Only Mark Kleiman could get to the heart of the FBI’s counter-terrorism challenges with a bike and a hair dryer. He’s quite right: the FBI’s “transformation” ain’t pretty. Just last month, a Senate report found that FBI headquarters did not meet security standards to handle classified information. The new head of intelligence at the FBI is — surprise surprise — an agent. The old head of intelligence was from another agency. FBI regs prohibit analysts from running any of the 56 US field offices. Almost none of the “field intelligence groups,” the critical units that fuse intel with action, are headed by analysts. So long as analysts aren’t good enough for the FBI, the FBI won’t be good enough to protect America.
But MI5? I’m not there yet. Our natural response whenever we have intel failures is to create a new agency.
Before 9/11, there were 12 major federal intelligence agencies. Now there are 16. That’s not even counting the 40+ state and local intelligence fusion centers. The problem used to be that intelligence was all spokes and no hub. Now it’s that there are too many hubs. When the Director of National Intelligence has to create its own coordination office, you know we’re in trouble.
In my view, the FBI’s National Security Branch should be made much more autonomous. This is a shift in mindset as well as reporting relationships and authorities. Agents working counter-terrorism need to be trained and treated as intelligence collectors, not case investigators. Analysts need to be treated as equals.
This will not be enough. In intelligence, there is so much dysfunction, so little time. But it would be a vast improvement.