It’s been obvious for a long time that the intelligence community (IC) is in urgent need of reform. Among the most egregious symptoms:
1. The failure to derail the 9/11 plot.
2. The failure over the past 30 years to recognize and incisively analyze the growing threat of Islamism in its various forms (e.g. al-Qaeda, Iran); too much focus on recruiting Spanish speakers (and failure, in spite of that, to do enough about Hezbollah’s penetration into Latin America and the growing alliances between terrorist organizations and organized crime there).
3. The faulty intel on Saddam’s WMD.
4. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate asserting that Iran had “halted” its drive for nuclear weapons. This was blatantly false — as those making the claim must have known; their evident intention was to tie the hands of the president. Far from being punished for this usurpation of authority, they were rewarded.
5. Fort Hood; the Christmas bombing attempt; the Times Square bombing attempt. In each case, red flags were ignored.
So what are the chances of reform? Zero. I was just discussing this topic with Fred Thompson on his radio show, and he mentioned that he can’t recall a single instance of a government bureaucracy reforming. And the intel bureaucracy would be about the most difficult to reform, because one thing these folks know how to do is protect their turf.
However, I disagree with the Washington Post thesis that the big problem is redundancy. On the contrary, redundancy can be useful. Would you rather fly on a plane with one engine or two? Nor do I agree that the use of contractors is necessarily a bad thing. Right now, insiders tell me, we could not do without them. At least if they underperform, they can be fired.
I’m not arguing for the elimination of the IC. I’m arguing that reform would require, above all, the setting of goals and specific metrics and a system that would reward success and punish failure. That would require that the president make this a top priority and assign extraordinary people to design and implement the reforms.
It’s not going to happen.