Tuesday, August 24, 2004

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Open intelligence reform thread

Feel free to comment here on Senator Pat Roberts' proposed plan for intelligence reform. As I've said before, I'm leery of the pushes towards centralization made in the 9/11 Commission report, and Roberts' proposal goes further in some ways. On the other hand, I really do like the idea of splitting up the analytic and clandestine components of the CIA, an I really like the idea of rotating intelligence officers through different agencies.

My opinion don't count for much on this, however. On the other hand, Amy Zegart's opinion does count for a great deal -- intelligence reform is what she studies. So check out what Zegart said last night on Aaron Brown's NewsNight:

It's one of the boldest proposals for reform that we've seen in the 57 years of the intelligence community....

I think one of the critical differences between Senator Roberts' proposal and the 9/11 Commission is the 9/11 Commission essentially said, "Look at the pieces we have here. How can we make these work better?" Senator Roberts' proposal actually takes out that blank sheet of paper and says, "How could we actually redesign the entire intelligence system to work better?"

.... I think there are three major differences that make it better than, for example, the 9/11 Commission proposal. The first is that the national intelligence director has even more power in Senator Roberts' proposal than in the 9/11 Commission.

Now, bear in mind that the details of this proposal of Senator Roberts' proposal are not widely known but my understanding is the national intelligence director would have hiring and firing power that goes far deeper in agencies that now reside in the Pentagon, like the National Security Agency.

The second change is, as you mentioned, dismantling the CIA, separating in particular the clandestine side of the CIA from the analytic side of the CIA.

But there's a third change. And I think it is harder to see and equally important. And that's Senator Roberts' proposal tries to get at cultural changes inside the community. The 9/11 Commission identified critical cultural pathologies in our intelligence system, but really put off proposals for solving them and put them in the hands of the national intelligence director.

Senator Roberts' proposal actually goes much farther than that. For example, you'll notice the language refers to a national intelligence service. Dismantling the CIA is part of creating that one-team approach. And there are also requirements in this proposal to, for example, require the rotation of intelligence officials to different agencies outside their own, which is crucial for getting them to trust and understand each other and share information better.

UPDATE: I think it's safe to say that Fred Kaplan doesn't like the proposal.

posted by Dan on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM


Judge Posner is guest blogging at Lessig's place. He has some comments about cenralization, and many other topics, of course.


posted by: Jason Ligon on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Yes, the intelligence services needs reform. No, we really don't make it far worse by this proposed 'reform'.

posted by: BigFire on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

I'm concerned that some people seem to think that all it takes to fix problems in the intelligence agencies - in fact, any problems in any organizations - is to redraw org charts in some magical "right" way. I haven't really seen any proposals that go considerably beyond the org chart level, and I find that rather worrisome.

I'm not an intelligence expert, so I'm not going to actually offer any proposals what to do instead. So feel free to dismiss this as destructive criticism. And keep redrawing those org charts...

posted by: gw on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Maxim 1 should be that oversite without budget control is pointless, worthless, idiotic, and in Washington circles a massive laugh out loud joke.

I dont know a ton about Robert's proposal, but it does put the purse strings in someone elses hands. That is the first major hurdle and my guess is it doesnt stand a chance unless huge public pressure is applied. The CIA, Pentagon, FBI and respective agencies are never going to allow their toys to be taken away from them without a fight, and their congressional champions will fight every step of the way for them. This comes down to something far more important than national security in Washington, FUNDING.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

A skeptical take on Roberts's proposal. First, some background:

The SSCI report Iraqi WMD was egregiously bad. The data presented didn't support its own conclusions, which basically berated CIA. Roberts also made sure that the more controversial issue of how the President used intelligence was left out. Both of these actions were politically motivated, shifting the blame away from the President and onto the CIA.

Roberts's new proposal does the same, but with an added benefit. Kerry had gained traction by his immediate (and I think premature) pledge to follow the recommendations of the 9/11 committee. Kerry appeared proactive, Bush appeared to waffle. Now the President has an alternative, and Roberts's status gives it considerable weight. No longer will it be easy for Kerry to claim that he's better on homeland security because he supports the 9/11 commission recommendations.

