Intelligence: March 5, 2004

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One of the most misused intelligence tools are the Vulnerability Assessment (or VA, figuring out where you are vulnerable to enemy attack, and what you can do about it) and Threat Assessment (or TA, who is out there seeking to attack you and how can they go about it.) Both are American enhancements of rather ancient practices. In peacetime, these tools often become more involved with politics than combat. When theres a war on, the VAs and TAs are used as they were intended. But in peacetime, priorities shift. Budgets are what the battles are over and paying todays bills is more immediate than preparing for tomorrows battles. VAs and TAs are adapted to support whatever the current budget priorities are. Vulnerabilities are pumped up a bit in areas where you need a little more money. The threats are also usually bumped up a level or two. When the Cold War ended, and it was possible to do a more accurate assessment of past threats and vulnerabilities, the response from the intelligence agencies was that it was better to be safe (and over funded) than sorry (and with a lot less money to play with.)

There is also an ongoing struggle between those who want to actually prepare for the next war, and those that are more sensitive to which way the current political winds are blowing. The war on terror brought about some new twists to this struggle. All of a sudden, vulnerabilities and threats were not on some distant battlefield, but right here at home. The situation was made more disorienting by the appearance of new players. The war on terror was not just a military problem, it was a matter of homeland defense. So a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established and told to get on with it. Naturally, VAs and TAs were needed. Being the new kid on the block, DHS sought to establish control over some things that, well, were already staked out. Military bases, for example, or at least the ones that were in the homeland. Who was to do vulnerability assessments for these? The war on terror demanded that VAs and TAs be updated to reflect the new threats. But DHS tried to grab control of vulnerability assessments from other agencies (not just the Department of Defense.) Some of this skirmishing still goes on, and assessments were slowed down and warped a bit as a result. DHS also had to establish its own security bureaucracy to guard all its new secrets. This led to more turf battles. Meanwhile, the struggle for control over assessments of what was vulnerable to what and to what extent continue as well. 

Bureaucracies being what they are, more regulations and mandates were issued. You can see this most explicitly, and uncomfortably, at any airport. Theres a lot of wasted effort, and much of it is for the purpose of protecting DHSs reputation in case anything unpleasant happens. You dont see the intelligence struggles because, well, all that stuff is secret. Despite all the post 911 angst over security organizations not passing on important information, its still a struggle to get the data to the place where it will do the most good. Old habits die hard. While the CIA and FBI have been forced to cooperate more, the Department of Defense (and its DIA, or Defense Intelligence Agency) are going their own way because of persistent lack of timely support from the rest of the federal intelligence bureaucracy. The DHS is proving to be more disruptive than constructive as it seeks to establish itself within the intelligence community pecking order. Thats to be expected. And we thought you ought to know.

 


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