CHESTER HAS MOVED!: The Failure of the Intelligence Reform Bills

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Failure of the Intelligence Reform Bills

(. . . or why "jointness" is a good idea . . .) On the face of it, the failure of the Congress to pass intelligence reform legislation seems like an unfortunate development. But let’s not be quick to judge. The holdouts who refused to change their minds on how to integrate the House and Senate versions of the bill quite possibly have a good point. “Reps. Duncan Hunter and Jim Sensenbrenner, chairmen of the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, raised objections. Hunter, R-Calif., worried that provisions of the bill could interfere with the military chain of command and endanger troops in the field.” “"In my judgment, this bill, without strongly reaffirming the chain of command, would render that area confused to the detriment of our Americans in combat so I will not support it," Hunter said.” “Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., wanted additional provisions dealing with illegal immigration. "Unfortunately, the Senate has refused to consider many of the provisions, tagging them as extraneous or controversial," he said.” Unfortunately, the AP did not decide to examine what exactly they are talking about, instead choosing to refer to them as “rebellious Republicans,” since the bill was supported by Bush. Moreover, the AP spins the story as signs that all of the public debate about the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations will have been for naught if a bill isn’t passed this year: “If lawmakers fail to pass legislation this year, they will render moot three months of hearings and negotiations that started with the commission's July release of its report studying the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Lawmakers would have to start from scratch next year - if they even pick up the issue again.” Can we honestly be expected to believe that there is not some value to the public debate that has taken place over the last three months? Even if no agreement has been reached, surely the positions taken and the points of view aired will have value in crafting legislation in the future? The Editors at the National Review had quite different thoughts on this bill about a month ago. They first take issue with the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission -- namely that “our failure to anticipate and prevent September 11 stemmed from a system-wide, analytical failure to "connect the dots." It attributed this malfunction to the lack of control exerted by the Director of Central Intelligence over the intelligence community's 15 agencies and organizations.” Instead, National Review says, “Unfortunately, since the commission's diagnosis of what ails our intelligence is wrong, its cure is, at best, irrelevant, and at worst, dangerous. One of its suggestions, for instance, is to transfer most of the military's intelligence-gathering assets to the CIA. But that agency has always performed poorly when analyzing military issues, be they the size of the Soviet ICBM force, Soviet defense spending, Chinese military modernization, or Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction stockpiles. In such a scenario, our intelligence assessments might actually become shoddier, not better.” “The key problem is the failure to penetrate either rogue regimes, such as Iraq or Iran, or pan-national terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda. In recent decades, largely owing to legal constraints and bureaucratic culture, U.S. covert-action capability has been allowed to atrophy, obliging intelligence agencies to focus more on doing analysis in the office than on spying in the field. Regrettably, in this area, neither the commission nor the congressional bills offer much of anything, and so, much of painful current wrangling over the details of the NID is beside the point.” National Review goes on to take the side of the House version of the bill: “On the domestic-security front, the House version contains important reforms to tighten the immigration system. It would make passports the only foreign document acceptable to enter a federal building or board an airplane, i.e., Mexico's illegal-alien I.D. card would no longer be accepted; illegals who have been here less than five years would not be allowed to appeal deportation decisions unless they applied for asylum; it would encourage national standards for drivers' licenses in an effort to keep illegals from getting them; it would provide for additional visa officers, border-patrol agents, and interior immigration agents.” There is certainly something to be said for this point of view. Will the establishment of a National Intelligence Director truly reform the system? Will it lead to better intelligence? It seems more likely that the NID will be a much clearer scapegoat when mistakes are made and when world events overcome the US (which will happen of course – infallible intelligence is impossible) than he would improve any products the intelligence community has to offer. Moreover, though the fragmented nature of the US intelligence community is often cited as poorly managed, isn’t it equally true that this fragmented nature allows independent thinking and varied opinions to be expressed much more often than if the agencies are all integrated under one top-down hierarchy? From a management perspective, integrating all of the functions and agencies under a single director seems to make sense. But from a corporate culture perspective, it seems disastrous. Think of the intelligence community as needing to be filled with risk-taking, creative, brilliant individuals who are not afraid to lay it all out on the line and make a prediction, or an opinionated analysis, or to undertake a risky venture in covert operations. At the same time, the management of the agencies makes sure to guide their creativity and enthusiasm, channeling it into the proper purposes and making sure it is not frittered away on trivial tasks or missions. What other sectors of the economy does this sound like? Fragmented? Creative individuals? Risk-takers? The entertainment industry? Hollywood? Yes. Don't believe it? Where do you see the most effective red-cells for trying to figure out ways Al-Qaeda or other enemies could attack the US? Take Tom Clancy -- certainly a card-carrying member of the entertainment industry. In Debt of Honor, he wrote of a hijacked airplane used to attack the capitol building. Debt of Honor was written in 1994. In The Sum of All Fears, he wrote of Islamic terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon and detonating it at the Superbowl. The Sum of All Fears was written in 1991. (The complete botching of its screen-adaptation maybe the subject of a future post, if readers are interested.) Far-fetched at the time, right? But isn't this the kind of creative thinking -- creative paranoia you might call it -- necessary to interpret patterns of data? But in what sector of the economy does the intelligence community reside? The federal government. Does the federal government strike you as a place where creative, brilliant risk-takers routinely must have the reins pulled on their galloping aggressiveness? No. The image is more of a harsh kick in the sides with a sharp-pointed set of boot spurs, just to get them to leave the stable. Will integrating all of the intelligence agencies under one director lead to more aggressive analysis, or more timid, bureaucratic rear-end covering? If one problem in intelligence analysis is "connecting the dots," it does not necessarily follow that an integrated intelligence community will be the best way to connect them. Instead, the fragmented nature of the intelligence community is one of its greatest assets because it encourages independent thinking. The