Nearly as inevitable as Death and Taxes is the perpetuation of a Government mistake - especially when that mistake is an ill-conceived bureaucracy connected by an umbilical cord to a presidential appointment of exalted title.
History has been forgotten. The bright idea of appointing an Intelligence "czar" who would rank above the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and chiefs of other American intelligence agencies was first bruited about in the 1960s by greybeards of the Dean Acheson-Clark Clifford gentlemen's club.
The original thought stemmed from one small personal failing of the most powerful Director in CIA history. Long before Mr. Panetta, who, though a very influential and powerful man in Washington, is not, after all, Hillary Clinton's brother. Whereas CIA's Allen Dulles, a Wall Street-Washington icon, was indeed brother of the Secretary of State.
For all his shrewdness and urbane ruthlessness, Dulles hated personal confrontation, and he was unwilling to do battle with the heads of other Intelligence agencies - unless his own Agency was directly threatened.
Yet that was exactly what the DCI was originally intended to do, A cliché of the day was "first among equals", but that poetic phrase is an oxymoron; it presupposes that there is a Top Dog to whom all the other pedigreed hounds in the kennel, bark and preen as they may, are subordinate.
Allen Dulles had the power and influence and presidential support to act as Top Dog of the Intelligence Community, but when that required doing battle with his cuffs rolled up, he chose to absent himself. And, so went the thinking of Cold War days, if Dulles, with all his clout, couldn't take charge, how could any of his less endowed successors possibly do so?
So the suggestion was made: Appoint something like a "Director-General of Intelligence" - a British-style title would appeal to upper-class Anglophiles. But not as a down and dirty "coordinator" of battling agencies. Quite the contrary. The "spy czar", whatever his title, would rise entirely above the bureaucratic fray. He would be a revered Wise Man, unburdened by any administrative responsibility, looking down from on high and privately provide the President with sublime advice on Intelligence-related issues of foreign affairs.
The position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), created in the hysterical wake of September 11, 2001, was not at all what the Cold War greybeards had in mind. And, with all due respect to the three men who have held the post, none have been of the Acheson, Clifford, or even Dulles, caliber.
Rumor has it that some potent Washingtonians hoped that Leon Panetta, the closest that CIA has come to a Director of Dulles' stature in half a century, might give up his Langley suite and become the fourth DNI. Panetta reportedly said, No, thanks. The ambiguities of the DNI position were not alluring.
Effective coordination is essential in the Intelligence Community, but not entirely because of the "needle-in-haystack" omniscience we seem to be demanding of our Counter-Terrorism experts. "Community-wide" became a catch-phrase in American Intelligence long before 9/11. Its validity is most compelling because of such prosaic needs as insuring a common information technology system for military and civilian intelligence analysts.
But when you tie that coordinating function to a "Czar" who is, in reality, short on Cossacks, his subordinates find themselves scurrying about constantly to discover new things to coordinate. It's a virtual Washington corollary of Parkinson's Law that staff must continue to grow to support the power and prestige of the Boss. When necessary, personnel must be begged, borrowed and stolen from line agencies and installed in new "coordinating" digs (or, if need be, left in their old haunts and simply penciled in on the new table of organization). Expansion, not coordination, is the real name of the game. No expansion, no clout.
Solution? Here's one possibility, set forth without regard for political or bureaucratic reality:
Rename and redefine the DNI position in its original Acheson-Clifford mold - create a "Chief Justice", as it were, of the Intelligence Community, with complete access to State Secrets and having the ear of the President. No bureaucratic responsibilities, no press conferences, and no more than a half-dozen whiz kids as personal coat-holders.
As for the DNI's current 1500 underlings? First, re-examine whether they are truly performing a coordinating function that needs to be outside all the line agencies. Then put the survivors under the keen eye of a seasoned intelligence professional - he might even be a Deputy Director of CIA, reporting directly to Mr. Panetta, but not housed at CIA Headquarters.
There are a hundred possible variations of this scenario. If, in fact, none of them are likely to be adopted, it's not because they are unwarranted, but rather because, unlike old soldiers, unnecessary bureaucrats and bureaucracies never seem to fade away.