RightTurns.com - Columnists  

Transform the C.I.A. From a Bumbling Bureaucracy--
Into a Entrepreneural Weapon Against Terrorism


December 1, 2003

Several www.rightturns.com editions ago, I wrote a dry, academic discussion (as described by some of my more blunt readers and my editor) of how government agencies grow into bureaucratic ineffectiveness through their own organic methods of ensuring survival. The lead article in the October issue of IMPRIMIS, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College - "What's Wrong with the CIA?" by Herbert E. Meyer, a Reagan era CIA official - needs to be a wake-up call that our front line of defense in The War on Terrorism, the CIA, is showing the clear signs on a bureaucracy run amuck.

Meyer begins his article with a clear message that is chilling:
"It's obvious that something is wrong with the CIA. The 9/11 attacks were, by definition, the worst intelligence failure in our country's history. More recently, we have had trouble locating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and have been consumed by the flap over whether the CIA signed off on President Bush's accurate observation in his State of the Union speech that British intelligence believes Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium ore in Niger. … In each of these cases, the CIA was asleep at the switch, not quite on the ball, or tossing a banana peel under the president's feet. In the midst of a war in which intelligence must play a central role, we need a CIA that is razor sharp and playing offense, not one that blindsides the country or embarrasses the commander-in-chief."

Meyer goes on in the article to describe how the CIA's analytic culture has become bland (a bureaucracy trait). He presents evidence that dissenting points of view are frowned upon (a bureaucracy trait). He describes how CIA analysts refuse to use logic (an entrepreneurial trait) in interpreting situations and instead require explicit evidence (a bureaucracy trait), which of course is rarely available.

This is not the first time the CIA has failed us. For decades the CIA overstated the Soviet Union's ability to build and keep under arms its huge military. A good, yet technical read on this story can be found in The Impoverished Superpower (ICS Press, 1990, edited by Henry S. Rowen and Charles Wolf, Jr.). This book describes in a series of articles how the CIA repeatedly overestimated the Soviet's ability to sustain itself economically and militarily. Many president's bought into the analysis and thus maintained a military status quo with the Soviets..

Only when Ronald Reagan and his CIA chief William Casey came on the scene did the real fragility of the Soviet Union's system find its way into US policy toward the Soviets. Reagan and Casey used their conservative logic (an entrepreneurial trait) to claim the Soviet system could not, due to its central planning, totalitarian characteristics, keep pace with an aggressive US military buildup and upgrade. We now know the beauty of this winning logic.

Meyer addresses how this happened. Casey, knowing the bureaucratic blandness of the CIA, accepted their internal reports, while at the same time brought in his own inner circle to determine the "real" story. Reagan got both, but knew which one to use.

A key reason Casey's method work was because he and his inner circle were all veterans of the World War II predecessor of the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS was not a bureaucracy in that it drew on experts from all parts of the American culture and economy. For instance, if the OSS had a German railroad problem to solve, they called on a Pennsylvania RR expert.

Today's CIA relies on career employees that work behind curtains and do not mingle much in our society. That is another symptom of a bureaucratic flaccidness.

My suggestion is very simple. Downsize the CIA to a core group of analyst project managers and create an American Intelligence Reserve Force. This will go back to the OSS model and set up teams of American experts from our society to solve specific problems. For example, when Internet terrorism is the issue, call up the software reserve forces and solve the problem. This will bring in the latest innovative methods, ideas, and thoughts on a regular basis, thus keeping our intelligence apparatus fresh. Keep a regular rotation of experts in a wide variety of fields on call to help when needed. Work with American corporations to make sure that these reserve force men and women can serve when called, much like military reservists are protected today.

America's strengths are its entrepreneurial skills and the results they produce, not bureaucratic skills and the failures they inevitable produce. For our own protection, let's drop the latter and lead this war with the former.

Sam T. Harper graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University.  Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He was a contributor to “In Search of Excellence,” the best selling business book of all time.  Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy.  Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco.  Sam is currently the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC – a management consulting, training, and coaching firm.