ability to look at a data set and see what a hundred others have missed is what is needed in intelligence analysis. “World-class pattern-spotters,” to quote Herbert Meyer in another National Review article. Meyer served during the Reagan administration as special assistant to the director of central intelligence and as vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council. He seems to be in a good position to know what he's talking about. Says Meyer: "For several years, during the Reagan administration, I had access to many of our intelligence services' most closely held secrets. And what I learned is this: The most vital, most actionable pieces of intelligence aren't "secret" at all. They are visible to anyone with a reasonable grasp of politics and economics — and, above all, anyone with a willingness to see the obvious and then articulate it clearly enough, and forcefully enough, so that policymakers cannot possibly ignore it." He continues this train of thought in other forums, like this piece in OpinionJournal.com: "The good news is that this country is filled with first-class pattern-spotters with the talent and experience to do this again. You can find them in politics, in business, on Wall Street, at leading think tanks, in the high-tech corridors of Silicon Valley and Boston's Route 128, and in academia. Right now the president has an opportunity to reach out and find the kind of CIA director with the brains and horsepower to make the agency razor-sharp and playing offense. And he needs to move fast." [written between Tenet's departure and Goss's hiring] [Meyer on CIA reform again., this time back at NRO.] So instead of creating a new bureaucracy and a new National Intelligence Director and integrating intelligence in an industrial-age hierarchy, why not leave it decentralized and fragmented, AND JUST BE SURE IT CAN TALK TO ITSELF? There are really three or so issues here: 1. On the operational side, the CIA needs a dramatically improved human intelligence capability. 2. On the analytical side, the CIA needs aggressive, creative analysts who are world-class pattern spotters. One of these should be in charge of the whole shooting match. 3. The federal government needs to improve its methods of sharing information across agency boundaries. The analogy for this should not be the legislation that integrated many different agencies into one Homeland Security Department -- though that was a good solution for that particular problem. The analogy should instead be the concept of "jointness" that was thrust upon the Department of Defense in 1986, with the passing of the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act. Rather than putting all of the intelligence-gathering and analyzing agencies under one roof, with one director, the Goldwater-Nichols model would have a concept of "jointness" mandated throughout the agencies, such that it would be an over-riding cultural change within all of them. In addition, Goldwater-Nichols preserved the independence of each of the military services, while making the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ultimately responsible for military advice to the president, and at the same time that dissenting opinions among the joint chiefs are legally required to be heard. (For example, here is one portion of the law: "A member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (other than the Chairman) may submit to the Chairman advice or an opinion in disagreement with, or advice or an opinion in addition to, the advice presented by the Chairman to the President, the National Security Council, or the Secretary of Defense. If a member submits such advice or opinion, the Chairman shall present the advice or opinion of such member at the same time he presents his own advice to the President, the National Security Council, or the Secretary of Defense, as the case may be." See JCSLink: Goldwater-Nichols for more details.) The legislation created a clear difference between the control of funding for each service, and the operational command of each service. Thus the Commandant of the Marine Corps, for example, is charged with raising, training, and equipping the Marine Corps, in accordance with all of its missions. He is also asked for his opinion on its use in war. But he is never in the chain of command for it operationally. When a Marine unit is sent to war, it is given to the Combatant Commander, such as General Abizaid at Central Command, who then employs it as he sees fit. Some similar concept of "jointness" should be pursued within the intelligence community. The Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency would still be in charge of funding, staffing, training, and equipping that agency. He would also offer his opinions on how to use the products that it produces. But he would defer to, perhaps, the Director of the CIA, or if absolutely necessary, a new National Intelligence Director, when it came to issues of overall patterns of interpretation. Goldwater-Nichols implemented the jointness concept through many mandates. For example, in order to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, an officer must have served in a command that is deemed a joint command while holding a field grade rank. This means that every general officer in the US military has, while either a Major, Lieutenant Colonel, or Colonel, served in a joint command. The purpose behind this act was to force the military services to work together better. The purpose behind a similar law for the intelligence community would be for them to EXCHANGE INFORMATION and analytical methods. Here we find a method for maintaining the independence of each intelligence agency -- an independence of funding, training and culture that is so fundamental to the development of creative analysis. Also, methods could be enacted to ensure that a culture of jointness was spread throughout the intelligence community. And finally, if Congress still thought it necesary, either the Director of the CIA or the National Intelligence Director would be the ultimate advice-giver to the President. Eighteen years later, the result of the "joint" nature of the US military is abundantly clear. Military forces can use technology in a networked fashion regardless of their service source. More importantly, tactics and philosophies of war have been standardized in a de facto manner that works brilliantly -- and is not the result of any particular legislation dictating the "how" of military operations. Cerainly, a similar method of inducing cooperation between intelligence agencies, while not sacrificing their unique perspectives, can be legislated? [This is the first in an occasional series of posts here at The Adventures of Chester, about the concept of "jointness" in military operations, doctrine, and philosophies of war – and the future application of this concept.]

8 Comments:

Blogger USMC_Vet said...

Precisely.

Spot on, Chester.

November 21, 2004 at 4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't they create a "joint chiefs of staff" type structure for the intelligence community?

November 21, 2004 at 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely right. Unity of command and competition of ideas is the answer NOT centralized command and control. Both policymakers and combatant commanders were given an intelligence product that was vetted through layer after layer of managers and managers of managers until the DCI himself decided what the real truth was. The 9-11 commission and Congress are going down the wrong path and regrettably don't seem to recognize that their efforts to centralize command and control has already been done -- we used to call it the KGB.

November 22, 2004 at 11:09 AM  
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October 30, 2005 at 2:48 PM  
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