Sunday, August 08, 2004

Intelligence reform - 1 -- Networks & hierarchies

Conversation snips -- Comments by nadezhda

Brayden King has a post criticizing the idea of a new "intelligence czar." He cites with approval a recent Slate article by Duncan Watts: "Decentralized Intelligence: What Toyota can teach the 9/11 commission about intelligence gathering." Key thoughts from Brayden:

Watts takes to task the idea that a centralized director is going to improve the federal government’s ability to coordinate information about potential terrorist threats and other criminal behavior. He asserts that centralization is meant to insert control over a system of intelligence collection where cooperation was previously lacking. Watts believes however that while the idea of control is philosophically pleasing, it is much harder to institute and attempts to increase control may actually backfire by further plugging up the system with bureaucratic sludge.


Likewise, effective intelligence collection requires mutual cooperation between a host of agencies and workgroups. Mutualism isn’t often the product of formal organizational mapping but instead results from the creation of social bonds between involved actors. [Quoting Watts in Slate:]

[S]ome other kind of connectivity, along with a more creative approach, is required—one that incorporates not only the sharing of information across agency boundaries (a recommendation of the commission’s that has received relatively little attention), but active collaboration, joint training, and the development of long term personal relationships between agencies as well. Creative intelligence analysis has a lot in common with other kinds of problem-solving activities: thinking outside the box, challenging deeply held assumptions, and combining different, often seemingly unrelated, kinds of expertise and knowledge. By understanding how innovative and successful organizations have been able to solve large-scale, complex problems, without anyone “at the top” having to micromanage the process, the intelligence community could learn some valuable lessons that might help it escape the mistakes of the past.

Watts could point to Silicon Valley as another great example of a place where the informal connectivity of organizations led to creative collaborations and increased innovation. Stanford sociologist Walter W. ‘Woody’ Powell has written a lot about the benefits of these network forms of organization that develop out of the cross-cutting personal relations between competing firms.[...]

It is interesting to note that despite most citizens’ great distrust of government bureaucracies, the first response to a need for innovative government is to enhance the existing bureaucracy. I don’t like to spend my time griping about bureaucracies (I study them; they fascinate me), but I just find it interesting that people are so reliant on them. Perhaps our reliance is partly due to the fact that we haven’t constructed reasonable alternatives in our vocabulary. In fact, when most of us think about the opposite of bureaucracy, we think of markets. However, there are other alternatives. As Woody points out, the dichotomy of market versus hierarchy is a false one. In between we have network forms of informal organization.

nadezhda's comments:

I'd agree with your remarks if the goals of "centralization" in the intelligence reform field were efficiency gains in resources used to produce output and coherence of output. I also agree that when communication and collaboration within/among complex organizations works well it happens horizontally, not up the ladder, across to another hierarchy, and back down.

Nonetheless, I think it's important to study quite carefully what the 9/11 Commission is recommending and why. I think that most people who are commenting on the inadvisability of adding another "layer" on top of the existing agency structures are not taking seriously the critique of the current structure made by the 9/11 Commission whose members eventually became horrified at the degree of segmentation and stovepiping of the current system. The Commission concluded that no meaningful changes will ever occur without "smashing the stovepipes," and someone has to be put in charge to wield the sledgehammer and begin the transformation process. Their proposals can only be evaluated if we understand what they have concluded are the fundamental structural flaws in the current arrangements.

Not necessarily in the order of importance, the first objective is to change incentives within the "intelligence community," both within and across existing agencies. Even informal horizontal communication doesn't happen well if the incentives are perverse.

Second is to better define product, both strategically and in response to client/consumer needs. The structural momentum left over from the Cold War will continue to dominate as long as the supply-side governs, and it will continue to govern unless something is done to dynamite bureaucratic inertia.

Third is to better match long-term development of capacities to match strategic requirements. A special emphasis by the Commission was on skill sets -- especially language and familiarity with other cultures. They have endorsed a dramatic increase in open source intelligence, which will require different skills, attitudes and organizational priorities to incorporate it into classic "spying" operations and analysis of secret information.

Fourth is to ensure that in high priority areas where immediate response is essential the right resources can be used flexibly -- pulling skills from anywhere in the intelligence community, introducing some division of labor, and making sure that the people working the problem know everything in real time rather than through "need to know" clearances that may reflect bureaucratic agendas. The "classification system gone mad" that has happened under the Bush Admin, even before 9/11, is a subject worthy of special treatment, but it is certainly relevant to the intelligence reforms that must ask what information is needed, for which users, how it is collected, how analyzed, how disseminated, and how made "actionable."

The model the 9/11 Commission is using is the reorganization of the military (Goldwater-Nichols) that changed the entire function of the Joint Chiefs and operational reporting. In that case, one of the primary themes was to shift from a focus on inputs -- primarily inter-agency battles over budgets -- to client needs; from the supply side to the demand side. It's useful to look at the prepared testimony to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (pdf 7pgs) by Commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton. Their focus was less on changing the boxes in the bureaucratic structure per se and more on how to turn the bureaucracy into a network.

From the prepared testimony:

We believe that the Intelligence Community needs a wholesale Goldwater-Nichols reform of the way it does business. The collection agencies should have the same mission as the Armed Services do: they should organize, train and equip their personnel. Those intelligence professionals, in turn, should be assigned to unified joint commands, or in the language of the Intelligence Community, “Joint Mission Centers.” We have already talked about a National Counterterrorism Center. A joint mission center on WMD and proliferation, for example, would bring together the imagery, signals, and HUMINT specialists, both collectors and analysts, who would work together jointly on behalf of the mission. All the resources of the community would be brought to bear on the key intelligence issues as identified by the National Intelligence Director.

So, when we look at the chart from the bottom up, we conclude you cannot get the necessary transformation of the Intelligence Community-- smashing the stovepipes and creating joint mission centers--unless you have a National Intelligence Director.

Sounds like someone's been reading their Organizational Theory 101.


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