One of my main criticisms of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission was that the ultimate resolution called for a greater bureaucracy rather than a reorganization along functional lines. In other words, rather than take the alphabet soup of intelligence services and reorganize them into two agencies — FBI for all domestic counterintelligence and the CIA for everything else — the 9/11 Commission recommended that two more layers of management be added on top of all the existing agencies and that a new Director of National Intelligence would become the President’s sole advisor for all intelligence work.
At the same time, the 9/11 Commission recommended the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center to act as a clearinghouse for all these agencies to coordinate their efforts. Again, had the Commission exercised better judgment, the NCTC wouldn’t be necessary as the only coordination required would be between two agencies, the FBI and the CIA, with the President and his national-security advisor acting as arbiters on final policy. That history becomes important when analyzing the latest flack on the recommendations from the presidential investigative panel on WMD intelligence, whose recommendations have stirred controversy even before their release:
One proposal being questioned calls for restructuring the FBI’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations and analysis under one director, and having that individual report both to the new director of national intelligence as well as to the FBI director.
Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies, who had been briefed by FBI sources on the proposal, said that giving the DNI, whose prime concern is foreign intelligence, a role in domestic counterterrorism operations could create civil liberties issues. …
The panel makes suggestions for better organization of the intelligence community. The report acknowledges a “problem” in the potential conflict between the new position of DNI and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center but, according to sources, does not make a recommendation for addressing it. The position of DNI, which will be filled by Iraq Ambassador John D. Negroponte, and the NCTC were part of the intelligence reorganization legislation adopted by Congress in December. The NCTC’s mission is to fuse all foreign and domestic terrorism intelligence, and to conduct strategic planning for counterterrorism operations at home and abroad.
Under the new intelligence reform statute, the NCTC director is tasked to brief the president on counterterrorism operations, a role that some officials say will undercut the authority of the DNI, who is supposed to be the president’s chief adviser on all intelligence activities, including terrorism.
Again, had the 9/11 Commission thought about reducing bureaucracy to improve efficiency, the entire civil liberties issue would have remained moot, or nearly so. By blurring the lines of management between domestic and foreign CT but not creating any partnerships between the two in the trenches, the 9/11 Commission gave us literally the worst of both worlds. We still have multiple agencies doing intelligence work, especially overseas, but they don’t coordinate at all except at the executive level. Instead of allowing the president greater access to raw information and the primary analysts, two more layers of political appointments have been added between them. And for panels which faulted two administrations for not having enough contrarians in positions of authority to challenge the conventional wisdom, both seem far too eager to promote the DNI as the only person allowed to advise presidents on intelligence matters.
Now we have a conflict between the NCTC and the DNI, and possibly between the FBI and both of them, as the top-heavy bureaucracy starts to sink our responsiveness and efficiency at gathering intelligence and acting on it. I propose that we start over from scratch, using the template of two agencies only to maintain the customary divide between domestic and foreign CT activities to protect civil liberties, but which will allow greater cooperation in the field and more efficiency at information gathering and analysis. Make the domestic agency separate from the FBI and the Department of Justice, if necessary, so that both agencies can then report to the president.
Most importantly, let’s get rid of the excess bureaucracy that causes petty jurisdictional infighting like we see now. None of that makes us any safer, now or in the future.