In yet another example of how the 9/11 Commission got its facts and its recommendations completely wrong, the Washington Post reports this morning that the Pentagon has expanded its domestic intelligence surveillance — mainly by creating even more agencies and bureaucracies in competition with other resources already in place. Now, Walter Pincus doesn’t write the article with that point in mind; he wants to frighten people with the thought that Bush has become Big Brother, or wants to allow Don Rumsfeld to do so:
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.
The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts — including protecting military facilities from attack — to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department’s push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.
“We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.
The efforts even include an Able Danger-like program, serviced by AD contractor White Oak Technologies, to perform data harvesting on commercially-available information databases. Each branch of the military service now has its own domestic surveillance program, even the Marine Corps, which as part of the Department of the Navy should have had access to naval intelligence. While civil libertarians will scream bloody murder at these efforts, in wartime our military bases as well as our cities, power plants, water supply, food infrastructure, and many other key domestic points require protection from sabotage.
The problem doesn’t spring from domestic surveillance itself but the ridiculous number of agencies now set up to perform it. That alphabet soup creates two main problems, both of which could easily be foreseen in the Omission Commission’s glib solution of slapping two layers of bureacracy on top of the intelligence structure at the time, rather than really reorganize American intelligence to fit the current threat posture we see in today’s world.
The first problem comes from gap and overlap; with this many agencies all looking at the same mission, each with its own bureaucracy and turf to protect, expect a lot of inefficient duplication of effort and lack of sharing of data. Since these little agencies will in all likelihood follow the same kinds of dynamics that all little agencies exhibit and communicate poorly with each other, we can expect gaps to develop without any detection or accountablity.
The second problem comes closer to Pincus’ concern — how to manage all of these agencies to ensure that they follow the rules properly while generating good data for enforcement. The more of these independent agencies that get spawned, the more difficult oversight becomes. In fact, it becomes more difficult to understand even basic borders like jurisdiction, let alone overreach.
All of this mischief started with the Commission’s celebration of bureaucracy as the salvation of intelligence. Rather than demand a complete restructuring of the myriad intelligence entities in the US into two or three agencies — one each for foreign, domestic, and military intel — the Commission claimed that data-sharing was hampered not by artificial divisions of labor between bureaucracies but not enough layers of bureaucracy above the agencies themselves. It demanded (and received) two additional layers of management between the actual intel gatherers and the decision makers of the government.
Now we continue to pay the price, with a new explosion of intel agencies. History has shown us that these discrete groups will work professionally but insularly, and that the pieces that each discover will only generate the threat assessment necessary after a catastrophic attack — when everyone demands to see the records leading up to the disaster to determine what went wrong. It will apparently take another 9/11 to wake Americans up to the danger of this wrongheaded approach, unfortunately.