I don't know anything more about the Roberts plan than has been reported. His website issued a press release but has not yet provided much in the way of details. The basic outlines are not impressive; I can't see how it amounts to much more than reshuffling the deck chairs. I've always been of the philosophy that organization is better than reorganization. But Amy Zegart is a serious scholar of intel reform and deserves fair hearing. So I'll withold judgment for now.

posted by: JR on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

I have major reservations about centralizing failure.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

As a way of framing the debate, I think there are two important questions to address:

(1) The 9/11 Problem: How will intelligence reform help prevent another surprise attack?

(2) The Iraqi WMD Problem: How will intelligence reform help improve foreign estimates?

We tend to casually lump these problems together. But they are two entirely different tasks, and there is probably no one solution that can accomadate both. For example, many advocates of reform suggest that a director of national intelligence will help our chances of connecting the dots (problem 1). Even if this is the case, it is unclear the such a director will contribute to better foreign intelligence (problem 2). Indeed, too much centralization runs the risk of depressing the climate for competitive estimates across the Community.

PS -- Zegart is impressed that Roberts is talking about organizational culture rather than just organizational structure. This seems odd to me, given that Roberts's plan calls for massive structural change, while his cultural fix - creating a "National Intelligence Service" - sounds like a palliative.

posted by: JR on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

isn't the Pentagon just going to create its own replacement?

posted by: praktike on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Intelligence _sharing_, or lack thereof, was the biggest reason for the 911 debacle. Theoretically, a single boss would force the agencies to work together. It wont work if the boss doesnt have the power to hire, fire, and fund. Also the intelligence services should not be subject to government employee union rules. Lets see how John Kerry spins that. Judgeing by how deep in the pocket of the Education lobby the Dems are, presumably not well. There's a wedge issue for you George.
Anyway, this whole argument is moot. Systems only run well when qualified managers run them, and as long as political appointees on minimal terms are in charge that will rarely if ever be the case. I'd put the pentagon back in charge of the whole mess, apoint another officer as chief of intelligence ranking equal with the other services, and let him answer directly to the president and the NSC. The only god damned thing that has worked in our security for the last 4 years is the military, might as well hand them the ball.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

First, different agencies have different needs in the intelligence arena. Creating a separate agency will result in a bureaucracy devoted to the interests of THAT AGENCY and not to the needs of the various constituents.

As an example - many at State hold their counterparts at Defense in contempt, and vice-versa. If State was in charge of intelligence, Defense wouldn't get what it wanted ... it wouldn't get what it needed ... it'd get what State decided "those morons at Defense should have".

Second: we're not going to get the job done as long as the Bureaucratic Imperative is not "To be right", but "Never be wrong". Being wrong results in bad performance evaluations, public criticism, being raked over the coals in public hearings, demands for resignation, etc. Being right results in - nothing much.

If you wonder about that, consider this - all the intelligence agencies read the same material & came to the same conclusion re: Iraq & WMD's.

One could safely say that those conclusions were justified based upon the existing, admittedly old information & the application of reasonable prudence - namely [a] the information we have suggests Iraq had a WMD program & WMDs; [b] we don't have any information which shows that they're gone; [c] "being wrong" is far worse for us if we assume the lack of any further information means he DOESN'T have WMD; so [d] lacking proof of their destruction, we're going to assume they're still there.

All of which leads to "Bush lied & people died" .... "He misled us into this war" .... "This war was planned in Texas for political gain" ... and so on.

In short, if you're wrong, even if your wrong conclusion was justified at the time by the known facts, you'll be flayed alive by those with something to gain politically from the situation.

As long as THAT culture continues to exist, intelligence estimates will resemble pablum.

posted by: BradDad on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

For such an important topic, I'm surprised to not find more comments.

Perhaps people are like me. I view this as vitally important, but have absolutely nothing smart or wise, or even very helpful, to say on the topic.

I just want the best thing done.

Were does a guy go to get mis-edjumacated, on intelligence theory?


posted by: JC on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

What is problem in this country that we don't produce and don't have "smart and savvy people"
in positions in several arenas any more--from corp to govt.? I want to see and are long overdue in ensuring separate teams of smart people based on multi-skills, high level multi-smarts, self-discipline, high level team skills (cool under pressures, not being a passive--aggressive type, etc. skills) vs. univ. degreed in paper --with little to zero of the other desired traits.

Think too many attorneys and other papered jackass professsionals were in the mix that caused 9/11 too. Respect "Officers and Gentlemen", but fear the many shoe shiners to advance own career and wine party path to get ahead. Besides, the military and all sitting in Wash.spending billions left Wash. unprotected!

