Posted by Curt on 6 January, 2017 at 5:51 pm. 3 comments already!


Kevin D. Williamson:

The Wall Street Journal reports that Donald Trump’s recent public criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies presages an effort to reorganize the nation’s sundry spy bureaucracies. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, denies that the president has any such plan in mind.

If he doesn’t, he damn well should.

The plan described in the Journal is not unlike the one described in National Review on December 9 by Fred Fleitz of the Center for Security Policy, which would scale back the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), a post-9/11 innovation intended to create a central authority to ensure cooperation and coordination within the herd of cats that is the intelligence community. Fleitz and others have argued that ODNI is just another ladle full of federal alphabet soup — CIA, DIA, NIC, etc. — doing very little more than adding a layer of bureaucracy.

Conservatives have a blind spot for spies, cops, and soldiers. The psychology here is pretty straightforward: A great many conservatives (myself included) who are habitually and instinctively skeptical of grand federal plans were insufficiently beady-eyed when it came to President George W. Bush’s big plans for Iraq, and some of that (again, speaking for myself first and foremost, but not, I think, for myself alone) is purely reactionary. When I see a bunch of dopey white kids with dreadlocks from Haverford College, the Workers World Party, and Chaka Fattah on one side of a barricade, I instinctively want to be on the other side. (This is especially true at the moment for Fattah, the longtime Philadelphia Democrat and Hugo Chávezfanboy who is headed to the penitentiary for corruption.) This is, to be sure, an imperfect heuristic.

There is a question of agents and a separate question of agencies. Many of us, especially conservatives, are inclined to respect and admire those whose profession consists in performing necessary violence: police on the beat in New York City, soldiers patrolling Mosul, and intelligence operatives who, if they are doing their jobs, will never hear the words “Thank you for your service.” But bureaucracies have lives and characters of their own, irrespective of the sort of men they employ. The public schools are made up mostly of good people, but they don’t work very well. One imagines that most IRS agents are scrupulous and dedicated. (The DMV people just hate us.) Out of the field of operations and into the cubicles and corner offices, the NYPD, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency are bureaucracies like any others, and suffer from familiar bureaucratic ailments.

The standard text on this is James Wilson’s Bureaucracy, though it is an interesting sign of our times that recent years have produced not one but two excellent novels on the subject of bureaucracy: David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (a novel about the IRS) and my friend Jim Geraghty’s The Weed Agency (a novel about the USDA’s Agency of Invasive Species). If you have ever spent much time around people with intelligence careers, you’ll soon learn the disappointing and unglamorous truth that life in the CIA is a lot less like a James Bond movie and a great deal more like the municipal planning-and-zoning commission in San Bernardino.

These are mainly management problems, which is one reason that the suggestion that Carly Fiorina might be entrusted with overseeing reform efforts is encouraging. We don’t lose wars because our soldiers cannot win them but because our politicians cannot; similarly, we are not losing the intelligence wars because we lack a national talent for spookery.

But we are losing the intelligence wars.

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