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Shaken Not Stirred
CIA Plans Largest Reorganization in Agency History

CIA Director John Brennan is planning one of the largest organizational reforms in the agency’s history. The basic outline includes the removal of the barriers between intelligence analysts and the clandestine service, and the creation of integrated hybrid units focused on particular regions. As the Washington Post reports:

“I have become increasingly convinced that the time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized as an agency and at whether our current structure, and ways of doing business, need adjustment,” [Brennan’s  message to the agency’s workforce] said, according to portions that were obtained by The Post.

Brennan did not delineate any specific plans, but he expressed concern that existing divisions undermine the CIA’s effectiveness at a time when “the need for integration has never been greater” and more of the agency’s missions “cut across our organizational boundaries.” […]

At issue is a basic structure that has been in place since the agency’s inception, with employees divided by function among four major directorates. The best known are the National Clandestine Service, which sends case officers overseas on spying missions and carries out covert operations, and the Directorate of Intelligence, which employs thousands of analysts whose main job is to provide insight on global developments to President Obama and other policymakers. Others include a directorate focused on science and technology, and a fourth handles logistics for operations abroad.

It’s no secret that since 9/11 America’s intelligence agencies have become extraordinarily bloated. The reforms undertaken during the Bush administration, including the creation of a Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, and organizational shakeups in the rest of the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies have received mixed reviews at best. The organizational problems been further underlined by recent intelligence failures, most notably the failure of the  CIA and other agencies to predict the rise of ISIS and the collapse of much of the Iraqi military.

The kind of reorganization that Brennan is considering could go a long way toward improving this situation, particularly given the successes of the departments in CIA that already operate under this kind of integrated model. As the Post notes, it’s not clear that these reforms will improve our ability to collect intelligence and assess threats from traditional nation-states like Russia or China. That’s not particularly surprising given that the current model was created for the Cold War and seems well suited to that kind of traditional espionage and intelligence gathering. Nonetheless, having the entire agency emulate the hybrid structure of the Counterterrorism Center could increase the effectiveness of the CIA as a whole. Given the possibility that a 30 years war is getting underway in the Middle East, that can’t come too soon.

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  • Corlyss

    I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall. You know, the one that 3-5 years out reveals that the apparent changes were superficial while the classified changes were the most damaging to American intel gathering and analytical capability that could have possibly been done. That would be par for this administration’s course.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Is that like us now discovering—-several years out—–that a Department of Homeland Security is a thing prone to becoming “extraordinarily bloated”?

      • Corlyss

        Substitute “any bureaucracy” for “DHS” and you might have something. John Miller, national security/intel journalist turned press agent for some government organization, wrote a book in the late ’90s entitled The Cell about how the various intel establishments with the help of DoJ blew the surveillance of the blind sheik responsible for WTC 1 in ’93. Recall if you will that we were shedding humint capability as fast as we could because, with the Soviet Union gone, what was the threat we needed to worry about, right? it was an expense we didn’t need, right? We could do everything we needed to do with sigint, so who needed costly and risky human assets, right? One of Miller’s sources in the CIA told him a little thumbnail rule common in the agency: “Big cases, big problems. Little cases, little problems. No cases, no problems.” My point is that every time an intel agency is “reorganized,” that usually means we sacrifice experience and capability, and you can start the countdown on the next monumental and deadly failure, almost certainly traceable to the capability sacrificed to the “reforms.”

  • Fat_Man

    It would be interesting to find out if the CIA has ever gotten anything right.

    • Corlyss

      If they told us about their successes, they’d have to kill us.

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