Need to Reorganize US Spy Agencies

On President Trump’s first full day in office, he went to the CIA and promised to back the nation’s spy agencies, but his time would be better spent downsizing the sprawling intelligence community, says Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

Originating from the dispute over whether the Russians hacked the U.S. election and tried to influence it, rumblings came from the Trump transition team about reorganizing the intelligence community or parts thereof. That’s not a bad idea at all.

CIA seal in lobby of the spy agency’s headquarters. (U.S. government photo)

Prior to 9/11, the U.S. intelligence community had grown to 16 sprawling, secretive agencies, which stayed in their stovepipes, thus cooperating insufficiently. For example, the CIA and FBI had coordination problems that really impaired the government’s warning of the 9/11 attacks.

Logically, coordination problems tend to multiply the more intelligence agencies the government has and the bigger they get. Yet after 9/11, the George W. Bush administration and Congress instead used political logic. They wanted to be perceived as “doing something,” often anything, about the problem — no matter whether it would be effective in dealing with it, a mere placebo with no effect but looked good, or an action that was actually counterproductive.

“Reform” of the intelligence community after 9/11 fell into the last category. After a crisis, politicians often add government bureaucracy to show the public they are not letting a problem slide. In this case, they added yet a 17th intelligence agency — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to “coordinate” the CIA, FBI, NSA and other mostly gargantuan organizations of the 16-agency community.

Of course, one person couldn’t herd all these big cats, so the DNI had to have a new bureaucracy to allegedly tame them. Yet the DNI’s bureaucracy did not win control over the budgets of the other 16 agencies. In fact, most of the intelligence community’s budget is controlled by the massive Department of Defense — in which many of the intelligence agencies reside.

Complicated enough? In the government, like everywhere else, controlling money directs effort. Thus, the DNI has been ineffectual in coordinating the U.S. intelligence community.

Instead of adding yet another bureaucracy to coordinate the existing ones (after 9/11, the president and Congress did the same thing in the homeland security sphere by creating the new Department of Homeland Security to incorporate and coordinate all the government entities dealing with that function), the politicians should have done the opposite.

The new enemy, which is not so new anymore, was small, agile cells of terrorists, not the traditional slothful nation states of the Cold War, such as the Soviet Union. In bureaucratic parlance, the terrorist chain of command is simple and responsive. To counter this threat, the intelligence community must also be nimbler, not less agile.

Dysfunction and Inefficiency

This means that after 9/11, intelligence agencies and excess personnel should have been pruned, not added. Dysfunction and inefficiency would have also been reduced when dealing with threats from other nation-states.

The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers burning on 9/11. (Photo credit: National Park Service)

A specific plan for streamlining the intelligence community to make it more agile and effective for a new global security environment might begin by eliminating the ineffectual Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Then the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) should be merged with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which like the ODNI, sits on top of other intelligence agencies — the service intelligence agencies of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, which provide tactical battlefield intelligence.

The Marine and Coast Guard intelligence agencies could be folded under the umbrella of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The technical collection functions of the National Security Agency, The National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency should be merged into an Office of Technical Intelligence Collection.

The small Office of Intelligence and Research in the State Department, the only intelligence agency that was skeptical that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, should be left alone as a counter to the frequently alarmist threat inflation of the CIA/DIA.

The FBI should be returned to being a law enforcement agency, with its intelligence functions being transferred to the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the Homeland Security Department. The intelligence branches of the Energy and Treasury Departments, as well as that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the Justice Department, should be abolished (in fact, because the federal drug war has been such a costly and abysmal failure, the entire DEA should be dismantled).

Streamlining and Consolidation

Such streamlining of and consolidation in the intelligence community would enable many redundancies to be reduced or eliminated, thus eliminating much duplication and bureaucratic overhead.

Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present. (Photo credit: Office of Director of National Intelligence)

In addition, during the Cold War the U.S. intelligence community concentrated on having the best technical means of gathering information in the world — satellites, spy aircraft, drones, and other technological marvels of modern intelligence gathering. However, such gadgets have their limitations when trying to penetrate a small, secretive terrorist cell; human agents are still needed. Yet a decade-and-a-half after 9/11, the intelligence community still needs to improve its human intelligence (humint) capability. One major reason humint has lagged is that it doesn’t generate big money contracts in states and congressional districts, as does the building of satellites, spy aircraft, drones, and other electronic collection gizmos.