Want more and more moved out of Wash.
And, seems to me not all in Wash. but as teams--spokes in wheel.

posted by: Alex on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Aside from the fact that my gut feelings are that the problems in the intelligence system don't lie with one particular agency (least of all CIA), I think Roberts' proposal is a pretty awful idea.

The main problem I have with the proposal is that when you actually think about what is begin suggested, it looks quite similar to CIA, and even more like what CIA is supposed to be. First, breaking CIA up into three groups: clandestine, analytical and technological and having them report to the new Intel Director is remarkably like CIA's structure now. Right now, there are four directorates within CIA: Operations, Intelligence, Science and Technology and Administration. They all report to the DCI whose role is supposed to be nearly identical to the proposed role of National Intelligence Director. So, while the 9/11 Commission proposes CIA, with its own director who reports to the Nat'l Intel Director, Roberts proposes breaking up the CIA, reforming it and then making the National Intelligence Director into what the DCI should be. The clandestine branch in Roberts' plan maps to DO, the analytical branch maps to DI and the Science and Tech branch maps to DST. Presumably the duties of DA would be subsumed by the National Intelligence Director's office. Reporting to the Director through deputies is exactly how CIA works today.

The only difference between Roberts' plan for CIA and merely empowering the DCI with the controls he is supposed to have (control over all intel agencies) is that perhaps the clandestine, analytical and technological branches would be housed separately. This, I believe, would only create more problems. From reading I've done and individuals I've talked to, the disconnect between DO and DI at Langley causes problems. Separating them would only diminish what cooperation has started to take place at CIA under Tenet's guidance (read Ron Kessler's books -- Inside the CIA and The CIA at War).

Basically Roberts proposes breaking up CIA in order to reform its directorates as three less-integrated units reporting to what amounts to an properly-empowered DCI and then telling the military agencies to refocus on tactical intelligence (the whole reason that DIA was established in the 60's). Rotating officers among areas is a good idea, as it will help cooperation, but it makes no sense to combine this with anti-cooperative efforts like shutting down Langley.

What needs to be done is encourage cooperation within CIA, not hinder cooperation between its directorates, to fix the Defense Intelligence Agency so that it refocuses on its actual mission of providing tactical intelligence analysis to the military and give the DCI the power he needs. Essentially, policymakers need to look at why each intelligence unit was originially established and work at making sure they fulfill their original missions, then make sure they cooperate. Centralized intelligence is needed, nobody disputes that. However, people seem to overlook the fact that we already have an agency responsible for such efforts -- it only needs to have a properly empowered director, and not face competition from other agencies reaching beyond their intended mission.

posted by: Philip J. Brinkman on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

I recommend reading these (weird formatting as this board's software objects to the letters "c-i-a-l-i-s" which appears in "s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-m")

National Review article on the 9/11 Commission report at:

and Judge Richard Posner's blog thread on this at:

Here's my post on the latter (starts with a Zegart quote courtesy of Daniel Drezner):

The 9/11 Commission report and other recommendations concerning intelligence reform do not seem to discuss the implications of the CIA’s origin as a pure intelligence analysis entity: Consider this point here:


- in a CNN interview of Professor Amy Zegart of UCLA (author of Flawed By Design):

“BROWN: … When you talk about culture here, are you saying that one of the problems is that, in some ways, intelligence in the country is too balkanized. You’ve got a group over here that is beholden to itself, presumably to everyone else, too, but doesn’t necessarily talk to the group over here? Is that what you mean? ZEGART: Absolutely.


ZEGART: I say that the 11th commandment in intelligence is, thou shalt not share.

BROWN: And why is it helpful to separate the information gathering from the analysis of that information?

ZEGART: Well, interestingly, if you go back and look at the history of the CIA, it was never supposed to be a collection agency to begin with. It was only supposed to be, as it name suggests, a central intelligence agency, to bring together different pieces of information and analyze them.

And so we’ve had these two sides of the CIA [clandestine services & intelligence analysis) coexisting in a kind of schizophrenic way for these past 50-some-odd years. And so it didn’t make a lot of sense to begin with. And so it makes some sense to actually separate those functions, so you have the analytic horsepower in one place.”

Failure to consider how the CIA’s mission changed from only analyzing intelligence gathered by other agencies into its present form risks a repetition of that process under Senator Roberts’ proposed new organization.

