A Smaller and Radically Restructured IC?

The AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit (Summit) held at the Omni Shorem Hotel in Washington DC on 18 and 19 September was a grand event.  Virtually all of the IC’s senior leadership made presentations while the IC’s industrial base was well represented by over 1,000 attendees many from small businesses because this event was specifically planned to be unencumbered by classification.  The Summit was “on the record” with numerous members of media attending, some even moderating panel sessions.  Not surprisingly the Summit generated considerable media coverage.  The professionals at INSA and on the AFCEA Intelligence Committee have every reason to be proud of this inaugural Summit that they organized and produced.

During his keynote, Director of National Intelligence(DNI) James Clapper, after some good natured carping about the expectations for the IC to perform flawlessly in an environment of “immaculate collection,” proceeded to introduce the third iteration of the National Intelligence Strategy (NIS).


The DNI took considerable time to insure the audience understood the “mission,” “vision,”  “mission objectives,” and the “enterprise objectives” laid out in the NIS.  The DNI then spent an equal amount of time explaining that it was more important than ever in today’s environment of distrust in government, that members of the IC have and abide by a set of professional effects.  For this reason the DNI personally directed that the ethical principles associated with mission, truth, lawfulness, integrity, stewardship, excellence, and diversity be the opening page of the NIS.

As I listened to the DNI I was optimistic that the IC was going to take full advantage of the platform provided by this two day Summit to begin the challenging work of rebuilding the trust and confidence of American people in their IC.  I actually envisioned the IC leaders on the agenda using the Summit’s various sessions and tracks to explain what the IC does for them as opposed to the Snowden narrative of what it is doing to them.  However, beyond some general references to the new NIS and the importance of having the trust and confidence of the American people, I did not detect over the balance of The Summit either a coherent or coordinated message from the various podiums relating back to how the NIS was going to impact the organizations and functions of the IC being addressed.

Particularly discouraging to me was the panel on “What Should the Nation Expect from its IC?” Rather than talking directly to this seminal question about the metaphysics of the IC going forward, the Directors of four of the IC’s “big five” agencies got off on a tangents about what is in their in boxes, i.e. what is keeping them busy vice what the IC needs to be doing, implying that what the IC is doing is what the nation can expect from its IC.

With the exception of NSA Director Mike Rogers, who said the IC  should have done better anticipating the break out of ISIL into Iraq because it is our job, the other agency chiefs asserted that the IC did provide policy makers with good strategic warning about the dangers ISIL represented to US interests in the region,  but because of the nature of ISIL (non-state actor, indigenous funding, strong operational security, etc.) the IC could not offer meaningful warning as to when those dangers would manifest themselves nor could they provide insights on how to deter or disrupt ISIL’s plans.  While this was actually an informative and thoughtful discussion aimed at managing external expectations about what the IC is capable of, it was not what I was expecting hear about based on the session’s title.

Since the Summit did not address what I (and perhaps others) should or could expect from the IC, I thought I would use this forum to offer some IC measures of effectiveness (MOEs) for discussion and debate.  My underlying premise, because of the critical role the IC plays in informing national security policies and decisions with classified information that cannot (and in most cases should not) be independently verified, is that the IC must have both the trust and confidence of its  government consumers but also the American people who are funding what the IC does. As a result, each of the five MOEs for the IC proposed below are focused individually and collectively on creating “trust and confidence” in the “IC Brand”:

  • COMPETENCE: Assurance that the hard work of creating meaningful intelligence out of disparate classified and unclassified information will be performed diligently by trained intelligence professionals well versed in the tradecraft of their specific disciplines on a schedule driven by consumers not producers.  The quality controls essential for producing reliable intelligence should be woven into all intelligence processes at the earliest opportunities.
  • OBJECTIVITY:  IC outputs will be data driven, well sourced, and auditable.  Intelligence to be useful must be about what the adversary is contemplating vice what consumers need or want to hear from the IC for any number of reasons.
  • ENGAGEMENT: In order to produce timely, insightful, and relevant intelligence, the IC must be directly engaged with its consumer base with short feedback loops resulting in both the continuous improvement of IC products and their utility to those using intelligence to inform their decisions. The IC must also be interacting regularly with the American people, through a well thought out public affairs campaign showing the members of the IC to be honorable people, who respect the rule of law, doing their best to protect our nation from harm.
  • TRANSPARENCY: For government consumers with clearances to rely on intelligence they are provided, they should and will demand to know something about the sources and methods associated with intelligence before they put it to critical use. Those in the media and the general public should not be expected to trust a secretive IC that does not trust them.  Trust is a two way dynamic.  In the spirit of the US Constitution, IC sources and methods are necessarily classified to protect the IC’s competitive advantage over those who mean to do us harm, but what the US IC does and why it does it should be subject to classification only by exception.
  • HUMILITY: By its nature, intelligence is always incomplete and ambiguous, so there is usually no reason for the IC to believe it knows more about an adversary, situation, or technology than others elsewhere in the government, academia, industry, or the media who actually may have better access in some case than the IC.  As a general proposition the IC will perform best when it is acting as a learning organization.  It will also engender trust and confidence by consumers and the public the more openly the IC holds itself to account when intelligence fails to adequately inform decision makers or the IC overreaches its authorities to execute its missions