Thus, some intelligence agencies need to be eliminated or combined with sister agencies and the excess personnel eliminated. On the other hand, money should be taken away from technical collection and used to recruit more human agents.

In sum, almost any Trump administration shake-up of the ossified intelligence community would be welcome.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. [This article first appeared as a blog post at Huffington Post.]

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21 comments for “Need to Reorganize US Spy Agencies

  1. Joe Tedesky
    January 24, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Since I believe how bigger isn’t always better, I will endorse Ivan Eland on this subject….his recommendations sounds good to me.

    • Kiza
      January 26, 2017 at 2:05 am

      Here is an interesting view on Trump’s appointees relevant to the intelligence, written by the prominent alternative writer Thierry Meyssan (available on his website):
      “Contrary to what the US Press pretends, Generals Flynn, Mattis & Kelly have known each other for a long time, and serve the same objective – which does not mean that relations between them are always easy. Only senior officers of this status are capable of helping President Donald Trump to take back the Power that has been usurped since 11 September 2001. In order to succeed, they will have to clean out the Pentagon, CIA and the international institutions which have been corrupted – NATO, the European Union and the UN.”
      and
      “… However, there may be another reason for his choice of Kelly – Kelly was Mattis’s assistant in Iraq. In 2003, both of them entered into conflict with Paul Bremer III, the boss of the Coalition Provisional Authority – which, contrary to what the title might suggest, did not depend on the Coalition, but on the men who organised 9/11. They also opposed the civil war that John Negroponte had decided to organise in order to head the Iraqi Resistance away from fighting the Occupier, by creating the Islamic Emirate in Iraq (future Daesh). On the contrary, Mattis & Kelly attempted to honour the heads of the tribes of central Iraq in order to no longer be perceived as occupiers. They sought the help of the head of US Military Intelligence in Iraq, Michaël Flynn. The three men finally submitted to the orders of the White House. …”

      Therefore, it appears that ISIS/Daesh may have been created by the US Ziocons (there is hardly a more rabid Ziocon than Negroponte) on behalf of Israel, using US funds distributed by Gen. Petraeus to ex Ba’athists turned Muslim extremists. Petraeus was later rewarded with the directorship of CIA, until he was discredited and deposed by the leaks of the same CIA. Do you recall some Negroponte’s US special forces caught dresses like Arabs and with explosives to blow up some mosques in Baghdad and initiate a civil war?

      To reduce Ziocon influence, Trump will have to reform CIA, those who deposed of Petraeus are probably his allies within CIA.

  2. Herman
    January 24, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Dr. Eland knows a great deal and his thoughts focus on gathering intelligence. Cutting downs numbers of organizations and people makes sense.. We certainly have made mistakes in intelligence gathering, some of it not mistakes from their point of view because they satisfy the instincts of bureaucracies to justify their existence.

    But the bigger issue is why we have sent people abroad to stir up trouble for our enemies and keeping such activities “clandestine” and why the government hides such activities from the American people. What of the activities beyond intelligence such as arming people who want to do harm to our enemies I can hear the tsk tsks of those who presume to know better, that they understand such secrecy is essential.

    Sure, some activities such a imminent operations might justify secrecy, but why the whole operation and a full range of activities where we never get official and honest reports of what is going on. In this area, our best sources of information are from the targets of our activities, which we choose not to believe.

    The whole matter of secrecy and classification comes to mind, what is it that the public does not have the right to know and what is it that should remain classified and for how long. It seems that our government is using classification not to protect their ongoing operations but to hide what they are doing from the American people, who when they find out often ask the question, why in hell are we doing that. To that question, government has the responsibility to stand up and explain just what they are doing and why, and the people through the legislators given the right to say yes or no.

