Thursday, August 5, 2004
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What kind of intelligence reform is necessary?
Members of the 9-11 Commission are not pleased with President Bush tweaking their intelligence reform proposals:
Sounds like a bad omen for the administration, and more fuel for the left half of the blogosphere.
However, intelligence expert Anthony Cordesman argues in a Council on Foreign Relations interview that Bush did the right thing in his initial proposal:
As someone who urged the Bush administration to take the 9-11 Commission's policy recommendations seriously, this sounds about right to me.
Furthermore, Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts has a Slate piece that suggests the urge to centralize control/authority is mistaken:
Watts might be overestimating the extent to which even the 9-11 Commission wants to centralize inelligence. However, his points about the power of informal social networks and decentralized efforts sounds awfully familiar with James Surowiecki's arguments about intelligence reform.
The left half of the blogosphere seems exercised about the notion that the Bush administration suggests that it is implementing the Commission recommendations when it actually isn't. Re-reading Bush's Rose Garden announcement, I think they do have half a leg to stand on. However, I don't really care whether the administration is trying to spin the atmospherics on this -- duh, of course they are -- but I do care about whether the substantive recommendations are the right ones to make. There's an implicit assumption in much of the blogging on this that the Commission must be correct.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Commission has put forward a serious proposal -- but there should not be an a priori assumption that it's the best proposal.
UPDATE: I received the following e-mail this morning:
posted by Dan on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM
Maybe it's considered ancient history, but has anyone gone back and started to take some of the Hart-Rudman recommendations seriously?posted by: norbizness on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
and Anthony Cordesman is not some one who could be described in anyway partisan to Bush.posted by: Jane on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Yes, but it seems that the 9-11 Commission makes recommendations for a world on the morning of 9-11, and overlooks the sweeping changes we've made thus far.
It wasn't really their job to focus on the reforms, therefore, it seems to me, the recommendations are a bit outdated.
It seemed Charlie Allen, Asst. DCI for Collection, made the same argument during one of the recent 9-11 Recommendation hearings.posted by: Terrorism Unveiled on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Bush might have a winner here. Right or wrong, massive and hasty reorganization of the intelligence function, especially the domestic bit, in the middle of an election campaign would not strike many as prudent. Putting the issues out there for discussion during the campaign and then calling Congress back for action after the election just might help us avoid the mistakes of the Patriot Act. It seems arrogant for Commission members to say that every jot and tittle of their recommendations must be enacted without change or deliberation; and it seems like pandering for Kerry to agree with that. Kerry's stance, as contrasted with Bush's, gives the appearance of a lack of prudence in making important decisions.posted by: jimbo on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
True, we shouldn't assume the 9/11 Report is the best proposal, but nor should we "assume" it has serious flaws.
The Commission Report was intended to be a list of "recommendations" based on analysis of events surrounding 9/11, not a fully detailed how-to implementation book. Congress would vote on whether to go forward on those recommendations - including all the necessary thinking and planning required - and not simply vote to implement them as-is. This seems like a silly argument.
As regards the pitfalls of centralized control, introducing tighter protocols or adding oversight would NOT automatically stiffle imagination, creativity or coordination - or make the problem worse. It would simply serve as the necessary checks & balances when implementing the ideas born from such fresh imagination & creativity. Centralized contol would not necessarily nullify cross-agency collaboration and joint efforts or relationships, as Watts asserts. It wouldn't harm the product - but rather serve to best channel its' output.
Both Watts and Cordesman make rather large assumptions. I find it more surprising that, while both state not enough information was given in the report to justify granting the new DNI full budget and personnel authority, there apparently WAS enough information in there to deny it.posted by: wishIwuz2 on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
There has to be an appropriate middle ground between centralized control of intelligence and distributed intelligence. Two historical examples come to mind.
First, it is entirely possible that having one person in control of intelligence (other than the President) can result in filtering of data that is important. I look to the example of Lavrenti Beria in the USSR. Almost all of Stalin's intelligence came through the KGB (MGB, NKVD), hence it came through Beria. That made Beria very powerful, in that he could decide what Stalin saw and what he didn't see. That is not a good example for a democracy.
