Elsewhere in The Washington Post, intrepid intelligence reporter Greg Miller has quite the scoop about a proposed reorganization of the CIA:
CIA Director John Brennan is considering sweeping organizational changes that could include breaking up the separate spying and analysis divisions that have been in place for decades to create hybrid units focused on individual regions and threats to U.S. security, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.
The proposal would essentially replicate the structure of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and other similar entities in the agency — an idea that reflects the CTC’s expanded role and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
U.S. officials emphasized that the proposal is in its preliminary stages, and could still be scaled back or even discarded. Already the idea has encountered opposition from current and former officials who have voiced concern that it would be too disruptive and might jeopardize critical capabilities and expertise.
But if Brennan moves forward, officials said, the changes would be among the most ambitious in CIA history — potentially creating individual centers focused on China, Latin America and other regions or issues for which personnel are now dispersed across difference parts of the agency.
So, in other words, what’s being proposed is a regional decentralization of the Central Intelligence Agency, which seems like a pretty big deal.
The logic in favor of the reorganization is the general recognition that CTC has done its job pretty well when it comes to combating al-Qaeda, and therefore why not replicate that “fusion of disciplines,” as Miller puts it, when thinking about other parts of the world.
So what’s the logic against such a reorganization? There’s the obvious problem that you’re mucking around with a bureaucracy that hasn’t seen an organizational overhaul on this scale in forever. That’s not a fatal problem, but reorganization for reorganization’s sake does not tend to work, as anyone familiar with the Department of Homeland Security will tell you.
Miller quotes former CIA director Michael Hayden for another objection:
Hayden said he warned the panel against going too far in dismantling the directorates without having a clear plan for how the agency will replace what they have done for decades: recruit and train analysts and case officers with highly specialized skills, cultivating careers and expertise with a focus on the long term.
Hybrid organizations such as the CTC tend to be “consumed with the operational challenges of the moment,” Hayden said. “But you also have to pay attention to creating the basic skills, knowledge and databases” — areas of tradecraft that have been the domain of traditional directorates.
Over at Outside the Beltway, James Joyner voices some additional objections:
[T]he focus would naturally shift even more towards to the needs of current operations, , leaving even less time for strategic forecasting. While CIA has famously failed to predict major events—most notably the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union—the unique value of the [Directorate of Intelligence] is that it generally does an extraordinary job of looking several steps ahead. That’s not a capability we can afford to lose.
Further, it’s not obvious what problem the reorganization is trying to solve.
Joyner’s “instinct is to side with the skeptics,” and I can certainly understand his reasoning. A reorganization of the CIA along regional clusters would inevitably create new strengths in the organizational matrix while also creating new vulnerabilities.
My instinct, however, is to side with the reformers on this move. The benefits of the “fusion of disciplines” approach is pretty obvious to me. Hayden’s concerns about training can be dealt with by ensuring that CIA recruits get additional training at the start of their careers, as well as mid-career opportunities to refurbish their intellectual capital.
The concerns voiced by Hayden and Joyner about the CIA losing its ability to think beyond the operational carry more weight, and I would be inclined to side with them — if it wasn’t for the fact that “[setting a] strategic direction and priorities for national intelligence resources and capabilities” is already one of the principal goals of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). And that’s a way in which this reorganization could kill two birds with one stone.
Since it creation, the relationship between ODNI and the CIA has been unclear. There have been times when it seems like the ODNI has acted as the principal intelligence officer to the president, but there have also been times when the ODNI has seemed weak and superfluous. Tasking the director of national intelligence with longer-range strategic analysis and forecasting seems like a proper division of labor, especially since ODNI houses the National Intelligence Council. Done right, ODNI taking the lead in looking several steps ahead should then influence how the CIA allocates its manpower and resources among the different regional bureaus.
One effect of the proposed reform does gnaw at me, and it’s not whether it will affect Katherine Heigl’s role in her new TV show. It’s that one troubling trend of the CTC model of organization has been the CIA’s operational role in drone strikes. When Brennan was appointed to be CIA director, he favored a return of that operational control back to the Pentagon. That still hasn’t happened, however.
Shifting operational authority for drone strikes from the CIA back to the Department of Defense still makes a great deal of sense — but I worry that the reorganization of the CIA into cells containing both intelligence and clandestine personnel will only increase the bureaucratic desire of these units to retain as much operational authority as possible. And that would definitely not be a good idea.
So I think this reform has the makings of a good idea, but I’d pair it with a clear division of labor between the CIA and ODNI on operational versus strategic analysis, and between CIA and DoD on operational capabilities.
Am I missing anything?