  3. J. D.
    January 24, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    A bigger problem with the intelligence agencies is that they have been politically corrupted from the time of MI6’s reconstruction of Donovan’s OSS. From the overthrow of Mossedegh, to Gulf of Tonkin, to WMD, to lying about Ghouta, the Ukraine coup, Crimea, MH17 and now the Russian hacking scare, they have become political tools and more often than not, repeat bogus intel fed from MI6. President Kennedy recognized that following the the Bay of Pigs and tragically sought to bring the CIA to heel. (The Warren Report and the ” lone gunman” theory is itself an expression of that corruption). The dismissal of Gen. Flynn by James Clapper, who warned of the Obama administration’s folly in arming and supporting ISIS, has not been lost on President Trump, who hopefully may pick up on what JFK began..

    • evelync
      January 24, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      The murky Cold War ideology that’s been used, IMO, for decades and decades to aide and abet a greedy MIC that Eisenhower warned us about was dreamt up in the 1950’s? and seems to have a very long, destructive life. It seems to continue to appeal to certain personalities within various government agencies.
      It’s a death machine.
      It is self perpetuating because it enshrines secrecy as a protective shield to hide wrongdoing.

      So I really like the idea that intelligence gathering should be independent. And there be more public discussion of foreign policy to shine a light on crazy stuff that any sane person would realize cannot work.
      e.g. bombing the shit out of innocent people as a way to stop terrorism…say what?

  4. Josh Stern
    January 24, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    The US intel agencies are the Deep State. They are calling the shots, rather than the other way around. To the extent that Trump is challenging that, he is at war with them & the mass media, which the CIA largely controls. Contrary to the claim that the FBI could “return” to its law enforcement roots, it should be pointed out that the FBI has been primarily been an instrument of political suppression and counter-intel since Hoover took it over during the “Red Scare” of the 1920s. The fact that the public fails to understand that and ignorantly thinks of the FBI as primarily Federal cops is a testimony to the effectiveness of FBI propaganda/marketing. The US does need a Federal Police/Criminal Investigation force and it should not expect the FBI to play that role, because that is not, and has never been, where the FBI’s political allegiances lie. There is no decade since the 1910s where the FBI has faithful to US Law and the US Constitution.

  5. Josh Stern
    January 24, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    Priest & Arkin reveal some important structural points about US Intel/Security in their book “Top Secret America”. Many of the most secret projects are classified in a way that only allows a handful of people to know about them or read the files. The POTUS is often not on the list. Even if he was on the list, he would not personally have time to read the material and would not be allowed to delegate that task to an aide. In practice, the POTUS is systematically out of the loop for many top secret projects. Clearly, Congress & the public are as well. The US Intel Deep State charts its own, willfully un-democratic course.

  6. Bill
    January 24, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    Trump is going to have to take on the intelligence agencies that smeared him after the election. Laws were broken, and it’s time for the lawbreakers to be outed and punished.

  7. delia ruhe
    January 24, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    I’m mildly surprised that Homeland Security, that sinkhole of all sinkholes, has a place in Elund’s proposal, but he knows way more about it than I do. Just think about the millions of dollars his major shakeup would return to the public purse — enough to cover the initial cost of erecting a single payer healthcare program that actually covers all Americans and in the long run will save half of what America spends on its batch of current programs.

    • evelync
      January 24, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      Yes, delia, I was surprised too that Homeland Security is considered by a serious reform minded person to be serving some purpose. When Joe Lieberman came up with the idea I was really skeptical ‘cause he’s such a political animal. And when airport broadcasts were warning travelers not to make jokes in the airport about the TSA or we’d get arrested, that confirmed my skepticism that it was being run in a crazed and dazed fashion and may have been used to keep people fearful.
      Although, I have to say that the airports have gotten much better – the TSA people have become pleasant, helpful, instead of treating average passengers as a threat.
      So I’m thinking that maybe Jeh Johnson may have made some changes that moved that agency away from the paranoia that seemed to drive it.

  8. Zachary Smith
    January 24, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    President Trump could do a lot worse than engage the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity group. They have a unique viewpoint about the issues involved, and could supply valuable advice.

  9. Sam F
    January 24, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Real intelligence gathering must be separated from secret operations.