On the other hand, having too many people and departments responsible for intelligence can dilute the final product and produce much wasteful duplication of effort. An example of this would be Nazi Germany. You had several different intelligence agencies, and they were always stepping on each others toes. For example, there were several different agencies responsible for signals intelligence, including the Forschungsamt, Beobachtungsdienst, the Abwehr, and OKW/Chi, among others. That was a waste of resources.
Perhaps if the "National Intelligence Czar" is used merely to coordinate tasking efforts and facilitate cooperation between agencies, while leaving resource allocation and reporting to the individual agencies it will be a plus. I wouldn't want ALL the intelligence to come through that one office, however.posted by: Bill on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Whether or not implementifing the 9/11 commission's recommendations wholsale is "silly", it is what Kerry suggests, and it's what the 9-11 commission members are demanding. From the first of Dan's links:
"Our recommendations are not a Chinese menu," Lehman said. "They are a whole system. If all of the important elements are not adopted, it makes it very difficult for the others to succeed."posted by: Appalled Moderate on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
I didn't mean to suggest that we should pick & choose from the recommendations, but rather that we should consider the report a roadmap, and not a blueprint. Congressional "implementation" would include the process of vetting the details. Doesn't (or shouldn't) it always?
I added "silly" to imply that I thought this was obvious. But, I shouldn't do that - I'm not a legislative student.posted by: wishIwuz2 on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Just finished reading the 9/11 Report last night, and I don't think the NID is a bad idea at all.
The Comm'n was struck over and over by CIA, FBI, etc., telling it that they were field-directed, that they left the initiative to the agents on the ground. So when people at the top were shouting "Fire!" the agents at the ground, for the most part, could shrug and go on with whatever they were doing.
Obviously, info needs to flow both ways. But:
(1) In any bureaucracy, you can count on the people at the bottom of the pyramid doing their own thing. What's hardest is for the guy at the top to influence them.
(2) The self-directed quality of the typical agent means that (1) is probably much more true of CIA and FBI than it is of, say, the Social Security Administration.
(3) Some guy at the top who has no ability to hire and fire, no power over budgets, in short, nothing but a pulpit, is not going to impress the bureaucratic middle-managers ensconced below him.
We will never have an effective counterterror capacity in this country, unless and until the guy at the top can tell the intel community "Get on top of this, or it's your ass."
Are there potential dangers to an NID? Sure. Aren't we all grownups here? Does any of us live in a dream world where there's any perfect way to arrange the gov't?
But against those potential dangers, there's the fact that 2,973 people *actually* died because the intel "community" couldn't get its shit together.
And as the Comm'n points out, what happened in 2001 was not all that unlike what happened in 1941. (Someone needs to write a definitive compare/contrast on that.) The info was there, but no one was putting it together. No serious reform of the intel community was made after 1941. We can't afford to keep going.
(And as Drezner points out, we can't count on agencies like FBI to reform themselves; so, I would argue, we should disregard special pleading like the CIA deputy's op-ed in today's (8/6/04) WaPo. ALL agencies promise to get their act together when the budgetary axe looms. That doesn't mean we should believe them.)posted by: Anderson on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Um, "keep going on the same way," I meant. (As if anyone read to the bottom of that rant.)posted by: Anderson on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Whatever happened to all those people who complained (and are still complaining) that we rushed through the PATRIOT Act without having time to read it?
It seems to me that John Kerry aligned with that very group. He should be the last to want to rush this one.
But the Patriot Act was an actual bill - a detailed plan to act upon (whether you liked it or not). And the mindset under which it was authored reflected the immediate post 9/11 fervor of the day.
The 9/11 report is a list of ideas - and (possibly?) tempered by more time & distance.
But while Kerry may wholeheartedly back the recommendations, there's little doubt he's also trying to make political hay.posted by: wishIwuz2 on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
"And as Drezner points out, we can't count on agencies like FBI to reform themselves"
Why don't you think we have Congressional Oversight? If the argument is that Congressional oversight is not working, will it work with a new organization?
