The first part of the Washington Post special report on the intelligence community is a good overview of the system we have but I’m not sure there’s anything really new to people who’ve been following the intelligence field. I suspect that even if you’ve just been perusing this blog you’d find some reoccurring themes. Over classification of information, lack of planning and direction, poor training, an emphasis on shiny objects and the old fashioned belief that the best information is horded. Still, some of the details are worth noting:
An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
Just a reminder: Top Secret: containing information whose disclosure could result in grave danger to the national security; – the highest of the three commonly known levels of national security classification, the others being confidential and secret.
One wonders how many people are running around with Secret clearances.
Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who was asked last year to review the method for tracking the Defense Department’s most sensitive programs….”Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste,” Vines said. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe.”
Why does he assume that the purpose of the intelligence industry is designed to make us safer? If you assume that the purpose of the community is to enlarge itself and justify its existence by pointing to a flurry of activity which focuses on production over utility than you’d expect to see things like this:
- Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
- Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.
- at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11. Each has required more people, and those people have required more administrative and logistic support: phone operators, secretaries, librarians, architects, carpenters, construction workers, air-conditioning mechanics and, because of where they work, even janitors with top-secret clearances.
Heh…and here’s a quote worthy of Sir Humphrey…
In an interview before he resigned as the director of national intelligence in May, retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair said he did not believe there was overlap and redundancy in the intelligence world. “Much of what appears to be redundancy is, in fact, providing tailored intelligence for many different customers,” he said.
Yes…some require reports in Times New Romans and others in Courier.
At least 20 percent of the government organizations that exist to fend off terrorist threats were established or refashioned in the wake of 9/11.
And 80% of such agencies all had to have flat screen TVs after 9/11 too….
Turf wars, institutional inertia, and of course, status seeking behavior. It’s all there in its green tinged glory.
SCIF size has become a measure of status in Top Secret America, or at least in the Washington region of it. “In D.C., everyone talks SCIF, SCIF, SCIF,” said Bruce Paquin, who moved to Florida from the Washington region several years ago to start a SCIF construction business. “They’ve got the penis envy thing going. You can’t be a big boy unless you’re a three-letter agency and you have a big SCIF.”
Oh, it’s not just in D.C. and it’s not just among three letter agencies. It’s 2010 and we still can’t shake the insane idea that higher classification equals more credibility, reliability and importance of information. I’d really like to see a comparison of intelligence products which matches up one developed at each level of classification (or at least unclassified, Secret and Top Secret) and then measure them in terms of accuracy, reliability, time from assignment to dissemination and a test of how widely its findings are disseminated (the best intelligence product in the world if no one is cleared to look at it). Actually, I’d like to see a lot of comparisons like that because I’m confident that the products written at a lower classification level would be superior in almost all cases.
And keep in mind…these are the agencies at the pinnacle of the field here in the U.S. It’s all downhill from there. Regional, state and local intelligence agencies have fewer resources than their federal counterparts, have less money to offer their personnel in terms of pay, equipment and training leading to them hiring employees who can’t get jobs with federal agencies/contractors (a pretty significant feat during the gravy train days) or people who are tied geographically to an area. That puts serious strains on your talent pool over time.
Rather than look at what a particular agency can be good at, everyone looks at where the money is going to come from. Grant money for prison radicalization? Oh…let’s form a center of excellence!
Something I didn’t see reported was the challenges of security clearances themselves. You see, not ever agency recognizes security clearances granted by other agencies. Agency X might not accept Department of Defense clearances….who might not accept them from Agency Y. Perhaps that’s an official policy or perhaps it’s some local fiefdom flexing it’s muscles but it happens often enough to get to the water cooler during ‘WTF?!’ sessions.
Yes, we have met the enemy and he is us…