Bikes, hair dryers, and MI5

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.

Author: Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. She is also a faculty affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (by courtesy). Her research examines national security agencies, American foreign policy, and anything scary. Academic publications include two award-winning books: Spying Blind, which examines intelligence adaptation failures before 9/11, and Flawed by Design, which chronicles the evolution of America’s national security architecture. She is currently working on a book about intelligence in the post-9/11 world. Zegart writes an intelligence column at, and her pieces have also appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. Previously, she taught at UCLA and worked at McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar, she received an A.B. in East Asian Studies from Harvard and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford. A native Kentuckian, she loves to watch good college football and bad reality TV.