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Bring Back the OSS?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?



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