Cashing in on Failure


When bureaucracies fail, one of their favorite ways to deflect demands for reform is to offer reorganization instead. That appears to be what has happened in the report of the 9/11 commission and Washington’s response to that report. Worse, the reorganization envisioned is to further centralize intelligence by establishing a national intelligence director and creating a counterterrorism center. One is tempted to ask, if centralization improves performance, why didn’t the Soviet Union ("democratic centralism") win the Cold War?

What American military and national intelligence really require is that bureaucratic anathema, reform. And reform in turn means not centralization and unification, but de-centralization and internal competition. What did us in both on 9/11 and in the run-up to the Iraq war was an intelligence process that valued committee consensus and internal harmony above the open rough-and-tumble disagreements that surface new ways of looking at things.

The de-centralization American intelligence requires, if it is to grapple with Fourth Generation threats, must occur on both a micro and a macro level. On the micro level, we need to create layers of competition within and between our national and military intelligence agencies, including CIA, DIA, the FBI and the NSA. The process should be reformed so that end users, policy-makers, get not a single, consensus assessment, with all dissenting views sanitized, but a summary of the disagreements as well as agreed points. The policy-makers, in turn, need to be able and willing to explore the disagreements themselves, rather than simply deferring to "the experts" and their compromise consensus.

Such an approach offers far greater promise of creating awareness and understanding in a type of war that is new to us. Unfortunately, it has virtually no chance of happening. The intelligence agencies themselves, like all bureaucracies, hate airing dirty linen. Doing so offers policy-makers a look inside the agency itself, which in turn invites demands for further freeform. Like the military services, the intelligence agencies want to offer policy-makers a single, agreed option, coupled with the message, "Everything is fine with us, except we need more money."

The policy-makers, in turn, are mostly elected politicians who avoid making decisions and taking responsibility. What they want from our intelligence agencies is an agreed consensus they can use to cover their own backsides politically. If they go along with the consensus and the result is disaster, they can say, "Blame it on those guys. We just acted on what they told us." But if they get competing estimates they have to actually think about, they end up responsible for the final decision and its outcome. So, in the end, both the politicos and the bureaucrats have common interest in giving the nation reorganization, not reform. That makes the outcome 99% certain.

What about the macro level? Sadly, the picture is equally bleak. Much Fourth Generation war in America will be most visible on the local level, where people quickly see things that are out of place. The question is what happens to that information. If it must be funneled through layer upon layer of bureaucracy until it finally reaches Big Brother in Washington, it will not be acted upon in time. Worse, Big Brother will see into the local level, which means he will want to control the local level. We will end up with the worst of both worlds, ineffective tyranny.

The key to dealing with manifestations of 4GW on the local level is to keep it local. That, in turn, requires community police: cops who walk a beat in one neighborhood, which they get to know very well. We happen to have a good Federal program to train and create more community police, called the Police Corps. What has happened to that program since 9/11? Every year, its budget gets cut more, to the point where it may soon be squeezed out of existence. The money all goes to Big Brother, the centralized, Washington-based Department of Homeland Security.

At the heart of our inability to reform instead of merely reorganize and further centralize our national intelligence is the crisis of the state itself. The state cannot reform because reform endangers the money and power of the New Class, which controls the state and feeds richly off its decay. As we will see in Washington’s response to the 9/11 commission report, the public is decoyed by puppet shows while the old games continue. And non-state, Fourth Generation enemies, who unlike the New Class really believe in something beyond themselves, will hit us again and again.

Remember, government bureaucracies don’t get more money and more power when they succeed, but when they fail. With an incentive system like that, it is fairly obvious what the rest of us are going to get more of: the consequences of intelligence failures.

WILLIAM S. LIND is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation

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