Obviously many will disagree for good reasons with these five candidate MOEs for assessing IC performance, but that discussion and debate will be good for the health of the IC.  What I am reasonably certain won’t be up for debate, though, is that after doubling the size and budget of the IC since September 11, 2001, few in the federal government or in the local town square will have much tolerance for the IC if it fails again to warn regarding a major attack on the US homeland or delivers an intelligence assessment that enables a strategic policy failure such as the 2003 invasion of Iraqi.

The National Security Act of 1947 created today’s centralized national Intelligence Community in response to the then public demand for “no more Pearl Harbors.”  If there is another foreign caused mass casualty attack on the Continental United States (CONUS), the American people should be expected to demand to know why it’s generously resourced IC failed to protect their individual and collective security.  I fear these demands will not produce acceptable answers for either the consumers or funders of intelligence; instead, they will lead to a smaller and radically restructured IC

That’s what I think; what do think?

15 comments on “A Smaller and Radically Restructured IC?

  1. Pete Speer says:

    What is missing from the IC leadership is the willingness to trust in the work being done at the analytic level. This cuts two ways. The resultant production of intelligence is inhibited and the results broadened rather than specific. At the same time the seniors do not invest in the product when it is briefed outside the IC.

    Proper work can not go on when the IC is told what it must find in order to track with Policy. Defining the Threat to achieving National Security Objectives must inform the Strategies and thus the Policies.

    Of course this sort of hierarchical decision making relies on the nation having such Objctives, not — as it consistently does — operate on an ad hoc basis.

  2. Dr. Murray Felsher says:

    As usual Joe, a well-thought-out piece to mull over. I’m certain that we can add a MOE here or there, but what I’d like to address is your final sentence — “I fear these demands will not produce acceptable answers for either the consumers or funders of intelligence; instead, they will lead to a smaller and radically restructured IC.” You present that as a feared consequence; I view that as a preferred outcome. It’s that “Culture” thing again, Joe. As long as we have a mindset that perpetuates a “Big Five,” — and consequently (if only inadvertently) accepts a “Small Eleven,” we will never fully integrate our intelligence activities across the IC spectrum, despite the distribution of hundreds of studies and the creation of thousands of PowerPoint presentations. The only way to eliminate the organizational competitiveness and concomitant distrust that still permeates throughout the IC, and that serves as the root of all our woes is to drastically change the “Culture” that has created the impediments and barriers that we all know exist. And that, in spite of the enormous advances made by forward-looking chunks of several agencies that have learned to work together. There must ultimately be only “One” intelligence organization. And it may very well be much smaller than the “Overwhelming Sixteen.” But it would also be more agile, more diligent, more responsive, more pro-active, and, (as I look over my shoulder), more believable. And yes, I know there will be those that will accuse me of attempting to “Boil the Ocean,” or attempting to go “A Bridge Too Far.” But that’s OK…m.

    • joemaz says:

      Murray I agree with you that a smaller more tightly organized IC would result in a better run IC and by extension better intel outcomes. When GE was on top of the world it never had more than 12 industries in its portfolio which should be instructive for the IC in terms of organizational architecture and span of control. My fear/concern about the IC getting smaller is that it will be done by outsiders with meat axes, vice in a thoughtful strategic manner by those knowledgeable about not just what the IC does certain things but why as well joemaz

      • Collin Agee says:

        An interesting point here, though maybe not the one you intended: We’ve got enemies all over the map, literally and figuratively, though none of them individually is the magnitude of the Soviet Union. But it compels the IC to cover down on very diverse threats, and make decisions about where to prioritize and where to take risk.
        Since you invoked GE, Neutron Jack’s corporate philosophy was that they would be #1 or #2 in any business or they would get out. The IC doesn’t have the option to divest what they don’t do well, but I think we should strive to be the best across the board.

  3. mazzajm1 says:

    Pete thanks for this comment! Unfortunately since 9/11 the IC has been seduced by the find, fix, finish approach to keeping the nation safe from Jihadi Terrorism. As a result we keep killing them but not eliminating them. What is lacking is a national strategy for dealing with violent Islam and a companion IC strategy to support it


  4. Collin Agee says:

    Joe, a good read, but one nit to pick:

    “OBJECTIVITY: IC outputs will be data driven, well sourced, and auditable. Intelligence to be useful must be about what the adversary is contemplating vice what consumers need or want to hear from the IC for any number of reasons.”

