difficult, and maybe impossible, is a profound political imbalance. The military is immensely popular, immensely powerful politically (in part because of its popularity, in part because of the support it receives from defense contractors), accounts for the lion’s share of the intelligence budget, is ambitious to expand its intelligence activities under the forceful leadership of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Under Secretary Stephen Cambone, and for all these reasons is out of the practical control of the DNI. The FBI is also immensely popular (despite its very poor performance as a domestic intelligence agency–the worst-performing in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks) and politically powerful, and especially resistant to change for the reason mentioned earlier. That leaves the CIA in a situation of considerable vulnerability, as an unpopular agency and therefore a natural scapegoat; and it limits the power of the DNI, who finds cabinet officers (the secretary of defense and the attorney general) between him and the military and bureau intelligence services.
Very well reasoned and more importantly well written (these sorts of things tend to be by those in the business for those in the business, which you understand if you’ve strugged with my hacking). I’m sure he is a fine judge, but I can think of another job the man should probably have. Of course that he can be a judge and still has the time to put fingers-to-keyboard on such issues means he could probably tackle some additional responsibility.
Cultural issues aside, one factor that gets discussed a lot outside of the business is the changing nature of information and the impact it has on the intelligence business. I elaborate on this in another medium that should be out soon, but in short: concepts of info ownership and utility have changed and reorganizations that don’t take this into consideration are doomed. No one is that special anymore, which makes the sanity of prentending otherwise highly questionable. The judge wants bodies to concentrate on domestic issues, I know exactly where they can come from.
Now if I could just get one of those think tank jobs.