Predictable: Turf war in Intelligence

posted at 7:05 pm on June 9, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

When the 9/11 Commission insisted that American intelligence needed reorganization for better efficiency, I doubt that too many disagreed.  After all, we had missed key signs leading to the 9/11 attacks thanks in part to intelligence stovepiping within the executive branch, as well as the ridiculous “wall” that kept counterterrorism and law-enforcement agencies from working in concert to bolster national security.  However, when the panel proposed a reorganization that just slapped a couple of extra layers of management on top of the myriad intel services rather than a true reorganization and streamlining, many of us predicted that the new structure would lead to a new round of uncontrolled expansion and turf wars.

The former began almost immediately, and today, a big turf war has broken into public view between CIA Director Leon Panetta and DNI Dennis Blair:

On May 19, Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, sent a classified memorandum announcing that his office would use its authority to select the top American spy in each country overseas.

One day later, Leon E. Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sent a dispatch of his own. Ignore Mr. Blair’s message, Mr. Panetta wrote to agency employees; the C.I.A. was still in charge overseas, a role that C.I.A. station chiefs had jealously guarded for decades.

The dispute has posed an early test for both spymasters, with Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, now trying to negotiate a truce. The behind-the-scenes battle shows the intensity of struggles continuing between intelligence agencies whose roles were left ill defined after a structural overhaul in 2004 that was intended to harness greater cooperation and put an end to internecine fights.

Technically, Blair outranks Panetta.  Congress acted on the 9/11 Commission’s plan and put the DNI as the Cabinet-level official that coordinated with the President on all intelligence matters.  That demoted the DCI to a subordinate role, comparable to the rest of the various intel agencies that report through the Directorate of National Intelligence.

However, Panetta is a political pick, chosen by Obama for his political abilities, not for his non-existent background in intelligence.  Panetta understands the critical nature in politics of protecting turf.  Furthermore, Panetta has more access to the President as a political choice than Blair’s other subordinates.  Blair understands this as well, which is why the two men are butting heads with just a few months of their respective appointments, to the point of making a national spectacle of themselves.

Unfortunately, this is the nature of political bureaucracies, one of the reasons we criticized the creation of the intelligence directorate from the start.  Instead of drawing clear lines in a streamlined organization and assuring rapid evaluation of intel by the highest levels of government, the DNI structure puts more roadblocks on intel, more layers between the President and those who gather the intel, and it creates opportunities for time- and resource-wasting internecine fights.  In the middle of a war, one would hope that two people in charge of a critical front would learn to get along better than this, but the problem is built into the DNI structure.

Obama needs to impose an immediate solution between the two, but Congress needs to rethink its adoption of some very bad advice from the 9/11 Commission.  Instead of expanding bureaucracies, we need to eliminate it and completely restructure American intelligence into one or two coherent organizations that act with speed and expertise to the challenges we face.  Perhaps we need an intel director with some actual intel experience the next time, too.


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Instead of expanding bureaucracies, we need to eliminate it and completely restructure American intelligence into one or two coherent organizations that act with speed and expertise to the challenges we face.

True, but imagine the turf war that would create.

Wethal on June 9, 2009 at 7:09 PM

I’m shocked! Not. Last good DCI was Bill Casey who first pioneered the notion of a cabinet level seat for DCI. Its been downhill from there.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 7:11 PM

Perhaps we need an intel director with some actual intel experience the next time, too.

Sure that’s what we need, but people are being appointed by a President devoid of actual executive experience so why break tradition?

Bishop on June 9, 2009 at 7:11 PM

Don’t forget that the Boy Scouts are taking away some of the turf.

trustreagan on June 9, 2009 at 7:13 PM

” Instead of expanding bureaucracies, we need to eliminate it and completely restructure American intelligence into one or two coherent organizations that act with speed and expertise to the challenges we face.”

Of course that is the right thing to do…………..

………. up next, Intelligence Czar, and a new level of bureaucracy.

Seven Percent Solution on June 9, 2009 at 7:14 PM

Instead of drawing clear lines in a streamlined organization and assuring rapid evaluation of intel by the highest levels of government, the DNI structure puts more roadblocks on intel, more layers between the President and those who gather the intel…

This assumes that Obama wants to know what’s really going on outside of D.C..

