The overgrowth of intelligence programs since Sept. 11

Thursday, July 22, 2010

SINCE SEPT. 11, 2001, the United States has increased its spending on intelligence by 250 percent and created or revamped 263 organizations. Yet the problems that gusher of money and bureaucracy were meant to solve -- such as the failure of existing intelligence organizations to share information or "connect the dots" about terrorism threats -- have not been alleviated. Instead, as a series of articles in The Post this week documented, the vast expansion of agencies, programs and personnel -- including tens of thousands of private contractors -- has overwhelmed many of the policymakers and military commanders it was meant to serve.

To their credit Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and CIA Director Leon Panetta acknowledged in interviews with The Post that the spending binge since the Sept. 11 attacks is unsustainable and that programs need to be scrubbed. James R. Clapper Jr., President Obama's nominee for director of national intelligence (DNI), also seemed to recognize the problem. Writers Dana Priest and William M. Arkin quoted him as saying that "there's only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all [top secret programs] -- that's God."

Yet in his confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, Mr. Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who has headed two Pentagon intelligence agencies, sounded curiously complacent about the complex he is taking on. Dismissing the Post's detailed reporting as "sensationalism," he defended the bloat, saying "one man's duplication is another man's competitive analysis." He said that the article's description of a profligate expansion of private contractors "is in some ways a testimony to the ingenuity, innovation and capability of the contractor base."

Having conceded that as a Defense Department intelligence satrap he joined in the turf battles that have tied the hands of the four DNIs to serve since 2005, Mr. Clapper blithely asserted that he would have no problem supervising defense intelligence agencies, since "I've been there, done that and got the T-shirt."

Yet streamlining and rationalizing the "top secret world" described by Ms. Priest and Mr. Arkin will require more than a business-as-usual approach. Mr. Clapper did say he would review the 51 federal organizations and military commands identified by The Post that now track the flow of money to terrorist networks, and he appeared to endorse a proposal by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) for an inspector general who could cover the entire intelligence community and help to identify duplication and waste. He also pointed out that Congress, which appropriates the more than $75 billion now spent on intelligence programs, ultimately has the ability to impose limits. If the new DNI does not work to identify and eliminate the overgrowth in the intelligence community, legislators will have to do just that.

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