April 29, 2004

Intelligent Design

For a piece entitled 'How to Fix Our Intelligence,' this Time article offers very little in the way of, um, actual solutions. It seems mostly content with halfheartedly rehashing the same proposals everyone else has put forward by now. For starters, we get the standard 'more intelligence in the FBI' recommendation:
House Republican Wolf is preparing legislation that would create what he calls a "service within the service" at the FBI to focus on intelligence gathering, not law enforcement. It would be staffed with its own corps of spies recruited from college campuses, the CIA and other agencies.
Why has this idea gone completely unquestioned? There are plenty of good reasons why the FBI should not have its own intelligence gathering. The FBI is primarily a law enforcement agency, which involves a set of skills distinctly different from intelligence gathering. A self-evidently more efficient use of resources would be to separate intelligence from law enforcement, and coordinate the two at a higher level. Time heaps praise on FBI Director Robert Mueller for making his Bureau 'smarter', but it seems to me that Mueller is just jealously guarding the autonomy of his agency, at the expense of a smarter, community-wide coordination of intelligence resources. Wasn't that the whole problem in the first place?

Granted, most everyone has said we need some sort of higher coordination, and Time is no exception. Here's their take on the 'we need an overarching Director of Central Intelligence' recommendation:
Meanwhile, support is growing on the Hill for a plan drafted by two-time National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft that would create a new intelligence czar with budget and program authority over the CIA and nearly a score of other intelligence units now under the Pentagon's control.

The change is long overdue. When the CIA was created in 1947, the Director of Central Intelligence was supposed to become head of all the intelligence networks, government-wide. But over the years the Pentagon created its own intelligence arms, and it now commands the lion's share of intelligence budgets, much of them spent on satellites. CIA directors have complained of this split-screen arrangement for years, noting that they can hardly be responsible for solid intelligence if they don't control the purse strings.
The problem here is that 'budget authority' is a vague term. As far as I know, there are two distinct ways to hold sway over a budget. First, you can make broad program goals, and allocate resources among the various intelligence agencies accordingly. This is what the OMB does, in conjunction with Congress, to determine the federal budget. Right now, the DCI already does this, and the best way to improve on this capacity is simply to split up the roles of DCI and head of CIA, so that the DCI is more impartial, and able to focus on broader goals.

But the second type of 'budget authority' is to actually have authority over how the budget is executed and implemented. This means the DCI would need to staff its own comptrollers and auditors, over and above what the Pentagon's intelligence offices already have. This seems needlessly complex, and logistically infeasible. The DCI should stick to broader planning and allocation, and let the Pentagon's agencies execute their budgets as they see fit.

Now of course CIA directors are going to want to 'control the purse strings.' But that doesn't mean we should listen to them. If anything, their complaints only highlight the need to separate the DCI from the CIA.

(In fact, the best course of action might be to stick the CIA into the Pentagon, but that's another discussion entirely…)
-- Brad Plumer 7:18 PM || ||