Let's fix the problem of Congressional oversight, not create a new one. After all we have one candidate who has directed these agencies for almost 4 years and another who has many years serving on the Intelligence Committee.posted by: Tim on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Tim & the Comm'n are on the same page, as they say that Congressional oversight is the sine qua non of meaningful counterterror & intel reform.
Necessary, but not sufficient.
And as for why I don't think we have Congressional oversight, allow me to remind Tim that the past 4 years have been a dreary example of how badly that oversight works when the same party controls both houses and the White House.posted by: Anderson on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Also, in today's Washington Post, just-retired Director of Operations James Pavitt weighs in on the issue. He echoes some of the things mentioned here, but also brings up something very important, which the the Iraq intel problems also highlight: a need for better HumInt. The article is here.posted by: Philip J. Brinkman on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Watts is exactly right. Decentralization is what's needed, not only in Intelligence but pretty much all aspects of society. I'm building a collection of papers on the subject of self organization, network theory & related areas on my site, scalefree.net. Stop by & read through some of them, you'll get a better idea of what it's all about.
Its too big, too compartmentalized, too screwed up, and too secret to fix via committee. Basically its going to take some individual at the top of each organization with carte blanch to rip things apart and start from the ground up, hiring and firing and reorganizing. Accountability. Thats never going to happen.posted by: mark buehner on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
While no, we can't depend on the FBI to reform itself, it would appear that we can't depend on the Congress either.
Consider the senate Intel committee for example.
Hmmm. It would seem that depending on congress to direct the reform is a questionable call. Also appears that giving Kerry the reins won't get us far down the road toward reform, either.
posted by: Bithead on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
To bad there was no check-and-balances on the Pentagon's "creative competition of information":
Office of Special Plans
The">http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2004/01/12_405.html">The Information Factory
What kind of secret unit holds press conferences?posted by: mark buehner on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Elect Kerry and you won't need another layer of bureaucracy. He will review every piece of intelligence personally and act immediately, unlike the president, who hesitated six or seven minutes after hearing of the 9-11 attacks. In that span of time, Kerry would have already pursued and shot the scum in the back, tossed his Band-Aids over the White House fence and collected his Gold Star for being an alert man at the helm.
Yeah, he would.posted by: Jim on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Sorry, but they're overeducated to idiocy idiots
Need hands on pragmatists able to hire, fire, and face consequences of screwing up. Two terrorists
Skills, tranferable skills, ability to effect while under pressure are primo in my view.
Are you suggesting that the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans is filled with idiots and opportunist?posted by: NeoDude on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Tim: "Decentralization is what's needed, not only in Intelligence but pretty much all aspects of society."
Beware the man of One Big Idea! It should be obvious that you can't turn a vasty, general concept like "decentralization" into a panacea.
Decentralization was a major cause of the U.S. intel cmty.'s failure to prevent 9/11. Or so the 9/11 Comm'n thinks. And for once, I'm going to defer to people who know a lot more about the subject than I do.posted by: Anderson on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
The 9/11 commission properly focused on terrorism and glanced at Iraq. What may have escaped them – and doesn’t seem to be a big part of this thread – is that there are relatively important areas of intelligence that don’t touch on terrorism. In other words the US needs information on threats, foreign capabilities, governmental intentions, and military advancements outside whatever it is we decide to call terrorism today. That’s why the military services have their own intelligence organizations – each focus on collecting information and countering the specific threat profile it may have to fight against.
An intelligence czar would end up being a political creature of the Congress and Executive and could be expected to focus on whatever the fashion is today, ignoring the universe of threats against the nation.
I agree with the people calling for some degree of centralization, for one very specific reason: The parts of the 9-11 report that I have had time to red have been chilling in their description of how totally dysfunctional the intel community is and has been at sharing information and collaboratively vetting information across agencies.
At this point, the non-cooperative nature of these various agencies is part of the ambient communities. There will be no effective change unless someone has power over them, and there si no better power in this situation than the powers of funding and job security, not just for a few years while people are thinking about it, but as part of the structure. And it's far more likely that one strong-willed and knowledgeable person could be found for all the various agencies, rather than finding a dozen people for a dozen agencies who all think the same way and refuse to play interagency politics with each other.
