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Intelligence Reform: A Question of Balance
by:John D. Bansemer
In Intelligence Reform: A Question of Balance, Col John D. Bansemer shares his penetrating insights into reforming the US intelligence community (IC) to improve its performance. He offers valuable guidelines for thoughtful action on this perennial concern. The events of 9/11/2001 resulted in national soul searching as we attempted to understand how such...
In Intelligence Reform: A Question of Balance, Col John D. Bansemer shares his penetrating insights into reforming the US intelligence community (IC) to improve its performance. He offers valuable guidelines for thoughtful action on this perennial concern. The events of 9/11/2001 resulted in national soul searching as we attempted to understand how such terrible events could happen. Congress investigated these events, and the 9/11 Commission studied them. Although the commission ultimately made 41 recommendations, the ones that called yet again for reform of the IC captured the most attention in both the press and Congress. Why has intelligence reform been called for so often over the years? Why has it proven so difficult to improve the performance of intelligence agencies to anyone’s lasting satisfaction? In addressing these questions, there is a direction that Bansemer wisely does not take, namely attempting to sort out the relative roles of intelligence failures and operational failures. Surely future studies of Hurricane Katrina will illustrate, through an example of nearly laboratory purity, that operational failures can occur even with nearly perfect intelligence, hence that intelligence reform may well need to go hand in-hand with operational reform to improve overall performance. Bansemer examines the performance of the US intelligence community by focusing on underlying tensions that are not unique to the IC but that occur also within any large organization. Understood this way, reform looks less like a choice among polar preferences and more like a question of altering balances, each of which stems from unavoidably competing interests within an organization. One touchstone of Bansemer’s analysis is the Goldwater- Nichols Act (GNA) of 1986. The GNA exemplifies one way to attempt reform of a large organization that harbors specialized and competing interests—in this case the Department of Defense (DOD) with its component military services. On the record, Congress and the 9/11 Commission had elements of the GNA in mind when they crafted their legislation and recommendations, respectively. The novel insight from Bansemer’s analysis is its finding that while there may be some commonality in the symptoms (i.e., the reasons for reform) between the DOD and the IC, the recommended course of treatment may not be universally applicable. Crucial particulars of organizational structures, culture, and incentives all play a role in the success of any reform effort in improving performance. Another key element of Bansemer’s analysis is the question of why intelligence reform has so rarely met the expectations of the reformers recommending change. He finds that this phenomenon has less to do with broad organizational structure and more with tensions among elements of the organization. In the case of the IC these tensions are heightened, relative to those in the DOD, with its four military services by virtue of the presence in the intelligence “community” of a larger number of much more loosely affiliated elements with much more diverse missions belonging to many government departments, including State, Treasury, and Homeland Security.
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