In 2004 there was a great debate about how the intelligence services of the United States should be restructured to improve the quality of intelligence collected and the quality of the analysis and assessment provided on the basis of that intelligence. Although the process was nominally initiated by a bipartisan examination of intelligence failures during the period before the attack on the World Trade Center towers and in the run up to the Iraq war, the debate over what changes to make had a distinctly partisan flavor.
Since I spent many years working within large bureaucracies — the United States Air Force and Abbot Laboratories — and participated in endless rounds of reorganization and “quality improvement” programs in vain attempts to make those bureaucracies “efficient” and “effective”, I have some insight into how such bureaucratic organizations — and our intelligence services fit that description — fail.
For that reason, and because I am outside the political fray and therefore somewhat more dispassionate than our elected representatives, I prepared a proposal for restructuring the intelligence services that I believe balances the conflicting demands we place on them. I admit I have no experience in intelligence collection or analysis, and so my thinking is based strictly on my observations of our political culture, my experience with large bureaucratic organizations, and my imagination about how intelligence works. Further, I am not arrogant enough to believe that my proposal is optimum or even very good. But it seems to me better than what I’ve heard so far coming from Washington, and I hope it might provide some useful insights to improve the other schemes that are being debated.
I sent this proposal to Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who chairs the committee which oversees the Department of Homeland Security and who co-sponsored the intelligence reform bill in the Senate last year. I am pretty confident that it found its way into the circular file in her constituent service office.
- 5 October 2004
I Summary View of Intelligence Activities
In principle there are many ways of organizing intelligence activities, depending on where you think the control, efficiencies and synergies can be maximized. For instance you could organize around various intelligence processes, with a different agency or department for each process (e.g. collection, collation, analysis, policy formulation); you could organize around the methods by which intelligence is collected, with each agency or department a specialist in a particular collection method (e.g. the NSA specializes in signals intelligence); you could organize around the type of information to be gathered, with different agencies or departments for each type (eg. the Defense Intelligence Agency is focused on military intelligence); within the category of organizing by type you can conceptualize “types” of information in different ways (military vs. economic vs. political vs. social, tactical vs. strategic, foreign vs. domestic, etc.).
The following is intended to convey the various ways of partitioning the idea of intelligence into categories — the various ways of “looking at” the overall subject of intelligence — to illustrate the possible ways of conceptualizing the organization of intelligence activities.