The Democrats push for a big new agency to stop terrorism. President Bush resists for a while, then, as an election looms, embraces it, even though he knows better. That was the scenario with the creation of the Homeland Security Department in fall 2002. And here we may be going again, with proposals to create a new intelligence czar.
Democrats are champing at the bit, and the independent 9/11 commission is by all accounts poised to recommend the creation of such a czar when it releases its final report Thursday. The Bush administration says it's very open to the idea. But why? Far from improving intelligence, a national intelligence director would hamper it.
Massive government reorganization rarely improves anything. The hasty creation of the Homeland Security Department has been a lesson in confusion and disarray. First responders -- firefighters and police -- aren't getting funds from the department. Port security remains abysmal. Director Tom Ridge is reduced to issuing vague alerts about even vaguer threats instead of powerfully coordinating intelligence information.
Why does anyone in Washington think this model will work any better for the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the military intelligence agencies?
Intelligence-gathering and analysis need less, not more, centralization. The "groupthink" at the CIA that the Senate Intelligence Committee recently condemned is the product of inadequate intellectual competition. The agency needs to form internal groups that compete with each other on intelligence assessments and to farm out more analyses to contractors like the Rand Corp. Other agencies should also encourage independent assessments.
The CIA needs structural reform less than it needs better, stronger analysis. It's no accident that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which has about one-tenth the number of the CIA's analysts, offered the most critical examinations of prewar intelligence on Iraq. Its analysts are older and have extensive university backgrounds as well as regional expertise. Those analysts predicted that Turkey would not allow U.S. troops on its territory in order to attack Iraq and, moreover, that toppling Saddam Hussein would not spread democracy in the Middle East.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell ignored the warnings of his own bureau before he made his embarrassing speech before the U.N. Security Council about Iraq's supposed numerous programs for weapons of mass destruction. Bush also knew what he wanted to hear, and former CIA chief George J. Tenet told it to him.
The biggest failing has been one of leadership, including that of acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, who was responsible for much of the Iraq analysis. Individual analysts need to know that their higher-ups will be held accountable rather than rewarded for failure.
A rush to reorganize the whole U.S. intelligence apparatus will impede the changes that would actually produce more benefit.