Reforming the Intelligence Community

by N. M. GUARIGLIA June 21, 2012

The intelligence recommendations put forth in the 9/11 Commission Report advocated greater collaboration between the nation's intelligence agencies.  Yet in the last few years, there have been at least three attempted terrorist attacks against the United States that were avoided strictly due to luck (and the incompetence of the enemy operative).

It stands to reason that there still are systemic problems within the intelligence community.  The intelligence community has either not adequately implemented the recommendations of the previous decade, or has implemented the wrong ones in ways that consider rethinking.  What the intelligence community needs is nothing short of restructuring on the magnitude that the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act reformed the command structure of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The intent of intelligence reform must be to bring greater clarity of purpose to the mission at hand.  As such, the spirit of reform could best be described with three principles: a) downsize; b) decentralize; and c) risk-incentivize.  The intelligence bureaucracy has grown too large, its overhead is too costly, and the responsibilities of subset agencies have a tendency to overlap.  Changes to the structure and culture of the intelligence community will be difficult, but it can be done.  The U.S. can start with the following:

- Abolish the Office of the Director of National Intelligence: DNI is an extra level of bureaucracy between the President and the CIA Director.  There have been four DNIs in seven years of its existence and the office has authority in name only.  The CIA should reassume its traditional role in overseeing all foreign intelligence.

- Abolish the Department of Homeland Security: DHS has overlapping responsibilities with the FBI and other domestic intelligence agencies

- Split the FBI: The Bureau should be divided into two branches: Law Enforcement and National Security.  The National Security Branch should incorporate relevant DHS agencies and oversee domestic intelligence and counterterrorism.

- Privatize OSINT Collection and Analysis: With exponential progress in information technology, open-source information (OSINT) will become more pervasive.  This leads to "data avalanche," akin to having all the paint in the world-but no painting.  When and where it can, the intelligence community should outsource certain data collection and analysis responsibilities to private entities specializing in the required area of expertise.  There is less need to create and train an entirely new, expensive, and complicated information technology bureaucracy when the intelligence community can simply hire preexisting professionals at a fair rate.  The same model should be applied to cyber-security and surveillance firms.

- Changing the Culture: The aforementioned structural reforms would help create a positive change of culture throughout the intelligence community.  Continuing this trend within the CIA specifically would be paramount.  It could be done in three ways.

1) Back to Basics: The CIA does several things very well.  Chief among them are covert action and counterintelligence.  The focus of the CIA should be in generating results in these fields, and in concentrating on the future trajectory of these practices.  Should the CIA continue to accept jurisdiction over new responsibilities that fall outside of its traditional purview, it will render itself impotent.  The CIA's unofficial motto ought to be: "For the other things, there are others."

2) More HUMINT Abroad: The CIA was once a small, exclusive network comprised of highly motivated patriots skilled in the art of espionage.  The CIA still employs such individuals, though it would serve the nation well if it hereafter only employed such people.  The CIA's reputation no longer precedes it.  The Agency hires too many domestic analysts and has too many domestic offices.  The bulk of the CIA's employees should be clandestine officers conducting human intelligence overseas.

3) Operational Freedom: Clandestine officers abroad become risk-adverse when all of their movements and actions must be catalogued and approved by immediate superiors.  The CIA should place less emphasis on adhering to the intelligence hierarchy and more on operational freedom.  The CIA should incentivize its field officers to exert greater authority over their missions.  This will avoid timely delays in actionable intelligence, unnecessary fear of failure, and widespread brain-drain.  Should there be a failure, as there inevitably will, the proper lessons can be learned by hiring officers and appointing directors unafraid to resign.

Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.


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