Jinxed on June 9, 2009 at 7:17 PM

Seven Percent Solution on June 9, 2009 at 7:14 PM

Beat me to it.

Hard to pick which one of the czars is the scariest at this point.

freeus on June 9, 2009 at 7:18 PM

Do you remember the olden days when Kremlinologists had to look at the seating arrangements of Communist gatherings to find out who was hot and who was not, regardless of their organizational chart?

We’ll have to figure out some similar methodology for the Obamanation.

Loxodonta on June 9, 2009 at 7:21 PM

Obama needs to impose an immediate solution

Unless it involves spending money, the word “immediate” won’t register with him.

Panetta was a poor pick because of his political ties. The last thing we need is appeasement of the whiny left leaders when it comes to national security. The terrorists aren’t going to wait while our government works on building bridges, they just want to blow them up.

sherry on June 9, 2009 at 7:21 PM

A turf war to appoint the top spies makes the news.
There’s a lot wrong with this picture.

poteen on June 9, 2009 at 7:22 PM

Hey I know let’s pull out one of Clinton’s nightmare’s and place that walking man caused disaster Jaime Gorelick in charge of reforming Intel. We can call her the new “Intelligence Czar”.

She just did such a great job at Justice blinding our defenses prior to 9/11 that she should help Obama now. Also did a bang up job of covering her complicity while on the 9/11 Commission then pulled the hat trick by helping to sink Fannie Mae.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 7:22 PM

Do you remember the olden days when Kremlinologists had to look at the seating arrangements of Communist gatherings to find out who was hot and who was not, regardless of their organizational chart?

We’ll have to figure out some similar methodology for the Obamanation.

Loxodonta on June 9, 2009 at 7:21 PM

You know I don’t remember, but funny post!

Upstater85 on June 9, 2009 at 7:27 PM

I can hardly wait untill we have the $$$ / turf wars over healthcare.

Something like this AP headline:

Housing Czar demands more money from Obama, Health Czar says she’s been shut out of the process. Student Loan Czar sides with Housing Czar.

r keller on June 9, 2009 at 7:27 PM

In the middle of a war, one would hope that two people in charge of a critical front would learn to get along better than this, but the problem is built into the DNI structure.

i hope it does not take an other 9/11 to figure this boondoggle out

SHARPTOOTH on June 9, 2009 at 7:34 PM

OT (sorry): Drudge reports SCOTUS will not stop sale of Chrysler to Fiat.

Wethal on June 9, 2009 at 7:36 PM

The first major terrorism cases they cracked was catching the killer of Tilller the Killer. One of the folks at church got his vehicle plate number. Scotland Yard would be proud.

This case was so massive.

seven on June 9, 2009 at 7:36 PM

“elduende on June 9, 2009 at 7:22 PM”

How do you really know that Jaime Gorelick isn’t George Soro’s direct liaison to the White House, pulling both Rahm Emanuel’s and Obama’s strings directly……..?

………… Chilling, isn’t it?

Seven Percent Solution on June 9, 2009 at 7:36 PM

After all, we had missed key signs leading to the 9/11 attacks thanks in part to intelligence stovepiping within the executive branch, as well as the ridiculous “wall” that kept counterterrorism and law-enforcement agencies from working in concert to bolster national security.

The criticisms of Panetta as an apparatchik don’t give credit to the fact that he has seemingly resisted the bureaucratic role more than once, such as contradicting P-P-Pelosi, reducing her to a stuttering totem for the liberals. While it would make sense to improve the efficiencies of our intelligence apparatus, isn’t tying the hands of the CIA the same as stovepiping them and requiring them to wear blinders? What they will not be able to see may be exact situations that make us less safe. I would feel more comfortable with multiple agencies covering the view than praying that there aren’t blind spots because some computer system that would track the agents and their responsibilities that wasn’t programmed correctly.

10intx on June 9, 2009 at 7:39 PM

Saw this coming long long before my 28 May posting in the Greenroom.

Anyone in DC who actually believed that the creation of the ODNI would streamline the process shows a significant lack of intelligence.

