Intelligence: Blinded By The Light

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December 20,2008: There's a bit of a war going on inside the CIA, between those who want to make greater use of commercial intelligence resources, and those who believe that the agency has ample, and safer (from a counterintelligence angle) internal resources to handle its needs. Since much of what the CIA produces is classified, and thus never (or not for a long time) made public, it's difficult to get into details.

However, many people in the "business intelligence" and "risk assessment" industries run into their CIA counterparts and are amazed at how ill informed the government spooks often are. Part of this is due to the rapid expansion of the CIA after September 11, 2001. The CIA suffered a hiring drought in the 1990s, and has had a hard time attracting top talent since the Congressional witch hunts of the late 1970s (the Church Committee and such). Meanwhile, lots of bright young intel types went into the commercial sector ("business intelligence" and "risk assessment"), where there was much money and reputation to be made. While the commercial sector is also secretive, they get a lot more of their product out where people (at least paying clients) can see it. The operators who produce, gain prestige and remuneration. Those who don't, fade from sight. It doesn't work quite that way in the CIA, where failure is not punished as quickly and ruthlessly. Not surprisingly, this results in far more proven talent working for the commercial sector. Thus the eagerness of some CIA insiders to make use of these "survival of the fittest" type analysts and field operators for help in gathering human intelligence (HUNINT), as well as more perceptive analysis in general. Actually, despite opposition inside the agency, the outsiders are called on more and more. Often this is done informally, playing upon patriotism or the vague prospect of a government contract. Waving the flag seems to work better, as the agency insiders have resisted throwing much money at outside experts (who too often just make agency efforts look lame.)

A lot of people in the CIA are more comfortable with keeping success, and failure, and how things are done, inside the shop and secret. It's not that outsiders can't get a top secret clearance, and be trusted to keep quiet about stuff. It's just that, well, tradition plays a role, as well as the tendency of bureaucrats to maintain things as they are and protect their turf. Even in wartime.

 


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