In “slow rolling” the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations on intelligence reorganization, the White House has come up with something even worse for the nation’s security. The Congress would do better to pass nothing rather than this abomination. Instead, the most effective solution to improving U.S. national security is proper funding and staffing of the existing Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the streamlining and consolidation of the government’s numerous intelligence agencies.
In a hyper-charged election environment that requires a show of progress in correcting the intelligence failures of 9/11, the Bush administration is supporting the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to create the new post of national intelligence director. But the White House is adopting the chaff of the commission’s recommendations and discarding the wheat.
Remembering that a lack of coordination hampered the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to thwart the attacks, the commission recommended the new national intelligence director to ride herd over the cacophony of 15 agencies. Unlike the current titular Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), who is also the Director of the CIA, the commission’s new director would have meaningful control over all of the agencies through authority over their budgets and personnel decisions. Currently, the DCI has control of only 5 percent of intelligence funds-the budget of the CIA. In contrast, the Secretary of Defense controls 80 percent of intelligence monies.
The Bush administration decided that it would be politically incorrect to oppose the creation of the new intelligence director. So senior officials tried the old bureaucratic ploy of supporting the position but emasculating it by not providing much budget or personnel authority. While adding another layer of bureaucracy to exacerbate the original coordination problem, the administration essentially supports replacing one bureaucratic eunuch with another. This result seems like crossing a donkey with a horse to come up with a sterile mule.
Instead, the administration should have had the political courage to reject the commission’s recommendation outright. Senior officials could have stated that the 9/11 Commission generated an excellent investigation and history of the attacks but was wrong to suggest creating yet more bureaucracy to fight agile terrorist groups. But the administration has little backbone in these matters, as demonstrated by its similar behavior in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. At first, the administration opposed a new homeland security agency. Then the post-9/11 political heat became too intense, with the administration flip-flopping to support adding the new bureaucracy.
Ideally, the simplest and most effective solution is to give the existing DCI the budget and personnel authority to do his job properly. That way no new director, and his accompanying staff, would have been needed. More important, to make the DCI’s job easier, the government’s intelligence agencies should have been streamlined and consolidated. The nation doesn’t need 15 intelligence fiefdoms tripping over themselves every time the government gets wind of a possible terrorist attack. Unfortunately, the public is about to get a 16th intelligence office.
To show that they are “doing something” after a crisis, politicians like to reorganize the government. The problem is that reorganization usually leads to government expansion. Throughout its history, the U.S. government has been organized to provide security from attacks by other nation-states, which have had even more bloated and cumbersome bureaucracies than the United States. But the most severe threat to America now is from small, nimble terrorist groups that don’t fill out forms before attacking. Same government, different threat.
The administration’s hybrid solution-giving us more bureaucracy without much more coordination-is the worst of all worlds and will decrease America’s security rather than increasing it. If the Congress can’t come up with a better formula in an election year, it should do no harm and decline to act at all.