What makes matters worse is that DNI Dennis C. Blair is one of those military officers who rose to prominence because of a connection to former President Clinton far more than owing to general competence overall. In the same category as Wesley Clark, and Arkansan whose proximity to the former President overshadowed everything else, Blair has the same sort of timeline in his rise to greatness. Also, in much the same way as Clark befriending Radko Mladic, Serbian general who precipitated the ethnic cleansing and other war crimes in the Balkans, Blair muddled things up by his not following orders to tell Indonesian General Wiranto to cease and desist, instead offering Wiranto military support and personal assurances during the bloody East Timor debacle in 1999. And then there was his being on the board of directors of EDO, a sub-contractor for the F-22 Raptor, at the same time making recommendations as head of Institute for Defense Analyses, charged with reviewing the F-22 program for the Pentagon. In essence, rules are for other less significant people, not Blair, nor, Clark.

Blair served with Clark, not surprisingly, as a White House fellow from 1975-76.

It was Blair, for example, who in January 2009, insisted that CIA follow the US Army Field Manual for interrogation, disregarding that CIA is not subordinate to the Army, nor the Pentagon, and has a unique position within the Executive Branch hierarchy. To suggest that CIA subordinate its practices to those of a tactical Army field manual shows somewhat of a misunderstanding of the role of covert intelligence versus combat intelligence at the tactical level.

Thus, in much the same manner as Clark, Blair has an exaggerated concept of self-importance. After all, he is so well educated…

Panetta, on the other hand is a slugger…and is task oriented far more than he is your average political hack. Panetta’s arrival in Langley initially viewed as a disaster in the making in many circles has turned out to be a rather successful marriage. He has made good strides in his working with he folks at CIAS, is a listener, and apparently has an ability to cut to the chase rather than dither, vital when it comes to managing CIA.

I’ll put my eggs in the Panetta basket on this one.

Obama can easily end the infighting…should he choose to do so…and Congress really does need to review the entirety of the ODNI…from a factual perspective, not another knee-jerk reaction to the 9-11 Commission.

I wouldn’t place any bets on either one of these to happen in the current circumstances. Above everyone’s pay grade.

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 7:39 PM

Seven Percent Solution on June 9, 2009 at 7:14 PM
Beat me to it.

Hard to pick which one of the czars is the scariest at this point.

freeus on June 9, 2009 at 7:18 PM

Well, at least we do not have a pay czar anymore. Instead we get the Special Master on Compensation.

ICBM on June 9, 2009 at 7:40 PM

Abolish the tax code and open up the applicant pool.

wonk-a-donk on June 9, 2009 at 7:43 PM

Whoever has the best file on Obama wins.

Dork B. on June 9, 2009 at 7:46 PM

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 7:39 PM

Thank you for the insights. How is Panetta doing on increasing human intelligence resources?

Wethal on June 9, 2009 at 7:46 PM

………… Chilling, isn’t it?

Seven Percent Solution on June 9, 2009 at 7:36 PM

On a whim I wikied her name…

She is currently a law partner in the Washington office of WilmerHale…”A team of WilmerHale attorneys currently represents the “Algerian Six”, a group of men who fell under suspicion of planning to attack the US embassy in Bosnia and who are now held in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp.”… “argued to the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush which upheld habeas corpus rights for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

I should have known this turd would have ended up in a place where she could do as much damage to the nation as possible…which is why she is a shoe in for the obama white house.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 7:48 PM

Panetta, on the other hand is a slugger…and is task oriented far more than he is your average political hack. Panetta’s arrival in Langley initially viewed as a disaster in the making in many circles has turned out to be a rather successful marriage. He has made good strides in his working with he folks at CIAS, is a listener, and apparently has an ability to cut to the chase rather than dither, vital when it comes to managing CIA.

I’ll put my eggs in the Panetta basket on this one. coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 7:39 PM

I’m more sanguine on Panetta. He is still first and foremost a political hack and began his tenure with zero margin for error with the Agency. His credibility is on the line and has had that credibility undercut by Pelosi (lying to congress) and Obama (Interrogation memos).

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 8:00 PM

Hey I know let’s pull out one of Clinton’s nightmare’s and place that walking man caused disaster Jaime Gorelick in charge of reforming Intel. We can call her the new “Intelligence Czar”.

