My colleague Amy Zegart, author of Flawed by Design (which explores, among other questions, why the DCI job created by the National Security Act of 1947 never worked as planned — or rather how the military made sure at the time that the DCI wouldn’t actually be centrally directing their operations) has some thoughts on the plan to create a Director of National Intelligence:
The National Intelligence Director looks like something Rumsfeld wanted. This is of course pure speculation, but speculation supported by two facts:
1) Rumsfeld did not take warmly to the idea of moving authority over key defense intelligence agencies out of the Pentagon back in April 2002, after Brent Scowcroft (the Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a two-time former national security advisor) presented the idea at an NSC meeting. (See the April 9, 2002 Washington Post article by Walter Pincus);
2) No sitting Secretary of Defense has taken warmly to these kinds of reforms, either. With $32 billion and control over big-time spy hardware (the same hardware that helps give precision guided intel to precision guided weapons) at stake, you can see why. There’s a reason no president and no Congress has successfully overhauled the Intelligence Community since 1947. It’s called the Pentagon.
Based on what we know (to be fair, the details of the President’s plan are still sketchy, though my warning bells go off whenever I hear the word “coordinate” so much in one press conference), this plan will probably replicate the worst problem afflicting the CIA Director today: without an iron grip on money, people, and programs across the community, the new intel director will have all of the responsibility to manage 15 agencies, but no real power to do it well.
In Texas-speak, it’s the “all hat and no cattle” problem.