    Secret operations agencies have been used by most presidents to conduct unconstitutional secret wars which are secrets only from the people of the US. Every case has attacked socialist democracies without cause and substituted dictatorships, or launched wars that killed countless innocents to support Israeli land theft, or launched wars that killed millions in Asia on the vague hypothesis that communism there threatened the West. These operations must be halted, rigorously limited in size and purpose, and placed under Congressional control. All domestic secret operations should be halted, including any kind of influence upon mass media: there is no mechanism to prevent totalitarian control of mass media, secret violations of the Constitution, operations against political parties, etc. All spying on US citizens must be halted unless a real warrant is issued by a real court, not a fake FISA “warrant” rubberstamp.

    Intelligence gathering does not generally need to be secret, except in the means of collection. Most of this information should be made and kept public.

    Checks and balances are necessary to prevent rogue operations and unconstitutional acts. None of the necessary monitoring should be left to potential rogues and political appointees. Whistleblowers should report directly to the people or to Congress without reprisals or censoring beyond legitimate points of secrecy.

    Finally, some redundancy of monitoring is necessary to implement checks and balances. A monolithic chain of command run by political appointees can be forced to delude the public, as SecDef Wolfowitz did for Cheney after 9/11, appointing the three zionist conspirators Perlman, Wurmser, and Feith to run offices at CIA, DIA and NSA that sent discredited false “intelligence” to Cheney & co to fabricate the Iraq WMD lies, as Bamford details in Pretext for War.

  10. Bill Bodden
    January 24, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    The small Office of Intelligence and Research in the State Department, the only intelligence agency that was skeptical that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, should be left alone as a counter to the frequently alarmist threat inflation of the CIA/DIA.

    Is that the same agency featured on “60 Minutes” that made it obvious their boss, Colin Powell, lied at the Security Council to support the war on Iraq?

    • Scott's friend
      January 26, 2017 at 5:26 am

      Maybe “the only” that expressed its thoughts.
      Most people thought the same (but for some people money and status were more important than their honor, legacy and even the longterm effects of their acts) even without Scott Ritter’s team findings.

  11. Realist
    January 25, 2017 at 2:33 am

    The CIA’s mission should be reduced to gathering intelligence outside our borders and nothing more. It should not be tasked with fighting covert wars. In fact, covert wars are both illegal and unconstitutional. Our constitution grants the congress the only right to declare a war, and it says nothing about prosecuting secret wars. Moreover, the CIA must be prohibited from spying on American citizens and, most certainly, spying on the American president, as it recently did to President Trump and his cabinet nominees, and also admitted to doing on Obama when its espionage of Trump became known. These activities have in essence made the CIA the de-facto controlling component of our government, above both the congress and the president. Most of the other agencies deserve to be phased out, as the author recommends, and those few remaining need to have their wings clipped if America is to remain (or is it return to?) a free and open society.

  12. Jurgen
    January 25, 2017 at 4:03 am

    The input (taxpayers paid):

    1) The CIA budget 2016 – $44 billion

    2) The FBI budget 2016 – $8.4 billion

    3) The NSA budget 2016 – $9.88 billion

    The output (return/result – just few):

    1) NSA, DOD and CIA highly secure networks got penetrated (allegedly by Chinese teams)
    as a result NSA, DOD and CIA stuff and family members’ personal data were stolen
    (14 million records total).
    2) Number of highly sophisticated hacking software tools developed by the NSA for penetrating enemy networks
    was offered for sale by a hacktivist group ‘The Shadow Brokers’ on some hackers’ websites.
    The software was earlier stolen by the group after penetration of the highly secure NSA networks.
    The tools were initially offered for 10000 bitcoins but as no takers popped up, the software was eventually
    given away as free download.
    3) …
    4) …

  13. Coldwind
    January 25, 2017 at 11:08 am

    We hope the need to reorganize the IC does not detract from absolute necessity of prosecuting relevant parties in the leadership for war crimes, treason and other criminal acts committed in our name, here and over seas. Without justice, reorganization will likely produce just more of the same from this community.

  14. brad kahn
    January 26, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Who’s hacking us and spying on us…
    And creating all the terror attacks in AMERICA?