She just did such a great job at Justice blinding our defenses prior to 9/11 that she should help Obama now. Also did a bang up job of covering her complicity while on the 9/11 Commission then pulled the hat trick by helping to sink Fannie Mae.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 7:22 PM

One of the biggest jokes relating to the 9/11 “Commission” was that Gorelick was one of the Commissioners. She should have instead been a witness under oath.

In fact, when another witness testified under oath and said the same thing, he was roundly booed by all of the Clinton kneepads in the gallery.

That witness was Attorney General John Ashcroft. Had a sitting Democrat AG been booed like that while giving testimony under oath, the Left would angrily claim that those doing the booing were “unpatriotic”.

Del Dolemonte on June 9, 2009 at 8:06 PM

I thought Mr. Morrisey was talking out of his hat until we reached this sentence:

Instead of expanding bureaucracies, we need to eliminate it and completely restructure American intelligence into one or two coherent organizations that act with speed and expertise to the challenges we face.

And then Voila!, we were copacetic again. But we do know that the CIA doesn’t work and maybe never has worked.
Good save, Morrisey.

thegreatbeast on June 9, 2009 at 8:07 PM

Ed,

Panetta is IMO a close to ideal choice as CIA Director. The job needs a high-powered political operator with the President’s ear far more than it needs an intelligence professional. Consider how successful Bill Casey was. He had some World War Two intelligence experience, but he was not at all an intelligence professional. He was a political operator first and foremost.

Your other comments about a need for more centralization have more merit. But we couldn’t have a better CIA Director than Leon Panetta in a Democratic administration.

Tom_Holsinger on June 9, 2009 at 8:16 PM

Chief of station picks are all about politics. No matter who makes them, they will never be about “intelligence” in the professional skill-set sense. And there are valid reasons for that. It’s something the community lives with.

Blair needs to win this battle. CIA will never function properly as an intelligence agency — instead of a bullpen for aspiring policymakers — until its ability to leverage backdoor political ties with Congress and the media is shut down.

I say this as a career intel professional. There are good people at CIA, but because of its clout with Congress — as a source of leaks and spin — the Agency plays too much in politics. The back of that mangled superhero needs to be broken.

I don’t trust Obama with either the DNI office or the DCI calling the community shots. But as a long-term issue, CIA needs tough supervision. DNI was a good idea; we’re just still fighting the skirmishes to make it what it was supposed to be.

J.E. Dyer on June 9, 2009 at 8:16 PM

The should just be ONE intelligence agency with domestic and foreign departments. You want as good as communication as possible between entities.

Mojave Mark on June 9, 2009 at 8:24 PM

I’m going with coldwarrior on this one.

But really, I just want the matter settled so that they can get back to the whole keeping me safe thing.

myrenovations on June 9, 2009 at 8:26 PM

Whoever has the best file on Obama wins.

Dork B. on June 9, 2009 at 7:46 PM

… and stuffs the most files into their underwear.

moonbatkiller on June 9, 2009 at 8:27 PM

Obama needs to impose an immediate solution between the two

Yes he does but why should he? He’s the only that can resolve the issue, and in fighting leaves him as the ultimate umpire. Sure Congress can chime in but the bureaucrats will know who holds the ear of the man. Might explain why all the “czars” have been appointed.

bonz on June 9, 2009 at 8:27 PM

Wasn’t Spy vs. Spy in a comic book? But then again, we have Alfred E Neuman running the White House.
“What, me worry?”

KDB on June 9, 2009 at 8:29 PM

Comparing Casey to Panetta is a joke. Casey was a successful DCI because he was accepted by the community.The agency knew that Casey came to fight all comers foreign and domestic, he strengthened the role and MORALE at the agency, and he was an uncompromising advocate for the agency in Congress – basically the people who had their asses one the line trusted him. Panetta came in on thin ice because 1) he does not understand or appreciate the culture 2) is only a political hack placed for political reasons (not even an academic) and 3) comes from an administration that is hostile to the intelligence and defense communities. Placing Panetta at the agency was seen as a signal to the agency by obama that they were not as important as the DNI nor is the community as a whole. That’s not speculation that is a fact.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 8:47 PM

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 8:47 PM

Casey was also very successful in using a career’s worth of business contacts across the globe to facilitate entree for CIA ops and to get key members of various foreign governments to lean to the Right when necessary. Yes, as posted above, Casey’s actual intelligence background was limited to WWII and the OSS, but he never stopped being an operator, made him a very successful businessman and a key political figure behind the throne more than once.