    In certain aspects, I think those two sentences are contradictory. If the 9/11 Commission concluded that we were guilty of a “failure of imagination,” that is not something that is data driven. This is at the heart of anticipatory intelligence, and to a degree, predictive intelligence. The second sentence speaks to the distinction between capabilities and intentions. It’s what makes intelligence work both an art and a science, and why good analysis that’s of value to decision-makers is not deterministic and simply a product of solid deduction.

    In other words, the Cold War days of I&W, in which we could dutifully devise indicators and tenaciously collect against them, are over. We still need to do that, but it’s not enough against the non-state actors and asymmetric threats comprise some of our hardest challenges.

    • joemaz says:

      Collin you make a good point. Seminal analysis is almost never only fact based/driven but brings to bear the experience, judgment, intuition of the analyst to get beyond what just the facts tell us. My point here is that that the IC neither individually nor collectively can be creating facts to support analytic outcome. As Colin Powell pointed out: tell me what you know, tell me what you don’t know, and tell me what you think, but be sure to keep them all separate joemaz

  5. Don Rowan, PhD says:

    Dr. Don Rowan: I can almost write the briefing that each gave. I have heard this litany of nea culpas, pontification and excuses many times in the past. First, the speakers generally go into depth in some litany of what their organization does [and in many cases the audience knows better than they do, at least in a practical sense]. Secondly, all they need to is tell the audience what their organization looks like [put up a detailed organization chart with names & phone numbers], what their needs for technology or professional services are, and what procurements are upcoming in the next 12-18 months. If there is to be a reduction in staff due to budget cuts, let the audience know and what impact these reductions will likely be. Too frequently I [at least] have a better knowledge and understanding going into these briefings that I would ever get coming out. In most cases the military and civil servant staffs already know or have a good idea what to expect — the speakers’ fears being experienced and capable staff will start to depart for better jobs in industry or other organizations better budgeted. Is there a need for a restructuring of the IC — maybe but none of the audience wants to profess or guess which organization to do away with and merge into another. I know a number of firms that have significant numbers or junior-mid level intel analysts or linguists on their staff and now are very worried. These same firms should have know years ago what to expect. This is not a new happening — not very smart to cut IC members then expect actionable intelligence on a growing and increasingly diverse threat.

  6. mazzajm1 says:

    Collin we can debate separately if the IC can or can not chose to do certain tasks, but my point about GE is not even that world class management team thought it could handle more than 12 large portfolios yet the IC is trying to management 17. If an IC function (take my favorite IT) is important but done better by others it will always cost less over time with better performance if that function is outsourced vice divested.


    • Collin Agee says:

      Joe, okay, I see your logic. But we had an interesting experience with that in the Army. Acknowledging all the advantages and agility of industry, we put them in charge of the Future Combat System, and called it a Lead Systems Integrator. It crashed and burned.

      So if you apply that approach within the IC, what happens if you have an intelligence failure? Penalize the contractor? Don’t choose them the next time?

      Not everything in intel is an inherently governmental function. IT is probably a good example. But even there, we’ve got Snowden as the poster child for what can go wrong.

      • mazzajm1 says:

        Collin remind who in the IC has been held accountable for the failure to warn on the USS Cole, 9/11; got Iraqi WMD wrong; failed to detect Snowden? Like baseball I don’t want lose an elimination game with anything but my pitcher starting the game vice who is in the rotation to start. The best way to deal with an intel failure is to minimize the chances of it occurring. The specific answer to your scenario though is you fire both the contractor and those in the IC responsible for the contractor’s performance joemaz


  7. Dave says:

    I read a line like “DNI personally directed that the ethical principles associated with mission, truth, lawfulness, integrity, stewardship, excellence, and diversity be the…” and can only think of all the new computer based trainings I and my colleagues are going to have to do.

