Why Do We Have a Director of National Intelligence?

by N. M. GUARIGLIA July 12, 2012

After reading Matthew M. Aid's Intel Wars, the U.S. intelligence community's ineptitude is clear.  The problem is not funding.  During its eight years, the Bush administration poured $500 billion into the intelligence community.  This flood of money, however, led only to more overlap and redundancy. 

As it stands today, the intelligence community is comprised of about 208,000 civilians and military service members, and 30,000 private contractors in over 170 countries.  The intelligence community is split between the Pentagon's intelligence apparatus (about 100,000 men and women), and the newly created Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which contains the other half.  Although the DNI was created to be in charge over all U.S. intelligence, this hasn't been the case.  The Pentagon won a bureaucratic battle to stay outside the authority of the DNI. 

Additionally, the DNI has served only as an extra layer of red-tape and needless bureaucracy.  It has little say on budgetary matters.  It is an almost powerless post.  The intelligence recommendations put forth in the 9/11 Commission Report advocated greater collaboration between the nation's intelligence agencies, and suggested the creation of the DNI as a means to do that.  But the office of the DNI has not been a success.  There have been four DNIs in its seven years of existence and the office has authority in name only.

The post of Director of National Intelligence should be abolished.  My old professors at the Institute of World Politics-almost all of whom were practitioners in the intelligence community-would agree.  The creation of the DNI was a knee-jerk political response to the failure to prevent 9/11.  It seemed to make sense in 2004, but it no longer makes sense today.  It is a counterproductive layer of government. 

In its place, the rest of the intelligence community needs a 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 and its overhead is too costly.

One of the smartest counterintelligence minds in Washington D.C., who will remain nameless, has underscored this concept to his students: national intelligence strategy must follow policy.  That is to say, if the United States is to have an effective intelligence apparatus, there should be a clear focus as to the intended target. 

The most obvious cases of espionage against the United States come from Russia and China, and the most urgent counterintelligence cases come in the form of state sponsorship of Islamist terrorism.  Therefore, the American focus should be on these three targets.  Surprisingly, this is not so.  Instead, the intelligence community often finds itself like a chicken with its head cut off, chasing unpromising leads and collecting useless intelligence, which results in what Aid calls "data avalanche."

If the intelligence community is to truly reform, simplicity is key.  On an abstract organizational level, the U.S. requires just three intelligence agencies: a military intelligence service at the Pentagon, a foreign intelligence service at the CIA, and a domestic intelligence service at the FBI.  The other intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency (which does signals intelligence) or the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (which does imagery intelligence) should, in theory, fall under the authority of the military (the Secretary of Defense) in theaters of war, and under the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence (the civilians at CIA) outside theaters of war.

Bridging the gap between military intelligence and civilian intelligence should be the strategic purpose of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's spy service, whereas bridging the gap between domestic intelligence at the FBI and foreign intelligence at the CIA should occur where the FBI and CIA each share a responsibility: the realm of counterintelligence.

The CIA's counterintelligence strategy should be offensive and foreign in nature, for that is where its legal jurisdiction lies.  The FBI's counterintelligence doctrine should evolve more into a defensive counterespionage strategy, for this is a subset of counterintelligence. 

Whereas the CIA should be focused on foreign intelligence services like Pakistan's ISI, the FBI should be focused on foreign individual spies that have already infiltrated the United States.  After all, anti-American espionage is not simply a thing of the past.  Many spies have been arrested since the end of the Cold War, such as Robert Hanssen, Richard Ames, Earl Pitts, Ana Montes, and others.

The intelligence community can be reformed but it will require more effort than simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  It will require getting rid of impotent positions and unclear authorities, not creating new ones.  Currently, the only purpose of the DNI is to take the fall should something within the intelligence community go wrong.  It is clear that the intelligence community would be better off without the DNI.

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


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