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News Link • Intelligence: Use and Abuse

How Congress Fueled the Rise of Private Spies

• Michael Tanji
Despite what might you may read in the Washington Post this week, it ain’t exactly breaking news that contractors are performing more and more of America’s intelligence work. What’s interesting is how this came to be — and what to do about it.

Congress, for instance, played a bigger role than you’d think in the rise of intelligence contractors. Think using contractors for intelligence work is a bad thing? The easy solution is for Congress to allow intelligence agencies to hire actual employees. That’s not how the game works, though. Contractors are convenient and cost-effective if you know you can cut off their heads at a moments notice when the money runs out or the mission ends; but, of course, the money never runs out because missions never end. It’s a very tasty, if expensive, self-licking ice cream cone.

As the first installment of the series points out, there’s also a lot of redundancy in the system. But that’s not due to a flood of post-9/11 money, at least not directly. The root cause of redundancy is parochialism. You find me the agency in the U.S. intelligence community that is entirely unique and duplicates the work of no one else: I’ll be over here holding my breath. Consider:

* The whole point of creating the Defense Intelligence Agency was to take certain responsibilities out of the hands of armed services’ intelligence activities, which would assess foreign military intelligence problems in a way that would guarantee them resources and authorities. Of course they didn’t simply stop doing what they were doing, they gave their work a new name, alleged some level of uniqueness that a big-bad national-level agency couldn’t do properly, and kept doing what they always did.

* Speaking of DIA, it is supposed to be the nation’s premiere source of military intelligence; so then why are there people at CIA doing the same thing? Why are there offices at National Security Administration trying to perform “fusion analysis,” which is simply bureaucracy-code for “all source” analysis, which is what CIA and DIA do?

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