THE BLOG
07/28/2010 05:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Paperwork Power Struggles Turn Dangerous

The Senate Intelligence Committee's confirmation hearing for National Intelligence Director James Clapper offered Americans a glimpse of the turf battles currently being waged in the U.S. intelligence community. Senator Ron Wyden's (D-OR) asking Clapper if his office had the authority to overrule the Central Intelligence Director and Clapper's "I do" response revealed the chaotic world created in the aftermath of 9/11 to strengthen national security. The questions posed by Senators and the answers given by President Obama's candidate reveal the CIA is in the crosshairs of upstart departments in a dangerous power struggle.

This isn't a new position for the embattled Agency. The CIA's creation in the wake of World War II with the 1947 National Security Act created a political civil war in the capitol. The Department of Defense and every branch of the armed forces had their own intelligence gathering operations. Many congressional representatives, then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Harry Truman viciously opposed the creation of a civilian-type agency on the grounds it resembled to them an "American Gestapo." In the end, the CIA's primary directive mandated by congress and the 1947 National Security Act was to be the undisputed head of the U.S. Intelligence community. Data collected from all similar departments and divisions was to be channeled through them and a Cabinet-level Director selected, who singularly reported to congress and the President.

There were some problems with the CIA over its 60 year history. The 1970's Rockefeller and Pike committees were among numerous congressional investigations that kept the American Intelligence community in check. In the 1990s as part of the post-Cold War the CIA was financially gutted and downsized as part of a "peace dividend." There was little Presidential interest in implementing an intelligence-type "Marshall Plan" to observe former Soviet satellites reconstituting their governments. Old channels of communication were closed or lost that had invaluable contact with elements close to radical Islam. Diminishing resources scaled back efforts to track conventional adversaries of the U.S. and emerging issues in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan also suffered. The bureaucratic beast was lumbering through this self-correcting turnaround when the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred and CIA thinking changed.

Up to that point in history, Islamic radicals' attacks on American soil were seen as criminal acts and jurisdictionally under the purview of the FBI and state authorities to prosecute. In spite of the 9/11 Commission's findings of slashed resources and gutted agency divisions, right or wrong, the finger of blame for failing to learn of the impending World Trade Center attack was pointed at the CIA. The Agency and its director had to answer for it. This is the crux of the argument.

Instead of restoring resources and expanding a singular agency, the Bush administration and Congress created two more. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was first put forward in the 1950s as a deputy position within the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security. This has left the CIA fighting to maintain its dominance in an expanded U.S. intelligence community. It's creating numerous logistical problems for the Agency mandated to report to Congress and the President on all matters relating to collected intelligence. The knee-jerk reaction to post 9/11 America and the ensuing Commission findings on Intelligence failures dismissed prevailing wisdom that the larger government intelligence operations are the less efficient they become.

ODNI candidate James Clapper proved this in testimony stressing his support for competitive analysis on intelligence reports. This creates voluminous mountains of redundant briefing papers department heads must read through every day. These "competitive analyses" come from a multitude of different departments and divisions and - all publicly noted problems aside - creates one undeniable liability.

If this system fails as it did nine years ago, Americans will spend untold billions of dollars in congressional investigations trying to determine what happened and who was to blame. Fingers are too easily pointed and a 9/11 scenario with the current intelligence community means three civilian intelligence organizations and, likely, the Department of Defense will be parked on capitol hill for a generation before the system failure is accurately addressed.

Diluted responsibilities and the lack of definitive chains of command in the U.S. Intelligence community are critically dangerous issues in the public eye. The CIA created and successfully operated this shadowy institution in American life for half a century. Congress mandates the Director of the CIA is the orphan who will bear the brunt of punishment should the system fail. If the buck stops there, so should the chain of command.