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Failed Intelligence Reorganization

By Ivan Eland
May 10, 2006

Editor's Note: It is now broadly recognized -- by both Republicans and Democrats -- that the Bush administration bungled the response to the catastrophe from Hurricane Katrina in summer 2005 and that the new Department of Homeland Security only compounded the problem by hobbling the Federal Emergency Management Agency with layers of politics, bureaucracy and cronyism.

What's now becoming apparent, following the sudden ouster of CIA Director Porter Goss, is that similar injections of politics, bureaucracy and cronyism have damaged U.S. intelligence capabilities.

In 2004, George W. Bush's anger over perceived disloyalty within the U.S. intelligence community led him to install Goss and a team of political enforcers who then ripped apart the CIA in a search for an anti-Bush "cabal." The "cabal" presumably consisted of CIA officers and analysts who had correctly challenged White House certainty about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The CIA, a Bush Family Fiefdom."]

In this guest essay, Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute looks at this crisis in U.S. intelligence from another perspective, the ill-conceived idea that the way to streamline the U.S. intelligence community was to add another layer of bureaucracy:

The Bush administration’s intelligence reorganization, based on the deified recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to expand the intelligence bureaucracy, is an abysmal failure. A second reorganization is needed that will streamline and consolidate the multi-headed hydra that is the U.S. intelligence community. 

The failure to detect the 9/11 terrorist plot largely stemmed from the improper coordination among U.S. intelligence agencies. Responding to the 9/11 Commission report and the public pressure associated with it, the Bush administration accepted the commission’s recommendation to create a new office of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to coordinate the cacophony of 15 intelligence agencies, but gave the new position ambiguous control over intelligence personnel and agency intelligence budgets—what I then called a hybrid solution.

On Sept. 27, 2004, I wrote a piece entitled, “More Bureaucracy, Less National Security,” which warned that “the administration’s hybrid solution—giving us more bureaucracy without much more coordination—is the worst of all worlds and will decrease America’s security rather than increasing it.”

 The piece also cautioned that “while adding another layer of bureaucracy to exacerbate the original coordination problem, the administration essentially supports replacing one bureaucratic eunuch [the Director or Central Intelligence, who was the former titular head of the 15 intelligence agencies] with another.” 

Unfortunately, recent developments in DNI John Negroponte’s quest to tame the intelligence community have proven my prediction to be correct.  In an April 21, 2006, column in the Washington Post entitled, “Fix the Intelligence Mess,” David Ignatius noted that “a reorganization that was supposed to bring greater coordination has instead produced a layering of responsibilities and bureaucratic confusion.” He added that “the intelligence reorganization isn’t working. . . . It hasn’t succeeded in coordinating the various agencies. . . . ”

Ignatius quotes Richard A. Posner, a conservative intelligence expert, as lamenting, “the reorganization reshuffled rather than augmented the nation’s federal intelligence personnel.” Posner also said that the DNI  “has become a new bureaucracy layered on top of the intelligence community, a new agency on top of the 15 or more previously existing agencies.”

What a surprise!  This wasn’t predictable at the time that Congress passed the reorganization into law?

As I noted in my previous piece before the legislation was passed, pressure to “do something” after a crisis leads to reshuffling boxes on government organizational charts, which usually means an expansion of government.  According to the Washington Post’s national security reporter Walter Pincus, this reorganization is no exception.

Negroponte’s staff is a whopping 1,539 people just to manage the hordes of intelligence personnel in the other 15 agencies, roughly double what was anticipated. Pincus adds that Negroponte’s budget to manage these people is about $1 billion—a five-fold increase over what was spent on managing the intelligence community before the reorganization. 

How was the fight against small, agile terrorist groups helped by piling these added levels of management on top of existing layers of administration in the huge and stodgy intelligence agencies? Now there are even two centers in the U.S. government to fight terrorism—the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and the DNI’s National Counterterrorism Center. And exactly how does creating duplicative offices and added administrative layers improve coordination?

In short, the failed intelligence reorganization needs reorganizing.

As I said in 2004, the 15—now 16—intelligence agencies should each be streamlined and then consolidated into fewer agencies. As the disputes over aspects of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction issue illustrate, more than one opinion can be a good thing if the policymakers listen to dissenting agencies (which the Bush administration didn’t); but 16 opinions is overkill.

 The re-reorganization should start by drastically slimming down Negroponte’s new office, which has become a bureaucratic morass in a very short time. To counter nimble terrorists and better its general performance—which has recently been abysmal—the bloated U.S. intelligence community needs to go on a diet.


Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.


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