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Thoughts on Downsizing US Intelligence to Make It Smarter

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Thoughts on Downsizing US Intelligence to Make It Smarter

Less is more, especially when it comes to collecting and analyzing secret information. Why aren’t we addressing this in the US?

The US Intelligence Community consists of 16 agencies, all answering – in theory – to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), an independent bureau with cabinet-level status. Most are part of the Defense Department, while Coast Guard Intelligence and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis are in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Department of Justice (DOJ) has the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), while the Departments of Energy, State, and Treasury, each run single intelligence offices.  The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an entity independent of the Cabinet. Other federal agencies operate intel units autonomous from those of their parent departments such as, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Secret Service, all part of DHS.

Although the US thoroughly covers all aspects of intelligence collection and analysis, it’s by a pantheon of oft-competing entities, each trying to show their independent relevance. A counterproductive system that’s wasteful of public funds and inevitably leads to inter-agency turf wars.  Among the major world powers, we are unique in devoting so many separate entities to the intel business.  The British have 4 major intelligence agencies, one for external operations, MI-6 – the Secret Intelligence Service of James Bond fame, MI-5, for domestic counter-intelligence, Defence Intelligence for the military and GCHQ, the U.K. equivalent of our National Security Agency (NSA).

Opposing the big Western services, Russia has 3 intelligence agencies. The SVR, a rough equivalent of our CIA, the FSB, successor to the KGB, and the military’s GRU, their largest external intelligence service. The Chinese have two; the Ministry of State Security which handles both domestic and foreign intelligence matters and the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, a military intel agency with departments that perform functions equivalent to our CIA, NSA, and runs their spy satellites.

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America’s intelligence hodge-podge clamors for simplification. Here’s how: The ODNI, created after the attacks of 9/11/2001, to coordinate all intel, doesn’t. It often disputes the conclusions of its subordinate agencies, and is regarded within the intelligence community as a superfluous trinket of bureaucracy.  Eliminate it and place management of intelligence in the hands of the National Security Council (NSC), the folks who advise the final decision-maker – the president.

Make the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the sole US military intelligence service. Eliminate the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine intelligence components, and have the DIA subsume their functions.  The current military setup is a large waste of resources and often leads to conflicting results.  The DIA can maintain different offices for each of the military services, while maintaining operational control for coordinated results.

Three more intelligence components of the DoD are the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which operates our spy satellites, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGIA) which interprets overhead (satellite and aerial) imagery and performs services such as mapping for the armed services, and the NSA, responsible for electronic intelligence collection, cyber operations and cryptography. The work of these agencies is often related, and sometimes overlapping.  Have the NSA, our largest intelligence service, superintend the operation and dissemination of intel we gather from above, by moving the NRO and the NGIA into their fold.

On the civilian side, the CIA is our primary foreign intelligence agency. Its resources and operations stretch around the world.  Yet the Departments of State, Treasury and Energy still run separate intel bureaus.  Eliminate this duplication and let the FBI and CIA provide them with the information they need.  Single source, coordinated intelligence saves time, money and increases efficiency by eliminating bureaucracies that contribute nothing but infighting.

The FBI is America’s primary domestic intelligence agency. So why does another DOJ agency, the DEA, need its own?  Both agencies are heavily invested in battling the drug scourge. Its prestigious for the DEA to have one, but it’s a waste of resources.  The DEA can get what it needs internally and externally, from the vast intelligence operations run by the FBI and the CIA.

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The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis duplicates what other agencies collect. Why? Save for the Protective Intelligence Division of the Secret Service, which they need to carry out dignitary protection duties, the DHS should be getting all its intelligence product from the FBI, CIA and DIA.  Consolidated, and cost-effective.

Government bureaucracies have a knack for growth at any cost. The bigger an agency is, the more money it can get from Congress and the more people it can hire, ad infinitum.  Suffer the poor taxpayers.  The proliferation of intelligence agencies is a behemoth employing too many people, costing billions of dollars and as history has shown, is too often inaccurate. Albert Einstein famously said, make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.  If our major allies and adversaries can gather intelligence with less complex apparatus, why can’t the United States?

Realistically, America only needs 4 agencies to perform its intelligence activities, streamlining collection and analysis at significantly lower cost. All external intelligence activities can be done by the CIA and DIA, operating in their respective spheres of competence, with all domestic operations run by the FBI.  And the gathering and deciphering of electronic, signals, communications, cyber and aerial surveillance intel, should be controlled by the NSA.  This reorganization allows more structured intelligence to be distributed to all federal agencies based on their particular needs.  But most importantly, it would give the president a better intelligence product, vetted through his National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so he can make the best possible decisions as Commander-in-Chief.


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Martin Schwartz
About Martin Schwartz 13 Articles
Martin Schwartz was a N.Y. police officer, a U.S. Treasury Special Agent (criminal investigator) attached to the U.S. Customs Service, an assistant district attorney in NYC, a special assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) and a special counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice. He is now a writer with prior published work in the N.Y. Times, U.S. News & World Report, U.S.A. Today and Newsday, and a consultant to law enforcement.
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