Nothingburger

The new “intelligence czar” won’t be a “czar” at all, but a mere pretender.

Right. We’re going to have an intelligence “czar”:

— With no agency of his own;

— With no budget authority or other direct control over the agencies that actually do the work;

— Without Cabinet rank; and

— Not part of the Executive Office of the President.

Man, talk about power!

I seem to have misunderestimated Mr. Bush’s command of the bureaucratic realities. Designing a position even more insignificant than the one occupied by the “drug czar” was no easy trick, but the President and his staff managed to pull it off.

As far as I can tell, the net result of this proposal, if it were to be adopted, would be to increase the fragmentation of the intelligence collection process by stripping the Director of Central Intelligence of the limited coodrinating power he currently has and handing it instead to a mere figurehead, who won’t even carry the clout that comes with having actual operational capacity behind him.

Look, there’s a reasonable case to be made against centralizing control over intelligence collection and analysis. But if the President disagrees with the 9-11 Commission on this point, he ought to say so, and say why. Pretending to accept the Commission’s recommendation while actually moving in the opposite direction expresses a fairly profound contempt both for the importance of the problem and the intelligence of the voters and the press.

[Hat tip: Kevin Drum.]

Update: I’m leery of disagreeing with Dan Drezner on his own turf; he has forgotten more about foreign policy than I ever knew, or wanted to know. But I think Dan is simply wrong to imagine that there can be any substance to the idea of “coordinating” budgets or “working with agencies to set priorities.” Budgetary authority is either present or absent. The nature of the appropriations process simply doesn’t create any useful role for kibitzers. I’ve watched the Office of National Drug Control Policy in action, and its actual influence over what gets spent for what purpose in the drug control world is only epsilon away from zero.

If the “intelligence czar” doesn’t send the annual budget numbers to OMB, everyone else in the game will just listen more or less politely to what he says and then go and do exactly what they were going to do in the first place.

Here’s one way to think about the question: We know that, despite paper authority to coordinate budgets and set priorities, in practice the DCI simply runs the CIA, and exerts almost no actual control over the rest of the intelligence world. What power will the new intelligence czar have that the DCI doesn’t already have?

Second update: Amy Zegart, who (unlike me) is an expert, agrees.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Nothingburger”

  1. August's books of the month

    Well, given that I've linked to it twice in recent days, my international relations book has to be American Soldier by Tommy Franks. Already the book has forced Don Rumsfeld to defend Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith against Frank's critique….

  2. Kleiman on the DNI Proposal

    I have to concur with Mark A. R. Kleiman, the current proposal for the Director of National Intelligence is far too similar to the "drug czar" to be a good answer to the probem before us. Indeed, and Kleiman notes,…

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