Call for a new “Department of Intelligence” is not an intelligent idea

In April 2005, just five months after former CIA Director George Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom notwithstanding the Agency’s failure to put the pieces of the 9-11 intelligence together before the attack, a new “super-intelligence” agency of the US government was formed — the Directorate of National Intelligence.  The purpose of creating this new umbrella intelligence agency, with a budget now in excess of $50 billion (in addition, of course, to the billions of dollars each of the individual agencies under it enjoys), was to resolve the myriad problems that had plagued our foreign intelligence system for decades — too many agencies with their own parochial interests and blinders, vague goals and missions, lack of a single and comprehensive budgetary authority, lack of coordinated technology and dissemination procedures, etc.

Now, just five years into the DNI’s existence, one of its former directors — Mike McConnell — is calling for yet another “top” intelligece agency to be created to oversee all the others, including the DNI.  In fact, McConnell is advocating an entirely new department of the federal government be formed — the Department of Intelligence.  This “mega intelligence agency” would be charged with — you guessed it — resolving the myriad problems that have plagued our foreign intelligence system for decades .  .  .  Hopefully, neither the current administration nor the Congress will heed McConnell’s call.

The fact of the matter is, there is already too much bureaucracy infecting our foreign intelligence community; there was too much bureaucracy infecting the system in 2004 when Congress passed the intelligence reorganization bill that gave birth to the DNI.  Bureaucracy stifles creativity, swift action and, perhaps most important, decisiveness;  all tools essential for successful intelligence tradecraft.  We need less not more bureaurcracy.  That was the whole point to creating the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 — as the central federal government agency to gather, analyze, coordinate and disseminate foreign intelligence to key decision makers.  Now, thanks to the creation of the DNI, the CIA no longer performs the key function that was the primary purpose for establishing the agency in the first place. 

The many military intelligence agencies and offices, such as the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), which were supposed to fall under the CIA’s overall coordination umbrella, never really have done so, and no president since all these agencies were created in the aftermath of WW II, has made them do so.  And therein lies the crux of the problem.

The bottom line is, no matter how many times Congress or the White House “reforms” or “reorganizes” our intelligence system, it will not have a meaningful or lasting positive impact until at least three thing happens.  First, we need a president who will definitively, clearly and consistently decree that one intelligence agency is the central authority for prioritizing, gathering, coordinating, and disseminating foreign intelligence for the president, the cabinet and other key decision makers.  No ifs, ands, or buts.   Second, we need a president who has the backbone to fire intelligence officials who fail to perform.  Neither the current president, Barack Obama, nor his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, have done this.  Finally, we need a president who has sufficient faith and trust in that intelligence system he has staffed and is leading, to actually listen to the work product it provides.

Morale at the CIA remains low and its mission remains blurred.  Meanwhile, across town, what should have been a simple task of tagging a Nigerian terrorist wannabee possessed of questionable IQ, as someone to watch and prevent from boarding a US airliner on Christmas Eve, couldn’t be accomplished because the right hand wasn’t talking to the left hand.  Problems big and small will continue to plague our intelligence system until this president, or some future president, employs his “commander in chief” hat for a purpose clearly consistent with being the commander in chief — cut the bureaucracy, lay down the law to our intelligence agencies to get in line, do their job, stop fighing, and remember who they work for.

24 comments Add your comment


April 9th, 2010
6:52 am

Isn’t it an oxymoron to call any government entity an intelligence agancy?


April 9th, 2010
6:56 am

I am all for more intelligence in our Government. In fact … I propose that we tax the wealthiest Americans…becuase they can afford to give a little more…to help those of us that are less intelligent. I will call it The Stupid Tax.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

April 9th, 2010
7:08 am

Just rename the Department of Education. It’s not doing anything important anyway.


April 9th, 2010
7:28 am

“Isn’t it an oxymoron to call any government entity an intelligence agancy?”

Dang. You beat me to it.

Semper Fi

April 9th, 2010
8:39 am

Mr. Barr:

This has got to be a late April fool’s joke …….. right? This is absurd.

Even forming DHS was a bad idea. We just could have funded all of our agencies properly and let them do it.

When are we going to stop this nonsense and take back our government?


April 9th, 2010
9:24 am

Vote out the incumbents and start over


April 9th, 2010
9:32 am

The government is of the people, so I guess you are correct. The people are stupid and evenless intelligent.

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

April 9th, 2010
10:04 am

Semper Fi, thanks for posting on topic. Wish everybody did.

DHS did something right last month–they arrested nine right wing extremists who were plotting to kill law enforcement officials.


April 9th, 2010
10:06 am

There have to be new departments, committees, overseers, etc., just to keep swelling the bureaucracy. In corporate life it is called “empire building”, and the guy who controls the biggest empire wins. I guess Obama has an empire building complex, or he just wants to be God. But we have more than enough government employees, who fat butts, and pensions we are required to support. I am in favor of chopping a lot of them out.


April 9th, 2010
11:10 am

But we need an agency to look after the agency that they look after another agency, it all makes sense now. The reason for all these new agencies is so that Obozo can hire more socialist to oversee the capitalist…

David S

April 9th, 2010
12:19 pm

As someone who supported and voted for the Department of Homeland security, you are one to talk Bob.