As for Panetta, his charge when he was given the DCI post was to get CIA’s house in order. And he is working toward this, following the lead former DCI Michael Hayden set, and Panetta does consider CIA as “his people” thus he works hard to protect and provide for them, at almost a personal level, at the same time he is pushing the Agency from the analysts to the operations officers to do more, better, with less, but to get it right above all else, and he is trying to end the roadblocks and boundaries between various collectors and various analysts as well as encouraging the best from academia, following Bill Donovan’s lead, it seems, to enhance CIA’s capability in getting it right above all else.

From the fragmentary commentary I’ve seen over the past few months, CIA has warmed to him considerably.

Blair, on the other hand…

As DNI Blair could in his capacity force a sit-down, even if Obama won’t. And, as a professional one would expect this sort of thing rather than the public bickering and turf chunking sort of thing we’ve seen as well over the past few months. Kids do that sort of thing. Professional intelligence officials one would hope would disdain that sort of thing.

My opinion? Blair is out of his league. He should do the right thing, disband the ODNI and return vital assets to those agencies and organizations that had them Shanghied in the first place, when that monstrosity ODNI, was established.

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 9:09 PM

Obama needs to impose an immediate solution between the two …

I would submit that it doesn’t matter much at this point. The morale of the CIA has been shot to hell in a handbasket between Obama’s condemnation of waterboarding and Nancy Pelosi’s “they lie all the time” charge.

It’s like the Star Trek show, where the Enterprise drops out of Warp and suddenly realizes the shields are broke and there are 5 Klingon Bird’s of Prey waiting.

We are now flying without a net.

HondaV65 on June 9, 2009 at 9:19 PM

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 9:09 PM

I’m disinclined to give Panetta the benefit of the doubt because of the poisonous pedigree he carries but since you say you hear some in the agency are warming to him…who am I to argue? I know no one over there anymore.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 9:24 PM

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 9:24 PM

Panetta’s defense of CIA from the Pelosi attacks was a good indicator. A less confident appointee would have caved to such an influential member of Congress, and of the Party. Panetta gained brownie points at Langley for that in a big way.

His fight to keep the EIT results memoes under wraps is also something that should be applauded. We can take down the Dems assertions that EIT’s do not work by using other means, and without providing the bad guys a point by point lesson plan to thwart future efforts by doing the logical political thing, releasiong the complete set of memoes, as many have called for.

Panetta is resisting this, while his titular boss, Blair, seems inclined to get them out, regardless.

This turf battle is about more than who gets to choose the COS for each overseas station. The ODNI wants operational control over intelligence, especially covert ops and recruitment of assets, rather than serve as a final filter and clearinghouse for communitywide intelligence, as its original charter directed.

gience

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 9:30 PM

J.E. Dyer on June 9, 2009 at 8:16 PM

Just wondering what institutional change has taken place that precludes ODNI from playing the same game with the media and Congress that the CIA has? I mean they have to justify their budget and protect their people like everyone else. The DC swamp has certain rules and either everyone plays the game or they get swallowed.

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 9:30 PM

How’s your boy Woolsey doing? ;-)

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 9:40 PM

Obama needs to impose an immediate solution between the two…

Yeah, President W/Vast Executive Experience will get right on that! PRESENT!

GarandFan on June 9, 2009 at 9:43 PM

How’s your boy Woolsey doing? ;-)

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 9:40 PM

Doing quite well, actually. Making the rounds, still working on alternative bio-mass energy, and doing speaking engagements, and turning more and more to the Right with each passing day.

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 9:46 PM

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 9:46 PM

Amen brother! Good to hear.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 9:49 PM

Having spent 25 years as an intelligence analyst, I can say that the urge to create more elaborate, top heavy bureaucracies is apparently too enticing to resist. I saw it time after time with each new reorganization. It’s a wonder to me that there haven’t been more intelligence failures since the real problems go unaddressed.

NNtrancer on June 9, 2009 at 10:11 PM

NNtrancer on June 9, 2009 at 10:11 PM

As a few of us used to say at the Agency, each time we had to suffer through yet another reorganization, “The need for constantly reorganizing is the sure sign the guy at the top has no clue as to what he is doing.”