I'm a big fan of decentralization and competition, myself, but it's not a magic talisman. In order for someone to convince me that more decentralization in the intel community is a good idea, someone (Tim Keller) is going to have to do more than point me at a website of papers; someone is going to have to sketch me out a clear operating plan for this decentralization and show me how it will give a different result than the present brand of incompetence we already have, with agencies not competing, as such, but alternately practically each other, ignoring each other, and snubbing each other.
Because we already know the present situation is bad.
There's the other problem with centralization of intelligence-- as other people have noted, it would be a tremendously powerful person at the top of that pyramid. Back around 2002, I knew some people were blasting the intel community for not picking up on 9-11 before the fact, and I had to remind them rather forcibly that the intel community was fractured because that's the way we wanted it-- a fractured intel community is rarely a threat to the rest of the governmet or to society at large.
And finally, there's going to be (I suspect there already is) massive resistance to this from every agency affected by it. And some of those agencies have very big champions who absolutely do not want to give up any of their power in this arena. Take a good, hard, sober look at Don Rumsfeld, for instance, and tell me that you think he'd sign up to have the various military intelligence agencies removed from his direct control and authority.
I think not.
In my cynical moments I can easily believe that Rumsfeld has been a key player against centralization with real authority.posted by: Novak on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
Military intelligence agencies - particularly the direct service ones like Army intelligence - that are controlled by a civilian outside the Pentagon, thousands of miles from the battlefield are going to wander away from their primary mission of providing actionable intelligence to battlefield commanders.
This " reform" would be , in a word, moronic. It' the equivalent of asking the troops to fight blind. The problem with the IC is primarily the degradation of HUMINT capabilities and shrinking of linguistic-analytical resources from 1991 to 2001. Secondarily is the bureaucratic mismanagement and lack or coordination in setting collection priorities with the resources that the IC has but it's a distant second.
I see nothing in the proposed NID position that solves that secondary problem - in fact it waters down the little coordination authority that exists by statute in the office of DCI.
Rebuilding HUMINT is unglamorous and slow. HUMINT activities make a lot of people squeamish because they are inherently in conflict with the values of an open society. Not having HUMINT though is akin to not having a gun when somebody has come through your bedroom window at 3 a.m. - if you don't have it right then, it's too late.posted by: mark safranski on 08.05.04 at 06:18 PM [permalink]
someone (Tim Keller) is going to have to do more than point me at a website of papers; someone is going to have to sketch me out a clear operating plan for this decentralization and show me how it will give a different result than the present brand of incompetence we already have
What Duncan Watts & I are calling for is not any sort of decentralization, it's a specific one - self organization. Self organzation is a dynamic, non-heirarchical system that exploits network effects, stigmergy (biological signalling systems) & other concepts within Complexity Theory to create order & coordinate collective activity without a central command structure. For a simple example, look at an ant colony. There's no one ant commanding the others (the Queen is just a breeding machine), yet complex, stable structures emerge from the collective activity of the whole population. The order that emerges is so strong that as the colony grows, the ratios of distances between key parts of the colony (food storage, Queen's chamber, cemetary, etc.) stay the same.
Now that's a simple example, & human social structures are many times more complex than those of ants. But if you read the papers on my site, you'll start to see that the same universal forces are at play. It's my aim to create a center of gravity for the study & application of those concepts, with the ultimate goal of learning how to build stable, secure self organized human social structures. This is not just another form of utopianism; the DoD, specifically DARPA, is heavily invested into researching aspects of this as well, under the names "swarm intelligence" & "network-centric warfare".
Some examples of self organized human systems are the Free/Open Source Software community & the blogosphere. What is it about these that makes them work? What are the underlying principles, how can they be improved & replicated for other areas of society?
I'm not expecting results overnight. I'm in it for the long haul. In the end, I believe it's our best hope for surviving our move into the 21st century.
Forgot to mention that univ. incompetent Condi Rice who was handed the Nat. Sec. position. Another educated idiot from archaic univ. system to screw things up for us.
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