Other historic developments merit consideration. The CIA developed its covert operations capability to provide the Executive Branch with plausible deniability against Congress and our foreign friends. The politically backward Congress of the early 1950’s was utterly opposed to any variety of s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-m, which made it necessary for the U.S. government to have a covert as in “concealed from Congressional scrutiny” means of supporting European s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-t-s against their Communist enemies. Likewise the s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-t-s didn’t want to admit that they were receiving aid from the U.S. And we didn’t want European moderates and conservatives to know that either. The Soviets and their friends, were well informed of CIA support of European s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-t-s due to their spies among the s-o-c-i-a-l-i-s-t-s, so this secrecy meant nothing as to them.

Proposals to move all covert operations to the Defense Department should keep the latter lesson in mind. Such centralization has superficial plausibility but it would create major political problems. I recommend study of the references to AID (Agency for International Development) in the book, Charlie Wilson’s War. The CIA could not put its own operatives into Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation due to restrictions imposed by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence, but AID could and did under the guise of humanitarian activities. This would not have been possible had covert operations been centralized under the Defense Department.

Getting back to intelligence analysis, I’ll add a personal perspective to the need for multiple independent intelligence analysis organizations. It would be nice if most or all had as broad access to intelligence collected elsewhere as possible, but that is just a nice dream. “…the 11th commandment in intelligence is, thou shalt not share.”

A retired CIA official who knew my father asked me to consider an intelligence analysis career during my senior year in college – spring 1971. I knew why he had retired when he did (December 1967) and why he became the Washington D.C. director of Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign two months later. I focused on the reasons for his retirement in our discussion, specifically how, if the pressure for conformity at his level became overwhelming, I could have a decent, enjoyable career. He replied that it wasn’t that bad lower down but we both knew how those pressures would spread down over the next 10-20 years. And they did. I had already decided on a legal career.

It is very, very, difficult for groupthink and conformity not to spread through a government bureaucracy. There is an unavoidable tendency for one official line to develop. This is especially true in intelligence analysis pertaining to national security at the highest levels. The only solution I can think of is to have multiple independent intelligence analysis organizations, as they will have at least somewhat different institutional cultures and career tracks.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

One problem-solving solution is to pretend the problem is one-tenth as bad and analyze it, then pretend it's ten times as bad, and analyze it.

x/10: If we had endured but one minor attack in the last 30 years, and our intelligence revealed quite closely what Saddam did have, might almost have, and had just destroyed or hidden, we would conclude our current system is brilliant and change nothing. Medals all around, boys.

10x: If we had endured repeated major attacks that we seemed helpless to stop, plus myriad smaller scares...and our foreign intelligence revealed that twelve other countries should have been higher on our hit list than Iraq -- we would do what?

We would not be moving to centralize our intelligence to make it less nimble and current but more mistake-proof. We should then be massively decentralizing our intelligence operations with full knowledge that each individual component was at greater risk for sabotage, stupidity, and betrayal, but that the overall effect would be more effective. Each cluster of special forces, CIA skeins, FBI stings, etc would have more freedom of action, and the American people would (would we?) accept that the result would be messy, unjust, and more ambiguous at any given spot than we would like. But our ability to infiltrate, hamper, defund, control, or destroy terrorist enemies would be greatly enhanced.

We would in a sense be applying market forces to our dangers, or applying an internet news model rather than a three major network approach.

There's the answer, then. We must start decentralizing according to the 4GW model, and we must learn to endure the risk and ambiguity. And it's pretty clear what information sources are going to help us get there and which are going to hinder us.

posted by: Assistant Village Idiot on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Bravo to senator Roberts for getting the debate focused on what the IC is supposed to *do* instead of on whether we should have a " Czar ". Treated as a starting point the Roberts bill has great merit.

Whether we have 14 intelligence agencies or 2 or 50 we still need them to do the following things well:

3. Analysis
4. Counterintelligence
5. Covert Paramilitary operations

Reform needs to enable the IC to do those things better, not worse. Being clear about the tasks rather than the agencies is a step in the right direction.

Does the CIA need to be broken up ? No but the parts of the IC that deal with HUMINT collection need to be networked organizationally and analysts need interaction with field operatives. ( contrary to Tenet's assertions the history of integration between CIA analysts and the DDO isn't that great. There were good Cold ar security reasons for that that do not make as much sense today as when we faced the Soviet bloc).

posted by: mark safranski on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

The whole system is too careerist.

