Paul Pillar on the Pretend Fix of U.S. Intelligence

Paul Pillar, Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy, and Misguided Reform“Ten years ought to be enough time for Americans to get over their overwhelming post-9/11 need for catharsis and reassurance and to look more critically at what was done for that purpose, including measures that pretend to be fixing something but really aren’t.”—Paul Pillar on the failure of intelligence reform

In a recent on his blog for National Interest , Paul Pillar encapsulates one of the main arguments in his new book Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform. Pillar argues that the findings of the 9/11 Commission and the subsequent reorganization of the intelligence agencies did little more than serve as a catharsis after the tragedy of 9/11. Pillar writes:

The commission performed that role [of catharsis] masterfully, hitting all the expected notes about making Americans safe by fixing a broken intelligence community. It did not matter that the intelligence community had actually provided strong strategic warning about the threat that would materialize on 9/11. The commission staff dealt with that inconvenient fact by producing a highly politicized report that conveyed a different impression, mostly by simply not mentioning a large portion of the relevant and accurate work that the intelligence community had done. It also did not matter that there was a lack of good new ideas about how to do such work better. The favorite Washington response when lacking better ideas for fixing something is to reorganize. So reorganization it was. The commission dusted off an old idea to separate the position of Director of Central Intelligence into two jobs. It added another proposal, also based on pre-9/11 ideas, for an additional counterterrorist center alongside the existing centers devoted to the topic. The net result of this rearrangement of the intelligence community’s wiring diagram was more, and more complicated, bureaucracy.

Pillar goes on to suggest that Washington has failed to grapple with the defects of the reorganization. Instead, Pillar argues, the failure of the new Director of Intelligence position is blamed on the frequent turnover and the position’s lack of control over budgets. What has resulted “a couple of new agencies whose work needs to be coordinated. In touting what supposedly was a fix to a problem of information flowing across bureaucratic lines, it added still more bureaucratic lines across which information must flow.”

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