Monday, April 13, 2009

Bureaucrats don’t make good spies. That’s the lesson the Obama administration needs to learn from the U.S. inspector general’s report on the Office of Director of National Intelligence. Completed in November and declassified this month, the government’s oversight office has determined that director’s office has not served the intelligence needs of the nation.

According to the unclassified version of the inspector general’s report, the nation’s spy chief was unable to do his job because of an unwieldy number of overlapping layers of authority at the 16 different intelligence agencies he oversees. It also stated that the two previous national directors of intelligence spent too much time briefing the White House and Congress at the expense of actually managing the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

Created by a Republican-controlled Congress and President George W. Bush in 2004, the new intelligence office was intended to create one chain of command within the intelligence network so that the numerous spy agencies could create synergies and work on a shared agenda. The vision has yet to be realized. In fact, many intelligence officials aren’t sure the office has a vision.

The inspector general’s report states that “many” intelligence officials, including senior personnel, “were unable to articulate a clear understanding” of the national intelligence director’s role and responsibilities. Stovepipes limiting agency interactions largely remain in place, which restricts access to data “essential for analysis” across multiple “largely disjoined and incompatible” information networks that are still not integrated. A common complaint among intelligence officers was that they did not know who was actually in charge of the U.S. intelligence community.

The constipation that resulted from trying to create a new super-intelligence office provides a cautionary tale for the Obama administration as it considers creating a new cyber-security czar and other new governmental offices. Adding more bureaucracy is not a way to effect change. The nation’s intelligence failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were largely due to the existence of too many competing intelligence agencies that did not share information or work together. It is no surprise that yet another layer of bureaucracy hasn’t made the intelligence community work.

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