Using the term “intelligence” and “government” on even the same page is inappropriate unless the words “lack of” come before the word intelligence.

David S

April 9th, 2010
12:25 pm

Currently every “intelligence” agency says that Iran abandoned its nuclear program back in 2003 and yet once again, just like during the rein of King George the W when he lied us into invading and occupying Iraq, every cheerleader for Israel and the military killing machine is saying that we need to nuke Iran before they repeat the holocost. Why get a new agency when we don’t listen to the ones we have??


April 9th, 2010
12:39 pm

jokes aside, David S is right. there is intelligence (data) and there is intelligence (knowledge, aptitude for learning), but sadly enough, in DC these two very imporant parts of “governing” are mutually exclusive. until we remove policy-makers from the process of compiling and analyzing “intel” we could have all the czars and directors and agencies we want, and the value of said data will be useless in the face of political mud fights (Valerie Plame) and inter-agency sibling rivalry (CIA, FBI, INS “watch list” snafus pre-9/11)

Byron Mathison Kerr

April 9th, 2010
1:01 pm

To Tigerswoody, April 9th, 2010, 6:52 am:
Isn’t it an oxymoron to call any government entity an intelligence [agency]?

Let’s not confuse intelligence agency with intelligent agency. :-)


April 9th, 2010
3:05 pm

Good article again, Mr. Barr. Now, would you please comment on Anne Fauver’s absurd expenditure at $38K per year (per camera?) for spycams at Piedmont Park? Surely there is not that much crime to justify this effort and cost! How many years has the park been open (over 100 years!) without the need for cameras. Reflects more the sign of the times that we need to feel “safer.” What a hoax! And what a loss of privacy on a Sunday afternoon stroll with my wife and kids!


April 9th, 2010
3:35 pm

Eric – How would Barack be able to monitor your activities if the camera isn’t put into place? Remember, Barack knows better than you how you should be living your life.

Semper Fi

April 9th, 2010
5:03 pm

Not Going To Use My Usual Name :

I may be wrong but I think the FBI arrested those people. The FBI is under the Justice Department ……… not DHS.

Again ……….. we didn’t need DHS! Bush resisted it as long as he could but Congress pushed it on him. He still should have vetoed it in favor of expanding, funding properly and forced communication/cooperation between EXISTING AGENCIES !!!


April 9th, 2010
5:36 pm

All of you armchair generals out there are hereby ORDERED to read this:

Ooo Rah and Semper Fi Marine !


April 9th, 2010
7:21 pm

ugaaccountant – you’re right. I guess there’s already cameras everywhere else too – grocery store parking lots, interstates, you name it. But, I doubt it’s our pres.– no, it’s some local bozo watching.


April 10th, 2010
7:50 am


No More Progressives!

April 11th, 2010
3:41 pm

My understanding is that there are (26) twenty-six different federal intelligence agencies. Can someone tell me what the redundant 25 agencies do that is crucial to our existence?

Just curious.

No More Progressives!

April 12th, 2010
6:07 am


April 9th, 2010
5:36 pm

First, thanks for the promotion. I’ve been waiting for years.

I read the article. God Bless this Marine, and all past & present service members.

J. Wilson

April 12th, 2010
9:44 pm

You’re article is incorrect.

1. The DNI is not an agency, but an office (ODNI). It is not the “Directorate of National Intelligence” but the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

2. The ODNI does not have a $50 billion dollar budget in addition to the other intel agencies; the $50 billion dollar figure includes 16 agencies spread across several cabinet departments and one independent agency.

3. 9/11 was not a call to fix the coordination and dissemination of “foreign intelligence” but to share, colllaborate, and fuse domestic and foreign intelligence across organizational boundaries, i.e., community managament (previously under the CIA’s purview)

4. All senior intelligence officials and the 9/11 Commission and all DCIA directors since the DNI creation agree that the CIA director had too many jobs before and couldn’t manage the community effectively when he had to be the principal intelligence advisor to the President, CIA director, and director of the intelligence community.

5. McConnell’s call is not about creating new bureaucracy; it’s about giving the DNI the authority and accountability to fulfill his mandate. Telling other agencies inside departments with their own chains of command with no clear title 10 authorities is hard to do and virtually impossible to enforce. McConnell learned this first hand. Also, the proposed “Department of Intelligence” would not assume the DNI; the DNI would become the department, and embody the intel agencies currently in other departments, like NSA, DIA, NGA, etc. Then their is clear lines of authority, no ambiguity.

6. No President is going to give intelligence mgmt the visibility it needs daily to hold intelligence heads accountable. You have to have someone ensuring domestic and foreign intelligence is being shared, is being well sourced, etc. A single agency can’t and should not do that, for legal and practical reasons.

L Dodd

April 19th, 2010
5:18 pm

It would make more sense to consolidate the federal gov’t. agencies that now exist to end duplication of effort and responsibility and COST than to create another ‘hole’ into which urgent info can be put in limbo by gov’t. employees who’ll put keeping their jobs and the power that goes with it ahead of nat’l. security.