October 12, 2005

THIRD WAY INTELLIGENCE (via Robert Schwartz):

The Spymasters and Their Masters: How to fix the CIA? "Get rid of the clowns." (GABRIEL SCHOENFELD, October 11, 2005, Opinion Journal)

What is wrong with the CIA and how to make it right? In the wake of recent intelligence disasters, including 9/11, all sorts of "experts"--scholars, former and current CIA officers, government commissioners--have lined up to ponder the question and hoist the banner of reform. The latest float in the parade, held aloft by Adm. Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter's director of central intelligence, is dispiriting to behold.

In "Burn Before Reading," Adm. Turner examines one matter above all others: How have American presidents interacted with their intelligence chiefs? It sounds like a narrow line of inquiry, but it proves to be revealing in all sorts of ways. He considers the authority that presidents have vested in their intelligence chiefs; the collisions among varying bureaucracies; and, most engagingly, the personalities and peccadilloes of chiefs before and after Adm. Turner himself, beginning with Wild Bill Donovan under FDR and ending with George Tenet under George W. Bush. [...]

Of all the presidents surveyed here, Nixon led the way in drenching the CIA with contempt. "What the hell do those clowns do out there in Langley," he is quoted as complaining at one point. "What use are they? They've got forty thousand people over there reading newspapers." At another point he grumbled that the agency "tells me nothing I don't read three days earlier in the New York Times." And at yet another he ordered an aide to fire Helms and clean the agency's house: "Get rid of the clowns--cut personnel 40 percent. Its info is worthless." [...]

Adm. Turner concludes his book by suggesting various ways to redraw the organizational chart so that intelligence will be better coordinated. His proposals are reasonable as far as they go, which is not very far at all. The picture of bureaucratic indolence that emerges from this informative book suggests that Richard Nixon was basically right. If we want to fix the CIA, maybe the first thing we need to do, if it has not already been done after 9/11, is to "get rid of the clowns."

In fact, the problem is that they don't just read the newspaper and other open sources, prefering generally useless or counterproductive "secret" information and methods instead. With the very rare exception of someone whose life is in danger because they are supplying us with information, all intelligence materials should be open and available for public criticism. Nothing should be kept secret and theories should be subjected to market forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 12, 2005 8:41 AM

They need more open source intelligence, but they also need to reform the bureaucratic structure to encourage competitive intelligence assessments.

Too much intelligence is funneled up a chain, and consense is expected all along the way.

As a political risk analyst, I can say that the safest call in such analysis is "no change." Unfortunately, clients (whether government or private sector) want to know about instances where you expect departures from the status quo. The consensus building approach to intelligence reporting usually discourage such predictions from ever seeing the light of day. That's not particularly useful.

Posted by: kevin whited at October 13, 2005 12:16 PM