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Clapper and the Sprawling Intelligence Bureaucracy

Redundancies in "Top Secret America" are a problem -- but not always a bad thing.

2:30 PM, Jul 21, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The third dimension does not get the attention it deserves, and was not highlighted yesterday as it should have been. Much of the discussion about the IC centers on bureaucratic questions, as opposed to what the IC is really supposed to be about: acquiring sensitive intelligence on America’s enemies.

The technical aspect of this is complicated but at the same time straightforward. In most cases (but perhaps not all), we probably don’t need two bureaucracies running technical collection (e.g. satellites) on the same targets. We don’t even know if this is a problem, however. The main technical issues involve collating the enormous amounts of data collected and then making sure it is analyzed in a timely manner. In other words, it is a problem properly addressed in the first two dimensions discussed above.

Human intelligence (HUMINT) collection is a different story. If we’ve learned anything over the last decade it is that the Central Intelligence Agency fails, time and again, to run spy networks behind enemy lines. Multiple investigations have revealed that the CIA has sparse HUMINT inside WMD hotspots such as Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. military has confronted the CIA’s lack of HUMINT inside war zones. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the CIA failed to acquire the types of basic HUMINT the military needs. Here, redundancies and contractors are vitally important to fill in the gaps. On the other hand, this probably means the CIA’s bureaucracy could use some trimming since it is not fulfilling its core mission.

The IC’s bureaucracy is bloated and undoubtedly inefficient in important ways. But redundancies are not necessarily a bad thing.     

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

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