THE BLOG
03/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Time to Curtail the Intelligence Community

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) recently expressed "outrage" over the surplus of expensive contractors in the intelligence community. Given the Senator's tenure on Senate Intelligence Committee, her surprise at this discovery is, well, surprising. As a long-standing member of the intelligence community I understand Sen. Feinstein's concern but also know why we find ourselves in this situation. Frankly, the U.S. intelligence community is broken--from top to bottom.

Bloat and redundancy have turned the intelligence community into a full-time "make-work" program for approximately 70,000 federal employees and over 30,000 contractors. Why do we employ so many people to cull through so few secrets?

Consider the following. A recent RAND survey of intelligence analysts found many analysts were uncertain about their mission and how to deal with a National Intelligence Priorities Framework that identifies 150 key targets, countries or issues. How does one identify a top priority when confronted with a list of 150? Further, RAND discovered the analysts felt caught in a maelstrom of demand for current reporting (analysis of events in the last 24 hours), buffeted by continuing investigations and reforms, and perhaps most troubling, largely ignorant of their counterparts at other agencies.

The establishment of the Director of National Intelligence with a staff of over 1,700, has done little to remedy these problems. In fact, it is sorely tempting to conclude the DNI is little more than another layer of bureaucracy in a veritable sea of managers. The number of intelligence analysts--including contractors--with the highest level of security clearances can be estimated at approximately 30,000 and for each productive intelligence professional, there are at least three support or managerial staffers.

That's a significant support ratio, particularly when you figure most intelligence analysts are college graduates or highly-evaluated military personnel. Do we really need all that supervision? What are we getting from all this overhead? Certainly not efficiency.

The intelligence community generates approximately 50,000 products a year--and the average National Intelligence Estimate, our premier document, takes over a calendar year to finish. These figures suggest the average analyst contributes 1.5 products a year. With average annual compensation at about $130,000--factor in health care and retirement--this means each intelligence community product costs nearly $90,000--before we include the managers, staffers, satellites and all the other fancy toys used to collect information.

And then there is the matter of redundancy. Within the intelligence community, there are currently two national-level all-source agencies, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. They are complemented by the National Geospatial Agency, National Security Agency, four military service intelligence agencies, and the ten unified military commands. There are currently two national-level human intelligence collection offices, two "intelligence universities," and an unfathomable number of competing databases, each purporting to be the official bean-count of our adversaries' missiles, planes, ships, and tanks.

It appears we are trapped in a bureaucratic morass--where congressional demands to preserve district jobs overwhelm efforts to do something about the $45 billion or so we are currently spending on intelligence. In addition, it would seem we are powerless to halt the politicization of intelligence information.

The solution? First, eliminate 20% of all managerial positions in the intelligence community. Efforts should be made to expand career options for productive senior analysts -- those contributing more than one item per year - without simply adding them to the already bloated managerial ranks. Even more importantly, we must eliminate the often six levels of review any intelligence product goes through before it is deemed final.

Second, close one of the two national all-source intelligence agencies. The suggested target, DIA. Established to oversee the work of the four separate military service intelligence agencies, DIA now has 12,000 workers who largely mimic work done at the CIA. Closing this agency would cut the intelligence community by 10% without a measurable loss to national decision-makers.

Third, appoint the Director of National Intelligence using the model of a Federal Reserve chairman: appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, with a fixed term.

The ills of the intelligence community will not be cured by incremental reform or the removal of contractors. More radical action is required. The United States can ill afford to continue spending so frivolously for so little benefit.