Commentary Magazine


How Bureaucracy Crowds Out Good Intel

Not surprisingly (for anyone familiar with the ways of Washington) the intelligence community is fighting back against the common assumption that there was an intelligence failure in Benghazi–not only in preventing the attack but in describing it afterward as the work of a spontaneous mob rather than a planned jihadist terrorist attack.

Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press writes: “The CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month’s deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press.”

I don’t doubt that was the case, and that’s why I did not single out the CIA for criticism in my blog item a few days ago suggesting that readers of the New York Times or Washington Post often have better information than readers of classified intelligence products. The CIA is by far and away the best intelligence agency we have when it comes to both collecting human intelligence and analyzing intelligence. But it is overly large and overly bureaucratic. Enterprising officers are often frustrated by miles of red tape. That is even more the case in many of the 15 other intelligence agencies, and of course on top of all of them is another layer of useless bureaucracy–the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The result of all this bureaucracy is that even good information and analysis often gets lost in the analytical noise and it takes a long time to sort out what actually happened–whereas even in the biggest newspapers there are far fewer layers between the “collectors” (i.e., reporters) and consumers (i.e. readers). Thus it is no surprise to read in Dozier’s article: “It is unclear who, if anyone, saw the cable outside the CIA at that point and how high up in the agency the information went.” In an intelligence bureaucracy as big as ours, authority is diffuse, responsibility is hard to pin down, and information often falls between the cracks. That makes disasters such as Benghazi more likely.

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