Thursday, October 13, 2005

Introducing ... A New Bureaucracy

With a name that sounds more like it came straight out of an Austin Powers movie, the National Clandestine Service will be a new thread on the intelligence web, and purportedly the thread that will hold the web together.

One of their goals is to "'standardize tactics, techniques, training and procedures' throughout the intelligence community." On the surface, it sounds reasonable. But how do you standardize intelligence without compromising its usefulness? If there were a simple handbook that stated all techniques and procedures, would intelligence retain its value?

At the same time, the average person is not supposed to have access to the information that they are paying the CIA and now the NCS to discover. Yet we foot the bill for the new agency. We can accurately judge other agencies' competence and efficiency, but how do we judge whether we are paying too much for intelligence? If we can't know when the would-be evildoers are thwarted by the work of intelligence agencies, if we can't measure how many attacks might be avoided for every dollar we spend, how can we possibly say whether it is beneficial to create yet another organization?

I'd suspect the problem is not undersupply of tax dollars, as the call for an additional 50% increase in intelligence staffing might suggest. Perhaps it is the proverbial "too many cooks spoiling the broth," where too many people are involved and tasks are continually passed from one person to the next.

Politicians know that taxpayers cannot verify whether their money is being spent properly with regard to intelligence. They don't see the reports and they can't verify where the money is being spent, even if they tried. It would therefore make sense that politicians overemphasize the danger of terrorist attacks, creating color codes to emphasize alert levels that supposedly state the risk of a terrorist attack at any given time. Oddly enough, it has never been at or near zero, even though there are many days in which no terrorist attacks occur on U.S. soil. Underestimating the need for additional funding is not an attribute typically held by politicians.

Is there a dire need for a National Clandestine Service? Without addressing whether the gathering of intelligence is a legitimate function of government, I'd say no. The need for additional intelligence is overemphasized, not underemphasized, and given little monetary constraint, politicians will overspend, particularly when they know their spending cannot be evaluated.

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