Government Intelligence, An Oxymoron For Sure

The editorial in today’s Globe, “Accountable Intelligence” decries the lack of accountability in America’s intelligence community.  It’s good as far as it goes and it echoes a theme I have posted on often.  In fact, it was one of my first posts as a blogger HERE.

The subject has been in other news lately because of a study showing that the Intel business has become such a massive government sprawl that nobody seems to be managing it or even knows what it is doing most of the time.  A 2006 summary of the situation by columnist David Ignatious appears HERE and most-recently in the liberal Huffington Post HERE (Just because they are “liberal” doesn’t mean you can’t read it for the facts, which in this case are correct.)

Some classification is absolutely required to protect our secrets from the enemy, no doubt about it.  But, the authority to classify is also the authority to hide information.  That’s what classification is.  I spent 22 years as a commissioned officer in the U. S.

Niccolo Machiavelli - Wikimedia Commons

Navy and my experience always was that far too much material was classified.  The unspoken rule, despite instructions to the contrary, was “when in doubt, classify”.  It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that classification is a convenient way to avoid oversight, much less public criticism.

The material was always distributed far beyond the communities that needed it and in quantities so large that finding anything useful in it was a challenge.  In the days when the stuff was all on paper and when I was a communication officer it was a challenge to get each month’s stuff burned in order to make room for next month’s.  I am assuming that now it’s mostly on computers.  The recent “monumental” leak of some 90,000 pages of Afghan war intelligence would seem to confirm that.  I assume the users of the material can now use search engines to try to separate what’s useful from the chaff, but I’ll bet it’s a challenge even so.

In my opinion the creation by the Bush Administration of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) in response to 9/11, an additional  bureaucratic layer of some 5,000 bureaucrats, was an absurd response to the problem, and now, with the fiscal crisis full upon us its cost just adds to the absurdity.

The fact that the DNI was given no budget authority over the sprawling mess is evidence of just how powerful the various constituencies, such as the CIA and the NSA have become.  To me, the lack of budget authority means that the DNI is a public relations ploy, pure and simple, and a damned expensive one.  Anyone who knows Washington knows how competitive bureaucracies are and how they play the game.  It is notable that the head of the DNI was recently ousted (read, “sacrificed”) for failure to control that over which he had no control.  That’s not accountability, that’s coverup.

The Globe’s editorialist is right when he ( I sure it’s the masked editorialist again) points out that no agency or agency head has been held accountable for the incredibly inept performance involving the missing WMD’s of the second Iraq war, or for any of the other FUBAR’s, some of which I’m sure we don’t even know about.  (They’re “classified”.)

I am at a loss on what to do about this old problem except to keep writing about it, to plead for smaller government, to vote for any brave politician who promises to seek smaller government, and to try to hold them, ahem, ACCOUNTABLE for their promise.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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1 Response to Government Intelligence, An Oxymoron For Sure

  1. ansonburlingame says:


    “The masked editorialist”! I like that one.

    Now you can see how it is a challenge to get problems and solutions all into 400 words for an editorial as well. Of course the “solution” proposed was accountablitiy which you seem to endorse.

    But for sure it needs to be “fleshed out” as you have begun to do above. That is a reason blogs make sense to me sometimes. No word count to interfere, just the interest and attention span of readers. And usually the comments on blogs have more depth (with some SIGNIFICANT exceptions!!). Check out the online comments on the editorial thus far!!

    Now, one more step in the accountablitly process. Bureaucracies SHOULD be held accountable thru the budget process. If they don’t produce or produce in error (WMDs in Iraq, etc) then CUT their F… budgets or even delete the agency in its entirety. Your suggestion for starting with DNI (both of them National and Navy) is a good start. That would save us around 50-60 BILLION a year and the CIA should pick up the slack.

    But of course the Navy needs THEIR DNI to keep the CIA “honest”. That was a huge fight for my two years in the puzzle palace, something about our torpedos could not sink a Soviet submarine was a specific!!

    In my view bureaucracies do far more harm than good and proliferation of bureaucracis is the usual solution for both R and D.

    There has to be a better way.




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