November 24, 2004

Clumsy Yet Necessary?

Via Power Line, the Wall Street Journal has a mindless little op-ed about intelligence reform. Here's my favorite paragraph:
More disturbing was the proposal to give the intelligence czar the ability to move personnel out of combat support units. Not only would that break into the military's chain of command; it's the kind of bureaucratic micromanagement that is likely to cause operations to fail and maybe get soldiers killed--a concern Mr. Hunter expressed to me. An example I heard kicked around while walking the halls of Congress last week was Operation Desert One--Jimmy Carter's failed covert mission to rescue Americans held hostages in Iran in which eight American servicemen were killed in a helicopter crash.
Kick around that example all you want—but do note that whatever happened during Operation Desert One (and I don't know all the details) happened under the current intelligence set-up. The concern that the 9/11 Commission's reforms could lead to fiascos that are already possible doesn't seem like much of a trump card.

(It's also worth noting that the military is not as helpless here as Miniter suggests. If they were really bleeding support personnel they'd just create entire new units away from the intelligence community's grasp. So simple.)

Anyways, I've made my feelings on the 9/11 Commission's proposals clear. Having a National Intelligence Director to facilitate intelligence sharing doesn't seem like a big deal—intelligence is flowing a lot more freely these days, and the infamous "wall" between the CIA and FBI has been dismantled. The much-lauded Congressional oversight reforms are also somewhat needless.

But the 10-Megaton elephant in the room is still our ability to keep track of weapons of mass destruction. Our intelligence record on nuclear proliferation especially speaks for itself—Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, the works. The Pentagon, alas, just isn't very good at coordinating its technical capabilities here—I really urge people to read Ashton Carter's testimony on the subject. By way of remedy, we're going to have to break down the wall between the reconnaissance agencies in the Pentagon and outside branches—especially our human intelligence and our regional analysts. Now creating an NID is one way to coordinate all this stuff. Alternatively, Congress could create a new intelligence branch within the Pentagon dedicated to tracking proliferation, though that would probably lead to more of the sorority-style "turf battles" with the CIA, etc., that lead to pillow fights and gridlock. Plus, as noted above, the Defense Department doesn't exactly have a great track record on this issue. So I'm leaning NID, grudgingly. Other suggestions are welcome, but it's poor form to defend the status quo.
-- Brad Plumer 1:57 AM || ||