I love it when my interests and my academic pursuits collide:
The US Intelligence Community is where it is today primarily because of reactionary policies. Rather than looking forward, the Community looks backward. I hate to be so negative in this assessment, yet I will prove this with examples from the modern history of the Intelligence Community.
The Community will continue its reactionary changes. Unfortunately, the recent trend of politicization of the Intelligence Community will also continue unabated. When an actual crippling terrorist attack or a conventional war kick off that catches the Community by complete surprise, the politicians will use this tragedy as a club to beat their oppositions, much as the changes made after September 11 and the dissent to them were very political in nature, rather than focused on effectiveness.
Evolution of the Intelligence Community – Pre WWII:
Intelligence was primarily limited to periods of armed conflict in the times preceding WWII, at least in the US. Diplomatic intelligence (what we can view as strategic intelligence) was still considered very much a disingenuous, ungentlemanly thing to do. The European powers have always plied this trade out of necessity due to their small, confined, cramped living spaces on the continent; the US, by the opposite extension, viewed this strategic intelligence unnecessary.
The advance in technology in communications and transportation changed this paradigm in the early 1900s. This technological advance also made the wars that erupted bloodier than ever (another topic that follows this ‘backward thinking’ trend), making the ungentlemanly use of intelligence much more palatable when compared to the alternative. It was the confluence of the First World War and the rise of the Bolsheviks and political ideals that transcended borders and nationalities that spurred the first, true internationalist President, Wilson, to develop the nascent intelligence community into one that practiced its trade even during peacetime.
This growth (or birth) of the Intelligence Community was precipitated by treacherous events toward the United States. The intercept of the Zimmerman telegram demonstrated the necessity of diplomatic intelligence to provide early warning and intention intelligence. True, Wilson was of such a progressive mind (and I use that term pejoratively) that collecting intelligence on adversaries came naturally to him; yet the world had become far more dangerous than before.
World War II:
World War II, also by necessity, forever altered the Intelligence Community. The first US covert operations took place under Bill Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, in these days. Technology advanced ever onward, making war that much more horrific. The value of these covert actions towards changing outcomes on the battlefields demonstrated the impact of intelligence upon strategic objectives in war campaigns as well as in saving servicemen’s lives.
Indeed, arguably, the entire war’s outcome could be attributed to the intelligence victories such as the cracking of the Japanese naval and diplomatic encryptions, Operation Fortitude that stunted the German reaction to Overlord, the capture and the decryption of the German Enigma machine, and the British operation Doublecross which successfully turned every German covert operative infiltrated into Britain to work for the Allied cause. Some have even speculated that the very German chief of the Abwehr, its military intelligence, may have secretly been turned.
The war’s aftermath, and the tremendous loss of life and capital, slammed home the importance of intelligence to US policy makers. The surprise of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, initiating the US involvement, left an indelible mark upon the nation. The European hegemony intended by the Soviets and the espionage levied upon its erstwhile allies, the US, was more proof of the need for change in the Community, to practice even more aggressively, this art in peacetime.
The Cold War:
The Cold War saw the creation of the modern Intelligence Community. The multiple three-letter agencies we have today were birthed in this post-war period. Certainly this was a necessary reaction to Soviet intentions and the most dramatic example of reactionary intelligence policies was the overreaction of the intelligence components of the military services as well as the CIA and FBI that involved domestic intelligence collections. Up until this point, the intelligence services did not have clear limits to their practices and the judicial interpretation of the domestic protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments had yet to be issued. Unfortunately for the Community, this Cold War period also saw the beginnings of politicians advancing their own interests and the interests of their party while clothing themselves in either the national security garb, or the Constitutional rights apparel. The Pike and Church committees in the House and Senate, uncovered the domestic abuses, but in vast overreach and with the compliance of the Watergate-tamed Ford administration, severely handcuffed the Intelligence Community’s ability to protect the country from threats, primarily from within.
The War on Terrorism:
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the drawdown of standing military, the changing priorities and explosion of minor intelligence threats upon the nation, and the inevitable fallout from the Church and Pike Committees directly led to the failures that precipitated the bombing of the USS Cole and the attacks of September 11. Following that attack, national policy makers made far more reactionary intelligence policies than ever before to include the creation of a giant new federal cabinet-level bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security. The necessary reaction turned overreaction in the intelligence that led up to the invasion of Iraq, in which our and the rest of our allies bought completely into the Iraqi charade in which Saddam Hussein peddled himself off as a continued developer and/or possessor of nonconventional weaponry (likely performed as a hedge on regional threats and to keep corrupt UN aid and under-the-table lucrative business deals with countries like France and Russia continuing).
The biggest, and in my estimation, the costliest reactionary policy is the bureaucratization of transportation security. The TSA has turned an over $7 billion annual budget into a bloated nightmare of a dog and pony show intended only to make the innocent travelling public feel safe as their own privacy and time is robbed of them. I would be very interested to see economists come up with a cost estimate of the likely (now) trillions of dollars lost in economic activity due to the horrifically ineffective process of stopping potentially dangerous items from boarding aircraft, vice utilizing common sense and targeting intelligence resources to identifying and stopping the dangerous people from boarding aircraft. I am aware of no occasion in which the TSA has successfully averted a terrorist attack. Instead, civilian travelers (the same that are subjected to the molestation of the TSA) have recorded the actual last-measures-of-defense stopping terrorists in the act of their attacks (reference the 9/11 flight over Pennsylvania, the Richard Reid shoe bombing, and the Christmas Day underwear bomber), so in this American’s mind, it’s the civilians 3, the TSA 0. And how much economic damage for this score?
The future is bleak I am afraid, unless we as a nation get politics out of the way and concentrate on actual threats to our country. Until we start taking seriously the threats posed by China, Iran, Russia, especially in the cyber arena (and the burgeoning threat of being beholden to our creditors), we will be at a continued disadvantage and vulnerable not just to a terrorist attack, but be impotent to defend and back up our military and national defense interests abroad. What will this country do when (not if) China invades Taiwan? What will we do when (still an if) the North Koreans shell Seoul? What will we do when (debate that amongst yourselves) Israel preemptively attacks Iran over its nuclear development? What are we going to do when Russia cuts off oil and natural gas supplies to Western Europe? These are serious questions that have to be answered, and cannot be answered through a lens of political ideology (unless ones ideology is purely anti-American, but that is a subject for a different class).
To me, this simply means I have to (as a member of the Community) simply remain vigilant and exercise independent, informed, and original thought. To the Department of Defense, it means taking the intelligence battle to new arenas. The DOD must shift resources to focus on emerging threats and other resurgent, conventional threats. The DOD must win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (political correctness be damned) by focusing not on Iraq and Afghanistan, but on regional powers with much at stake in these two theaters (Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, etc who seek to interfere with our operations). Congress and the White House must cease this incessant political grandstanding (and this includes social engineering in our Armed Forces) and focus on threats to our national interest.
OK. I’m done. Talk amongst yourselves. :)
P.S. This opinion piece is defended with items that are taken solely from memory (and, what I consider common knowledge; and I’m at the in-laws for Christmas, away from my books); therefore there are no citations. Sorry fellow academic poachers. Normally I source heavily. But hey! Why be well-read and knowledgeable if you cannot use it ever?