  8. Randall Fort says:

    A “smaller and radically restructured IC”? That likely will happen and should happen, not as a result of budget pressures and/or warning “failures” that cause political backlash. It likely will and should happen because of the stunning, almost literally fantastic exponential changes that are taking place in technology. That technology is drastically affecting almost every single aspect of life as we know it, which is why it ultimately will seriously impact the mostly 20th Century business model known as the US Intelligence Community whether it wants such impacts or not. Borders Books, Tower Records, Eastman Kodak–how are those successful 20th century companies doing these days? Oh yeah, they were disintermediated out of existence by exponential changes in digital technology. A single iPhone or iPad has more access to information–HUMINT, SIGINT, IMINT–than existed in the entire US IC as of the early 1990s. And obviously, there are a LOT of such devices available to anyone and everyone on the planet. More digital data is being created every 24-48 hours today than was created in all of human history up until circa 2000; there are more simcards today than people, and the rate of increase is 5X faster than the increase in human population; the Internet of Things today consists of ~10 billion interconnected objects, which will be ~20 billion by 2020, which will be ~1 trillion by 2030; computation today is at peta-scale (quadrillion ops per second)and will reach exa-scale (quintillion) in the next 5-7 years; 3-D printing; nano-photonics; bio-informatics; and so on. All of those technologies combining and morphing into never-before-seen combinations, and ALL of it doubling in speed and capacity (at constant cost) every 12-24 months–the relentlessness of Moore’s Law. Failure to understand, adopt, adapt and integrate those technologies will guarantee performance failure (see the list of companies above), and yet I’ve seen precious little discussion of the impact of exponential changes in technology on the IC’s business model and functions, whether at the recent Symposium or anywhere else. Those technologies will enable a smaller IC, because the power of those capabilities will not require size, but rather agility, a quality large bureaucracies usually lack. The traditional IC stovepipes do not necessarily align with the new technologies, and so restructuring–“radical” or not–would also seem to make sense if the new technologies are to be fully exploited. Hopefully, someone in the IC is looking at the aggregate impact of exponential changes in technology on the IC’s mission, functions and and organization and is subsequently planning for the inevitable. Hopefully.

    • Dr. Murray Felsher says:

      Your comments, strengthened by the myriad of technological examples that you provide, perfectly back-up my earlier comments on the necessity (and I emphasize that word) of downsizing, compressing, and vitalizing the IC as we now know it. I will repeat what I said earlier: “There must ultimately be only ‘One’ intelligence organization. And it may very well be much smaller than the “Overwhelming Sixteen.” But it would also be more agile, more diligent, more responsive, more pro-active, and, (as I look over my shoulder), more believable.”

      Allow me a few moments here. When it comes to organizational/programmatic analysis, management, and construction, I kind of classify people into but two categories — “lumpers” and “splitters.” That is, there are those, as “lumpers” who will recognize and maximize the advantages gained by grouping individuals and their functions into singular organizational efforts — thereby minimizing duplicative activities and highlighting programmatic gaps. And there are those, as “splitters” who will recognize and maximize the advantages gained by separating individuals and their functions into multiple organizational efforts — thereby assuring more concentrated specialization along analytic areas of expertise.

      Note that at least since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and more dramatically since 9/11, the IC has been moving further and further along the “Splitter” track. And so we have specific separate agencies assigned specific separate functional management duties and responsibilities. These assigned duties and responsibilities are often viewed by those agencies (sometimes promulgated by enabling legislation or executive directive) as sacrosanct. (“We do this. We do this better than you. Don’t do this. We do this.”) Thus, as the years have gone by, the INT(s) (for lack of better designation) that is (are) generated, taught, and employed by each IC agency has tended to concentrate on its own perceived sphere(s) of expertise, with no desire for interagency comment or input. And in truth, this has allowed the development of profound insight and analytical maturation in many INTs in as many IC agencies. That’s the good news (and it really is good news.)

      The bad news is that there comes a time when one recognizes that the international “problems” that the IC now faces, and more important — the Intelligence solutions to those problems — can only really be approached, analyzed, and solved using methodologies that always (and I would have italicized that word to emphasize it, if this blog had allowed me) — so I’ll repeat it — ALWAYS require a combination of approaches. I would actually use the word Multi-INT, but that causes too much stomach rumbling, so I won’t mention it…oops. But look where we are now. The enforced separation of analytical expertise — as wonderful as that expertise may be — has resulted in a situation where the lacuna that we have constructed that pushes apart the agencies very often prevents the understanding of the appropriate and complete Intelligence picture. And what ends up as delivered product to the end user is lacking, or even wrong. We have created this erosional vacuity by letting the “splitters” go too far. There is some additional good news. We can fix it.

      Bear with me. I’m going to ask you to think of a big picture. A very Big Picture. According to the Big Bang theory, (no, not the TV show — the real one) we live in a universe that is expanding, However, according to some, its expanding more slowly though time. And many astro- and cosmo-physicists believe that it will stop expanding and then begin to actually contract until it finally reaches a primary point, when it will proceed to once again explode and expand…ad infinitum. Which is my way of saying that expansion/contraction is a repetitive natural cycle that on a much smaller scale is exactly replicated by our lumper/splitter cycle. When we reach a point where the advantages for “splitting” have been overcome by the advantages for “lumping,” then it is time to recognize that fact and act upon it. Today, “One” is indeed better than “Sixteen.” And smarter, too…m.

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