Tag Archives: Director of National Intelligence

Panetta promotes precision

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One of the few things I have agreed with Dick Cheney about is the wisdom of using a scalpel rather than a truncheon:

The stepped-up drone strikes, Panetta’s opposition to the release of information about CIA interrogation practices, and his resistance to greater oversight of the agency by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have prompted criticism that he is a thrall of the agency’s old guard. In the meantime, the strikes have begun to draw greater scrutiny, with watchdog groups demanding to know more about how they are carried out and the legal reasoning behind the killings.

In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency’s long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view. But he said that U.S. counterterrorism policies in the country are legal and highly effective, and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.

Panetta may resemble the Company’s old guard, but it’s hard to argue that the organization isn’t stronger under his leadership.  Were I to have one wish, it would be that the tension between the DCI and the DNI come to a head and be resolved once and for all.

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New round of intel reform posturing begins

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Just a quick break from vacation to observe the friction between the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of Central Intelligence:

The White House this month issued a classified order to resolve mounting frictions between the nation’s intelligence director and the CIA over issues including how the agency conducts covert operations, U.S. officials said.

The intervention reflects simmering tension between the two most powerful players in the U.S. intelligence community: Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta.

The memo maintains the CIA’s status as the nation’s lead spy service on covert missions, rejecting an attempt by Blair to assert more control. But the document also includes language detailing the agency’s obligation to work closely with Blair on sensitive operations.

The White House memo, signed by National Security Advisor James L. Jones, was an attempt to settle a collection of disputes that have plagued the relationship between the director of national intelligence and the CIA director for years.

I’ve been interested in this for a long time (dates of the links are August 2004, June 2009, December 2008, and April 2009).  Here’s what I wrote this time last year about the conflict:

Why “putative”?  The DNI was created in much the same way as the Director of Central Intelligence was originally intended; that is, to be the point of the intel spear.  “16 other intelligence agencies”, most of them within the Department of Defense, indicates how diffuse the community has become.  Budget authority for most of the intel community lies outside of the DNI’s scope, resulting in a role that is heavy on its need for influence, short on control, and highly susceptible to the caprices of a complex political environment.  Creating new organizational entities to compensate for dysfunction among other organizational entities often brings unintended consequences.  A “joined-up” intel community continues to be no more than a diluted aspiration hovering over a cluster of moribund silos.

The DNI is a position created without the benefit of systemic analysis and diagnosis of the problems it was designed to create.  It is political organizational hackery at its worst.  This is what happens when you move the boxes on the org chart around without understanding what they mean.  This is what happens when you do not strive for a view of organizational and trans-organizational interdependencies.  This is what happens when you fail to acknowledge that budget represents strategy more than does title.  This is what happens when you replace an opportunity for inquiry with an abundance of certainty.

I don’t intend to continue banging the “I told you so” drum on this.  There’s almost six years of analysis on intel reform in the archives of this blog, which in turn build upon a century each of organizational scholarship and solid reporting on the origins and evolution of the intel community.  There are a handful of articles in the last month alone that describe the turf wars between DNI and CIA in Washington and abroad, as well as a pile of archives stretching back to the summer of 2004.  For those who remain unconvinced about the hot mess the new arrangement has created, there’s little more I can offer.

Intelligence reform was taken up in the early part of this benighted decade to address a failure to connect dots and staggering deficiencies in coordination and cooperation, the two fundamental concerns of organization theory.  The urgency of a nation newly returned to war combined with the momentum of aligned political will should have brought forth an intel community with (internally) clear accountability, budget authority, processes, lines of authority, resource availability, methods of cooperation, etc.  The fact that we read about this in major newspapers indicates that that has not happened, and is almost certainly not in the process of happening.

We are at the inception of a fresh new round of political posturing about “connecting dots” and “chatter in the system”.  Another young punk with some shadowy connections tried to bring down a plane, much like the hapless Richard Reid a handful of years before him.  Absent a total ban on luggage of any sort and duct-taping passengers naked to their chairs, this will almost certainly happen again.  This would be a good opportunity to put the nature and extent of the threat in context, perhaps moving from the blunt-force approach of war to the precision approaches of solid international law enforcement.  Alas, the conversation will almost certainly be driven by loud voices spending yet another fortune on yet another doomed run at intel reform–we love our sound and fury, but we seem unable to remember what they signify.

