Comment: Is There a ‘DNA Problem’ in US Spying?
January 5, 2010 8 Comments
By IAN ALLEN* | intelNews.org |
The controversy of the apparent ineffectiveness of US intelligence agencies to uncover the so-called Christmas Day bomb plot has reignited the discussion about the operational shortcomings of the US intelligence community. Sam Tanenhaus, editor of of The New York Times Book Review, has authored an interesting commentary, in which he delves into some of what he sees as the design deficiencies in American intelligence.
He argues that the inability of US intelligence agencies to better cooperate with each other is implanted into their organizational DNA, owing to the classic Sherman Kent v. Willmoore Kendall intelligence debate of the late 1940s and 1950s. The debate, authoritatively reviewed by the late Yale History Professor Robin Winks in Cloak and Gown (1987), centered on two opposing intelligence science viewpoints: on the one hand, Kent advocated that that methodic, specialized intelligence collection and analysis by trained experts was key to “the elimination of surprise from foreign affairs”. On the other hand, the Kendall group of scholars considered that providing useful analysis on broad global trends would be far more suitable for a superpower relying on executive, rather than military-style, decision-making in peacetime.
The above analysis is correct. But from that point on, Tanenhaus’ article appears to disintegrate. He fails to mention that, in reality, the “Sherman v. Willmoore” argument was never definitively settled, leaving the US intelligence community in somewhat of a methodological disarray, which allowed for its mission and focus to be subordinated to narrow-minded ideological bickering between American politicians during the Cold War. Ultimately, this disarray forced America’s traditionally hesitant US lawmakers to attempt to restructure the mission of US intelligence, following the rampant civil liberties abuses of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The incomplete effort of the Church Committee to save whatever was left of the US civil liberties code from the clenches of rampant political policing, is responsible for the modern-day separation between the CIA and the NSA (which operate exclusively abroad) and the FBI (which operates primarily domestically).
Tanenhaus suggests that the US intelligence effort should now be re-centralized, and the traditional internal v. external dichotomy scrapped, since “America’s principal adversary is not a rival superpower, but a loose global network of jihadists”. But in reality, the domestic espionage abuses of the 1960s and 1970s occurred precisely for this reason: because domestic civil rights and antiwar campaigns were systematically (and for the most part erroneously) identified with “a global network” of communism.
It was this erroneous association of domestic political demands, such as the civil rights and pro-peace blocs, with supposedly external ideological forces, which damaged the operational code of US intelligence agencies, divided the country and nearly brought down American democracy altogether. Going back to those days will offer no clear intelligence benefit, and will re-institutionalize the politicization of American security.
* Ian Allen has spent nearly twenty-five years working in intelligence-related fields, and is now active in intelligence consulting. He has worked in North America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He is currently living and working in South Korea. He is co-founder and Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.