Brad Thor over at Big Journalism makes some interesting and accurate points about portions of our intelligence system. However, after reading it, there is one glaring issue that he left unvoiced. Specifically, the field of engagement has changed. We are no longer dealing with a post-WWII or Cold War era where the enemies are largely known and are political states. Since the 1970’s it’s been shifting quickly towards one of smaller, more agile opponents. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t or aren’t gathering intelligence about Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. But the focus and more imminent danger lies in the radical terrorist groups, smaller countries and other dynamic groups. It is a much different operational situation when you try to conduct operations in Iraq or Afghanistan with coinciding, active military operations underway versus a Cold War-era Germany. Recruitment, asset management and intelligence verification or validation is much different. Add to this the generational gap that exists within the intelligence community. During periods of reduced funding or active reductions in the CIA (Clinton cut military and intelligence budgets by 35%), we’ve created a knowledge and generational gap at the CIA and elsewhere. But wait, the 9/11 commission fixes all this with the ODNI (Office of the Director for National Intelligence), right?
Wrong. This created more bureaucracy in an environment where the civilian and military intelligence organizations were already jockeying for position and envious of each other. Unfortunately, the fix isn’t that easy and many pundits out there are tossing around cliché solutions. Consider that we need strategic intelligence for the longer term trends and problems, those evolving over years or even decades. This includes the need to collect and communicate and provide for knowledge transfer from one analyst to another as the intelligence cycle continues over the years. It also needs to provide the means to feed into and be modified by tactical intelligence. By that, I mean the day-to-day, real-time intelligence gathered. This is more of the public perception of espionage – what is happening now or in the immediate future. The tactical intelligence workforce is much different. It needs to be dynamic – growing and shrinking as needed to address the wide variety of sources. It needs to be highly effective with cutting edge technology to be the best intelligence collection outfit in the world. Within the tactical intelligence community, we need to be able to operate in both military conflict situations (i.e. Iraq, Afghanistan) as well as in non-conflict but hard target areas (i.e. North Korea, Iran). I would offer that this might be a good division between military and civilian outfits, respectively. We clearly need better collaboration, sharing and communication within the intelligence communities. Fiefdoms within these agencies should be destroyed. Credit should be given and lead agencies for various operations should be clearly defined, but instead we are reaping what we have sown. By creating artificial overhead organizations we have made the intelligence community more bureaucratic and less dynamic in a world headed the other way. If anything, in my opinion, the ODNI should be a small organization largely focused on top-level policy issues, coordination functions and a warehouse for the exchange and collaboration over intelligence data. Individual agencies should be refocused on their primary mission. It might be time to bring back the O.S.S. (not to be confused with the O.S.I.) but with caution. There should be a civilian balance to the military intelligence. Letting the DoD take over intelligence gathering will skew it. There are many more aspects to intelligence than what the Pentagon may focus on.