    THE U.S. GOVERNMENT..!
    of COURSE!

    THEY ARE THE REAL ENEMY..!

    WE NEED PROTECTION FROM THEM..!

    EVERYTHING THEY DO IS SECRETIVE BUT HAVE THE RIGHT TO INVADE EVERY ASPECT OF THE CITIZENS PERSONAL LIFE..!

    EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THE CONTRACT
    ( THE CONSTITUTION) THAT OUR FOUNDING FATHERS LEFT US..!

    ALL OVER THE WORLD THEY ARE GANGTERS..
    INVOLVED IN ENORMOUS CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.

    ALL OVER THE WORLD THEY CREATE CHAOS AND SOCIAL DISTORTION.

    THEY SOW DEATH AND DESTRUCTION.

    THEY ARE HORRIBLE WAR CRIMINALS.

    THEY ARE MASS MURDERERS.
    ASSASSINS AND TORTURERS.

    THE WORLD IS MADE TO LIVE IN FEAR BY THEIR NAKED AGGRESSION.

    IN A WORD:
    THEY ARE WHITE TRASH.

    MOREOVER…

    IMAGINE..AMERICANS AFRAID OF THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT!

    ( AND RIGHTLY SO, BECAUSE THEY’LL MURDER YOU FOR TELLING THE TRUTH )

    IMAGINE: SENATOR CHUCKIE SCHUMER,
    TELLING PRESIDENT TRUMP HE BETTER NOT SAY TOO MUCH OR HE’LL WIND UP LIKE JFK..!

    THAT THE SECRET POLICE WILL SHOOT HIM..!
    SAID THAT PUBLICALLY.

    THEY CAN LOSE TRILLIONS OF TAXPAYERS DOLLARS..

    LOSE.

    DISAPPEARED

    SWINDLED

    EMBEZZLED TRILLIONS AND NOT A WHIMPER FROM THE SYCOPHANTS LIKE CHUCKIE THE CLOWN SCHUMER.

    BREAK EM UP.
    INVESTIGATE.
    OPEN THE BOOKS.

    END THE US INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES AND YOU’D DO AWAY WITH 99 % OF WORLD TERRORISM IN ONE WEEK.

    • Sam F
      January 26, 2017 at 9:45 am

      Unfortunately there is far more truth to your exclamations than exaggeration, but most people do not know and prefer to believe that all is well under the flag.

  15. MM
    January 26, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Agree with eliminating DNI, but you can’t merge the CIA and DIA
    National Intelligence that supports policy decisions needs to be separate from military intelligence
    CIA, NSA, NGA, NRO, INR at State need to be disbanded. It’s in place we’ll have a National Intelligence Agency (NIA). NIA will be responsible for global strategic intelligence and providing the President and National Security Council informed on strategic matters
    -DHS/TSA can be disbanded, we didn’t need them prior to 2001 and don’t today. Time and time again, congressional reports have proven the Intelligence function with DHS has provided no value and they’ve done nothing to prevent a single terrorist attack since 2001.
    Agree the FBI needs to focus on Law Enforcement, and the DEA, ATF, US Marshalls, Treasury, etc can be rolled under one umbrella. There should only be a single Federal Law Enforcement agency focused on domestic matters only.
    -DOE needs to keep its intelligence function, if you don’t understand why, that’s not really a topic for an unclassified blog.
    “The Marine and Coast Guard intelligence agencies could be folded under the umbrella of the Office of Naval Intelligence” No, that’s a terrible idea, you consolidate functions that make sense, not just to do it. Coast Guard has a very specific function that has nothing to do with the Navy or Marine Corp
    Part of a larger DoD realignment, needs to be going back to an Active Duty force that’s focused on current operations, a reserve force that’s only activated for wartime(approved by congress) and a national guard that should be brought back to support state missions and homeland security only. Coast Guard should be part of the Homeland Security mission and not mixed in with the Navy/Marine corp.
    We need to eliminate all the “active” reserve and National Guard positions. This was abused greatly over the last 15 years and we have these units involved in federal missions they have no business being in, for example Intelligence Operations,

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