I also wonder about the hiring practices. Back in the days of the OSS, I'm sure we had our fair share of creative alcoholics and sexual deviants on our payrolls. Now you have to be too squeaky-clean.

posted by: Jeff on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Two comments:

1. Centralization is a bad idea. (a) The Intelligence Community is suffering from information overload now - how is concentrating the decisionmaking into even fewer hands going to address the fact that the decision makers already have too much information? (b) The new agency will grow its own culture, which, inevitably, will serve its own ends and not that of its end users. (c) Budget priorities will be skewed according to the needs of the new culture so that some areas will be rich with cash and others will be starved. (d) This will make the entire agency even more subject to political pressure. (e) Large organizations are notoriously bureaucratic and lack an entrepreneurial spirit. (f) What is needed is better coordination, not more control - centralization does not necessarily address this. (g) All of the recent problems in the IC have been a result of a lack of Human Intelligence. How does centralization remove the restructions placed on HUMINT beginning with the Church Committee?

2. Making major changes in an election year is a mistake. The debates about the changes will be focused more on politics than on creating an intelligence community that best serves the needs of the USA.

posted by: Ben on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

I would be glad to see the CIA get broken up and
massively re-structured - in the 60's and 70's
it was just plain evil, in the 80's and 90's
it's been thoroughly incompetent - massively
overestimating the economic and military position
of the USSR and DDR, screwing up Iraq, Iran,
and Central America (and then Iraq again,
though more of the blame for that rests with
Bush and the neocons, who were gung-ho to invade
with or without supporting intelligence).

However, none of this will make any difference
unless/until we introduce real accountability -
i.e. if the organization screws up, the boss gets
fired immediately. On 9/12/01 Rumsfeld and Tenet
should have been fired regardless of their
personal involvement; then the new guys could
have honestly addressed the failures right away
instead of having 3 years of stonewalling.

posted by: richardcownie on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

I don't see much attention given to the biggest flaw of all: the near-total absence of good assets in the middle east.

Until the CIA gets serious about hiring a few hundred young, brown-skinned NOCs who are willing to forego cushy official cover posts in the capital city for a life of shitty food and no company but jihadists, I don't see that Washington rejiggering will make a significant difference to the quality of our intel.

As I have been wont to observe: Asian Century now. Time for this nation to re-focus toward Asia and immediately set about bringing into the Washington power structure as many brilliant young Asian-Americans as we can.

CIA's Directorate of Ops is an excellent place to start. Start recruiting top Indian-American and Arab-American grads now. Reuel Marc Gerecht has good suggestions in his Weekly Standard articles.

posted by: lex on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Sen. Roberts' ideas are interesting, but there are many reasons to believe nothing fundamental will be done this year either by Congress or within the executive branch. It may be that a special session after the election should be considered, just to consider intelligence matters, but otherwise campaign pressures and the conflicting recommendations of Roberts and the 9/11 Commission mean Congress won't be able to resolve a plan of action until the spring.

posted by: Zathras on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

Two thoughts. First, I'm going to play the cynic here, and suggest that CIA's problems with the Roberts plan are predominantly parochial. It will dramatically cut into their leverage. Right now, CIA analysts dominate the "interagency process" between intelligence organizations, through their control of the National Intelligence Council -- which formulates National Intelligence Estimates. A reorganization that places the Intelligence Estimates in the hands of a National Intelligence Director with equal capacity to draw on people from all the analytic components will dilute CIA's starring role.

Second, I wondier if it's possible or desirable to consolidate control of intelligence away from the consumers, like State and Defense. The CIA was, initially such an effort, reassembling the old branches of the disbanded OSS. The old Research and Analysis component was taken away from State (where it eventually morphed into the DI), and the Strategic Services Unit was taken away from the Pentagon (where it eventually morphed into the DO). However, in the intervening years, the Pentagon has regrown a robust paramilitary option in the Special Operations Command, a reasonable human intelligence capability, and even spawned its own analytic wing at the DIA. Similarly, the State Department has the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, its own analytic wing, essentially duplicating the functions that were taken away from it back in 1947.

Organizations that need intelligence to perform their proper roles will always need people who look at data from their perspective -- to tell them what's important to them. Such organizations will be far more in touch with what they need, and be far more willing to put resources into new developements -- witness the eventual concentration of technical collection over in the Pentagon, while the CIA's own attempts at MASINT and SIGINT withered by comparison.

Am I barking up the wrong tree here?

posted by: Ray Yang on 08.24.04 at 11:46 AM [permalink]

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