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Rambling About Spybiz [Aug. 16th, 2004|02:50 pm]
[Current Mood |cynicalcynical]
[Current Music |The faux-James-Bond music from the Olympic gymnastics]

I have not yet read the 9/11 report, but already I am questioning one of their recommendations: that the entire US intelligence "community" be consolidated under one organization.

My question is this: if this sort of consolidation is such a wonderful idea, why has it not been done already? We did, after all, create the Central Intelligence Agency after World War II; so why did we not include the National Security Agency (NSA), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in this Centralized intelligence community? (Have I included everyone? Probably not - the State Department has its own spy agency, whose name escapes me; the Department of Commerce and Drug Enforcement Agency may each have one too; and I have no idea how many intelligence agencies are maintained by the various branches of the military.)

There are several reasons for this crazy-quilt situation. First, paranoia and mistrust are fundamental components of spying and spycatching. Just because the President has ordered all US intelligence functions to be consolidated under one Cabinet-level uber-bureaucracy, does not mean that an operative in the Middle East, trying to keep his sources alive and working, will have any reason to trust the new "managers" in Washington any more than the old. To the spymaster and his network, the danger of his trusted (and trusting) sources being exposed by an enemy spy is not lessened by the latest reorg - and the danger of such sources being exposed by carelessness or lack of experience is increased with every reshuffling of the chain of command, every new manager brought in to clean things up.

Second, one intelligence uber-agency implies that the country has one mandate, one high-priority target or objective, and this is simply never the case. Different agencies within the US Government have different functions, and thus different demands for information, whatever the uber-agency's current appointed heads may call "job one." And if, for example, the DIA are merged into the new uber-agency, the Defence Department will, at some time or another, get frustrated at the loss of "their" spy network - and create their own (again) to provide whatever the uber-agency fails to provide.

(Robert A. Persico's Roosevelt's Secret War describes, among other things, how FDR built the intelligence apparatus that supported his war efforts: not from any pre-existing bureaucracy or spy service, but from his own friends and colleagues - rich, well-connected Ivy-Leaguers who had the resources and shmoozing skills to maintain effective spy networks. And didn't Dick Cheney do something similar when our pre-existing Central Intelligence Agency failed to give him the "information" he wanted?)

Finally, the chain of command in a spy agency does not necessarily have anything at all to do with the most important factor, the chain of information. Suppose, for example, that a US spy in Beirut passes to his controller a tidbit that might - or might not - imply a plot to kill the King of Jordan. And suppose, at about the same time, an FBI agent in Detroit gets another tidbit hinting at the same thing, and another spy in Cairo hears of an organization calling for the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy, and sells his information to a chum in the US Army one week later.

Where do these bits of information (or disinformation) go from their sources? Who decides whether they're credible, and if so, what they mean? How and where do they get put together into something like a useful signal? To whom is this "signal" then reported? And who then decides how important this "signal" is, and what to do about it? In short, how, and through whom, are bits of data from Beirut, Detroit and Cairo translated into a response in Amman? This is the most important issue for an intelligence-gathering organization, and it is an issue that may not be at all affected by any Cabinet-level restructuring.

The idea of "consolidating" our intelligence "community" under one organization may sound perfectly reasonable, and clearaly appeals to our desire to establish "control" over a problem-area - or, at least, the comforting appearance of control. Whether it actually improves anything is another matter. Does anyone believe that the recent appalling consolidation of our news media has improved our knowledge of world affairs?