John Brennan’s Deserving CIA Reorganization Plan


We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.

Whether attributed to Petronius, a noted writer and satirist who lived in ancient Rome from A.D. 27 to 66, or more accurately perhaps, to 20th-century writer Charlton Ogburn, the above maxim accurately describes one of the cardinal rules by which bureaucrats of all eras live: “When in doubt, reorganize.” The Central Intelligence Agency — which has seen its share of directors (23) come and go during its nearly seven decades in existence — is no exception.

Whether the most recent reorganization, announced March 6 by Director John O. Brennan, will be the exception to the rule and actually improve the CIA’s process and product, or turn out to be nothing more than another paper-reshuffling of titles, remains to be seen. However, if it is, in fact, implemented fully, Mr. Brennan’s “Blueprint for the Future” could indeed help the agency fulfill its long-promised but often unrealized mission to provide decision-makers with timely, relevant, impartial and actionable intelligence analysis on a consistent basis.

The public version of Mr. Brennan’s plan was framed in stock bureaucratese — replete with references to “institutional responsibility,” “integrated strategic vision,” “organizational construct” and more. His flowery rhetoric aside, however, the steps he outlined are laudable and worthy of support by the administration and Congress.

Reorganizing the CIA, or the larger intelligence community of which it is a part, is nothing new. Time and again, Washington officials have tinkered with the flow charts directing how intelligence is gathered, transmitted, evaluated, analyzed, prepared and disseminated. Largely left untouched, however, has been the strict demarcation between the clandestine, or operational, side of the intelligence “house,” and the analytical components. It has always been a difficult marriage, especially considering the inconsistent manner in which different presidents have used — and at times abused — the agency’s capabilities and products.

While the boundary lines separating the internal components of the CIA are not absolute “Chinese walls,” in effect, they often have served to impede the cooperation and information-sharing that are essential ingredients for accurate and actionable intelligence. The plan announced by Mr. Brennan will not magically tear down this wall, but it could lower those barriers and open some much-needed passageways through.

At its core, Plan Brennan is deceptively simple — even self-evident: Identify key problem issues for which today’s leaders must be prepared to make vital decisions, and then create multidiscipline “mission centers” in which CIA experts from the different directorates (most notably, analysis and operations) work together and cooperatively to provide the very best intelligence at the most opportune moment. For perhaps the first time on a truly institutional basis, the right hand may have a clue what the left hand is doing.

What is important is that the plan concedes that the two sides of the house are not — and should not be — viewed as one unit and fully merged. For one thing, the analyst need not know everything the operations side is doing — only to have full access to everything relevant, and to be afforded unfettered access to the people on the operations side who are engaged in the field. Thus, while the mission centers will benefit from robust sharing of information and analysis as a two-way street, each directorate (directorate of operations and directorate of analysis) will remain responsible for its own internal structure and operations.

In the final analysis, for the plan to work, many others in addition to Mr. Brennan must not only buy into it, but also back him up. It begins with President Obama. If Mr. Obama and his successor do not clearly, forcefully and repeatedly direct support for Mr. Brennan’s plan, especially from the Defense Department and its many components, the plan will flounder. For its part, Congress must back it with appropriations and oversight support.

Ultimately, the success of the plan will depend on the strength and courage of Mr. Brennan and his successor, who must be willing to withstand much bureaucratic heat from the Old Guard (which always is resistant to change) as the plan is fully implemented over the next few years. The stakes are high, but if the reorganization is, in fact, institutionalized, the United States will be in a far stronger position than in years past to meet the challenges we face in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Bob Barr, represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.

Bob Barr is the author of The Meaning of Is: The Squandered Impeachment and Wasted Legacy of William Jefferson Clinton (2004), and LESSONS IN LIBERTY (2008), as well as co-author with Gary Aldrich of Thunder on the Left: An Insider’s Report on the Hijacking of the Democratic Party (2003)