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 10:14 PM

Well, Coldwarrior, my impression is that each new guy at the top wanted to leave his mark, sort of like pissing on a tree, and the way to do it was to screw everything up.

NNtrancer on June 9, 2009 at 10:16 PM

NNtrancer on June 9, 2009 at 10:16 PM

To paraphrase Montgomery Burns, “I like the cut of your jib.” :-)

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 10:18 PM

Some day people will finally understand the fundamental reality of the CIA: they have a foreign policy agenda of their own.

rogersnowden on June 9, 2009 at 10:25 PM

rogersnowden on June 9, 2009 at 10:25 PM

We do?

coldwarrior on June 9, 2009 at 10:26 PM

Why do I get the feeling we are so screwed.

usedtobeinmich on June 9, 2009 at 11:36 PM

Among Panetta’s jobs during his time with Clinton, as OMB chief and then White House chief of staff, was to keep the CIA from causing political trouble for the Clinton administration, and as a general purpose hatchetman. The latter is reasonably well known. The former isn’t, because he was both successful and secretive about it.

I immediately recognized, when Panetta’s appointment as Obama’s CIA Director was announced, that a major part of his job would be to keep the CIA from doing to the Obama administration what it did to his predecessor’s administration, i.e., to reprise his CIA mission under Clinton. I somehow doubt this mission extends to protecting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from the CIA. And Panetta is a very effective, and discreet, hatchetman.

We should consider awarding style points for what happens to her.

Tom_Holsinger on June 9, 2009 at 11:44 PM

May it be possible this squabble is intended to force the legistalive impetus to restore all as it was 9/10/01 and prior? Except of course for DHS….can’t have right wing crazies going about unmonitored now can we….?

lpierson on June 10, 2009 at 12:26 AM

Put daddy Bush back in charge. He was the best back stabber evah!

Spiritk9 on June 10, 2009 at 1:55 AM

Obama needs to come up with a solution to this?Why would he?This is just the kind of situation he wants,so his masters can commit atrocities at will,and America will be defensless to stop them.

DDT on June 10, 2009 at 4:01 AM

This problem was one that was seen from the inside and the predictions, then, of expanded turf wars was something I wrote about early on. The INTEL Community (IC) needs to change and reformulate away from agencies and towards skills: this needs to be the common ‘turf’ which all analysts play in. The reason for that is self-evident: in Iraq where specialist knowledge was needed from other parts of government, it was not forthcoming.

The IC has had to change to meet ever mor sophisticated and low tech foes, ones who use simple methodologies to defeat technology. They can only hide artifacts, however, and those artifacts show up in a number of realms beyond the obvious. If you can look for them. Currently, we cannot easily do so. Even something as simple as using federal sources to pinpoint and neutralize the drug trade in Afghanistan is difficult due to ‘turf wars’. Your tax dollars go to subsidize big agribusiness, and yet the skills to locate drug production areas, understand local climate, find alternate cash crops, and fund a basic infrastructure to grow them does *not* go to Afghanistan but to places like Monsanto and Conagra.

Those who have retired from the IC or otherwise have left the IC for other life venues continue to worry about the problems that were present and ongoing when we left. Taming the turf wars requires changing the playing field. This can be seen just in the white world information available and needs no special access or knowledge, just a knowledge of how government turf battles operate. The IC is no different from the rest of government in that regard, and it is always shocking to those who put some special capability in the IC to actually be efficient, thorough-going and competent that, on average, the IC (outside of pure military realms) is no more efficient, capable or competent than, say, the Dept. of the Interior. Actually closer to the Dept. of Agriculture and that is damned scary…

To get to that playing field the ‘turf’ must be removed in the way of personnel control and bureaucracy for it, and a cross-analyst system for ALL elements of the IC set up that concentrates on doing tasks and using skills to do them. Agencies then become responsible for the skills necessary to complete tasks in sub-areas: they are expected to be competent, put out levels of competency and what they mean and give everyone an understanding that any analyst with that level of competence can actually do that job.

ajacksonian on June 10, 2009 at 9:00 AM

J.E. Dyer on June 9, 2009 at 8:16 PM

Just wondering what institutional change has taken place that precludes ODNI from playing the same game with the media and Congress that the CIA has? I mean they have to justify their budget and protect their people like everyone else. The DC swamp has certain rules and either everyone plays the game or they get swallowed.

elduende on June 9, 2009 at 9:40 PM

The pressure point you identify is properly on Congress, elduende. This is something that most folks don’t get. It isn’t actually possible to “fix” the intel community by reorganizing it, as long as the incentive remains for those in it to cultivate Congress by undermining administration policy.