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Week in Public Organizations, 15Jun2009


Federal culture change, evidence-based medicine, GOP policing the GOP, secrecy in the administration, auto-immune warfare, spy vs. spy, vetting at the State Dept., and fast Finns.  These were some of the stories in the organizational realm last week:

Feds to attempt culture change at GM
Evidence-based medicine succeeds in Green Bay
GOP investigates BoA, ML deal
Obama administration presses for secrecy
Terrorism labeled “auto-immune warfare”
DNI, DCIA in turf squabble
State to review vetting procedures
Finns make rules for racing

DNI, DCIA in turf squabble

I’m not an I-told-you-so kind of guy, but

On May 19, Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, sent a classified memorandum announcing that his office would use its authority to select the top American spy in each country overseas.

One day later, Leon E. Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, sent a dispatch of his own. Ignore Mr. Blair’s message, Mr. Panetta wrote to agency employees; the C.I.A. was still in charge overseas, a role that C.I.A. station chiefs had jealously guarded for decades.

The dispute has posed an early test for both spymasters, with Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, now trying to negotiate a truce. The behind-the-scenes battle shows the intensity of struggles continuing between intelligence agencies whose roles were left ill defined after a structural overhaul in 2004 that was intended to harness greater cooperation and put an end to internecine fights.

Although I am having trouble finding the post, this was something I took a pass at in 2004, soon after Porter Goss took on CIA.  My assessment at the time was that there would be turf squabbles due to CIA’s original mandate as the intelligence agency and the fact that the 16 agencies in the Intelligence Community–most of which sit within the Pentagon–control their own budgets.

[Note: yes, I know the image above is dated.  They don’t have one with the O-Dawg on it yet.]

ODNI reports high job satisfaction

Turns out spies are a pretty happy bunch–at least for government:

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence today released the 2008 results of an annual “Employee Climate Survey.” The survey found that U.S. Intelligence Community workers – of whom there are some 100,000 – rate their overall job satisfaction higher than their colleagues in other federal agencies. Seventy-three percent said they were satisfied with their jobs, five percent higher than other federal employees. The 2008 finding for the IC represented a one percent increase over the 2007 level.

IC workers also rated their supervisors, rewards for good performance and the uses of their talents higher than their colleagues elsewhere in the government, according to the ODNI.

That’s pretty good news.  The Nukes and Spooks post notes that employees are less happy about their compensation as compared to the private sector.  A comment on the post wonders whether Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen were products of the dissatisfaction with compensation.  I don’t feel qualified to comment on whether an organization can pay enough to insulate itself from double agents.  Common sense says probably not.

The unclassified survey results are here.  I would really like to see the raw data, particularly results by agency.  I would guess that scores would be generally higher at the National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, both of which enjoy interesting, important work that is well regarded, powerful political support, and a paucity of scandals.  Having taught a couple of students from National Geospatial, I would also guess that that agency scored well.

Another prediction would be that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation probably scored lower than their peers.  Both have taken some hits over 9/11, both in failing to anticipate it and in blunders made in the efforts that followed the attacks.  The “slam dunk” of weapons of mass destruction turned out to be an airball, and Porter Goss fostered a lot of ill will and the departure of seasoned staff during his time at CIA.  Tim Weiner’s excellent history of the CIA claims that the United States has yet to have the intelligence service that it requires.

The FBI tends to be strongly bureaucratic and has had whistleblowers, as well as burning translators and ignoring urgent information within its organization.  Its motto–Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity–certainly describes many of the individuals working at the agency, but would perhaps be less likely to apply to any larger organizational reputation.  Ruby Ridge, Waco, Richard Jewell, the Trilogy project, Robert Hanssen, the abuse of national security letters, and maintaining secret files on John Denver have bruised the perception of the agency.

These are only slightly educated guesses and could very well be totally wrong.  That caveat aside, though, this is a good example of what a little orgporn and analysis without access can reveal.  Even if the answers prove to be inaccurate, the questions are valuable.

Peter Principle quiz targets current affairs

After forty years, the Peter Principle continues to be relevant, as evidenced by this topical quiz:

The efficiency fallacy: the belief that incompetence, if coordinated, equals competence. What is the best recent example by the government?

  1. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
  2. The naming of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to oversee many parts of the government in managing the restructuring of the auto industry.
  3. The creation of the office of Director of National Intelligence.
  4. Too close to call!

Answer: 4. Obviously! [1: Not quite. What’s the difference between 1 and 3? 2: A good example, but is it the best? 3: Not quite. What’s the difference between 3 and 1?]

As a strong advocate of applying theory to current affairs, this one caught my attention and provoked some chuckles.

[HT:  Bob Sutton and Guy Kawasaki]