This is actually a more active phenomenon when a Republican is in the White House, and the Democrats in Congress are looking for ways to undermine his policy. The Republicans don’t engage in this.

At any rate, the vulnerability of CIA before the reorg was that the DCI and his staff supervised the budget — hence policy — for the whole community (including DOD intel), AND the Agency wrote the NIEs. The vulnerability here between community policy and national policy should be obvious to anyone who knows Washington.

The big idea behind strengthening the DNI (who already existed before the reorg) was to shift community policy and budget authority to a level above the DCI. Separating the policy and straight intel/assessment functions was to institute a check and balance between the two functions.

It’s actually a good idea, IF it can be implemented honestly. It mimics the way the military runs its intel policymakers and its intel agencies — assessment mills — as separate entities.

But of course, it wasn’t implemented honestly. The biggest problem in that has been Congress, which allowed dishonest implementation because that was to the Democrats’ advantage.

There have, of course, been bureaucratic turf wars between the DNI and DCI, but the most significant way in which the intent of the reorg was undermined was in the institution of a special office in the DNI to “ensure quality of analysis” — in other words, vette analysis coming out of the Agency.

The man put in charge of that office was Thomas Fingar, a rabid opponent of Bush’s policies and long-time State Dept employee. (He later moved to chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the position Chas Freeman was nominated for this spring.) The Wall Street Journal recounts here how he and others with an agenda influenced the wording of the 2007 Iran NIE’s unclassified version.

Migrating analysis, or analysis oversight, functions into the DNI was not the intent of the intel reorganization. But it was no accident that this foothold for putting intel policy/budgetary functions and analytical oversight back together again was only enlarged with the new Democrat-controlled Congress, in January 2007. Readers may remember the flap over Pelosi’s choice of the more partisan and loyal Silvestre Reyes to chair the House Committee, over Jane Harman, a moderate Democrat with years of experience (and seniority) on the Committee. Even the Washington Post was disappointed in Pelosi’s and Reid’s decision not to overhaul Congress’ oversight structure for the IC, as reflected here.

Insiders reported that the previous collegiality of the intel committees in both chambers suffered greatly in the 110th Congress, under the new leadership of Reyes in the House and Rockefeller in the Senate. In a little-remarked move at the outset of the current 111th Congress, Pelosi stacked HPSCI more than ever before, shifting the Democrats’ advantage from 12-9 to 13-8 over House Republicans. Views of this move from both sides of the pundit spectrum.

With Obama in the WH and the Democrats exercising the intel oversight, we can expect intel to serve their agenda. But that is all a separate issue from the merits of the 2005 reorg attempt to separate the policy/budget functions of the community from the analysis. That attempt actually does have merit. It just has very little chance of being implemented with an honest approach by Congress — or the federal bureaucracy.

To think there is any other organizational approach that would work better is to err. Congress should not have let Fingar & Co sneak analytical, NIE-editing functions into the DNI office — but they did because he was Fingar, a source of bureaucratic opposition to Bush’s policies, and one that served Democrats in Congress well. No organizational scheme can overcome such powerful political forces.

J.E. Dyer on June 10, 2009 at 3:04 PM

I’m sorry this is about who has the “authority to select the top American spy in each country overseas?”

That’s rather ridiculous. That our top-level intelligence officials are pining themselves over such idiotic things as who gets to pin a gold star on the best James Bond – in each country. A gold star like all medals given by the intelligence community is: A) classified; and B) “shown to the agent in a the basement where all the medals are kept” (Former CIA Station Chief).

A further fact gleamed is that until now I don’t think it was known generally by the public that the Intelligence Community awards the “top American spy” in each country, as if this was still fifth grade and we’re still vying for the student of the year award. We knew that spy’s were given awards and medals, but not that it was country specific < or plural for that matter.

PresidenToor on June 10, 2009 at 6:22 PM