Bureaucracy, Intelligence, and Oversight

August 15, 2019
Bureaucracy, Intelligence, and Oversight
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Bureaucracy, Intelligence, and Oversight
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Story Stream
recent articles


Bureaucratic pitfalls are associated with extensive administrations, sometimes useless workings, and valid inquiries for review, management, and restructuring. This paper emphasizes the national security interface and growth tied to the earliest connections of Cold War dynamics, in addition to a brief analysis of modern-day terrorism, unconventional threats, and endeavors supporting foreign policy. Concurrent risk factors are exceptionally attached to the homeland, national interests, and policy sectors. Corresponding to the executive, legislative, and even administrative rivalry, frameworks for standardizing oversight are also institutionally convoluted. Driving policy-making goals, honing homeland security, and the cycle of intelligence requirements tasked with encircling new threats, determine the gamut for continued scrutiny and strategic interests. These considerations are many and are further wedged between ideological and partisan divergence and therefore, likely causal to compromising the bureaucratic establishment.

Marked to streamlining the nation’s defense, and perhaps duly noted to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the National Security Act of 1947 may be credited for ushering an innovative U.S. Intelligence Community (I.C.) and shaping a complex organizational structure. Integrating military bureaucracies, creating a Department of Defense, establishing a National Security Council, also included instituting a civilian intelligence system—the Central Intelligence Agency. For over 70 years, the I.C. has expanded into a massive infrastructure—a protective arrangement supporting interests and foreign policy—inclusive to successes, failures, and challenges to transparency and the checks-and-balances order. An umbrella-like organization of multi-agencies and partisan influences emerged, continuing to grapple with the singular intent of safeguarding America.

Declining isolationist views may have moreover strengthened patriotism, increasing awareness and concern for the nation’s safety, and widening the scope for strategic scrutiny. These factors likely contributed to public fright and perceptions that accepting a national security establishment symbolized a critical American moment. They were guarding against not only the horrors of previous wars, but containing Communism incorporated with foreign policy objectives, constitutional reflection, and perhaps too, a mix of pragmatism and idealism. The subsequent “distribution of power” justified natural law between the ideals of a free society and rebuking the Kremlin’s totalitarianism. Recognizing the Soviet Union militarily in its “excessive strength” intensified national security and foreign policy tensions, converging principles of warning with “Soviet intentions and capabilities,” and by way of assigning imminent vulnerabilities (Nitze 1950, NSC 68 Analysis).

A collective global support system that largely initiated with an intelligence pact between the U.S. and Great Britain during World War II primarily involved surveilling the Pacific realm.

Collaboration had begun formally in 1940 by instituting a signals (SIGINT) network and closely followed with an agreement sustaining exchanges explicit to Japan. By 1943, cooperation for SIGINT extended to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—thereafter known as the Five Eyes. When the war ended the coalition became stronger and merged onto the Cold War realm with geographic frameworks that supported information sharing. Additional nations were later added and accordingly delegated Third Parties to the existing Five Eyes pact¾Austria, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Greece, and Turkey (Richelson 2011, 347, 364-65).

Domestic and international focus confronted an immediate and unorthodox threat—beyond the atomic to the hydrogen bomb. An arms race quickly aligned with the U.S. emerging to global superpower status. Troubling dynamics also set into motion a high-level warning apparatus, as a preponderance of influencers seemed to inflame an unsteady geopolitical field. Under the auspices of liberal-democratic philosophies, American foreign policy would consistently rotate between unilateral, universal, liberal, and conservative positions (Lloyd 2009, 20-21). Not only supporting policy decisions, but intelligence requirements were also directed by sometimes esoteric approaches that unsurprisingly led to disputes vis-à-vis secrecy, transparency, and challenges to oversight authority. Clashes would begin to surface with tense presumptions of national security vulnerabilities, alongside uncertainties of counterintelligence autonomy (Refalko, ed. 2004, 3:85-86).

Unsettling tensions continued challenging the balance-of-power context, and foreign policy primarily adapted to containing Communism by utilizing diplomatic, propaganda, economic, and military strategies—functional methodologies of the I.C. also expanded, involving covert and other controversial activities (Pach Jr. 2019). Even American perceptions of global conditions converted from not only escalated fears but to widening ideological rifts and rising misgivings against government authority. Disagreements energized partisan debate and suspicions. And while global and anti-establishment uncertainties provoked public distrust, a growing discourse of international worry was unequivocally stimulating strategic attention.

American connections with principal allies not only underscored the anti-Communism debate through to strengthening the NATO alliance but focused on reinforcing deterrence and defensive goals, broadening hegemonic (Melko 2008, 83) and balance-of-power (Jervis 1992, 717-18) discourse. Pre-emption seemed to wield influence on expanding bureaucratic corridors. This involved a range of intelligence facilities serving the executive branch to delivering tactical analyses for military operations and ground forces. Not only infinite Soviet fears during post-war decades, but emerging conditions into far-reaching foreign theaters began intensifying diplomatic and military posturing around the globe. Conversely, debates began to fervently surface during the 1970s due to mounting political concerns of extended powers, secrecy, and allegations of abuses. Most notably, Church Committee inquiries stimulated an overriding raison d'être for implementing reform, even projecting forewarning to imminent technologies that might someday elicit farther-reaching infringements (German 2015, 3-5).

Present-day challenges are no different. Esteemed analyst, the late Cynthia Grabo, stressing that “strategic warning is not a forecast of imminent attack, but rather a forecast of probable attack...” (2004, 118) befits a conflux of failure studies. Consider the epochal War on Terror, and asymmetrical, hybrid, and conventional-to-urban warfare—modern-day benchmarks suggestive to serving oversight and reform. Political ambitions, militancy, non-state configurations, and unpredictable and indiscriminate targeting against innocent victims, coincide with contemporary threats but are elements matched to historical themes and the use of terrorism. This juncture of unconventional threat has comparably overlapped with readdressing the ban on covert activity, implying the use of targeted assassination (Pape 2002, 69)—drone technology denoting a functional role. Historical and current data show that intelligence requirements evolve and may fitfully implore statutory revision. Passage of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) right after 9/11, instituted adaptation at the very least, in an era that necessitated re-defining an enemy. With that shift, counterterrorism at the CIA is purported to have increased from 300 to over 2000 employees, with the upsurge alleged to "manhunt and targeted killing operations" (Banka and Quinn 2018, 700-01)

Summarizing anti-establishment to three historical phases, correlates anti-empire, anti-colonialism, and anti-globalization themes to terrorism (Cronin 2011, 34-5). The Vietnam War exemplifies not only a turning-point of Cold War events but stirred anti-establishment tenets and “rekindled radical hopes that the contemporary system was vulnerable”—linking four chronologies of terrorism that nearly a century earlier initiated with anarchical views, followed with incipient “freedom fighters” after the first world war. The Viet Cong’s use of “primitive weapons” against the American superpower stirred a “third wave” of global terrorism and promulgated against U.S. targets. Religious fervor also took root, introducing yet another phase or “fourth wave” that was primarily encouraged by the Iranian Revolution, according to terrorism expert David Rapoport’s “waves” theory (2004, 52-54, 58, 61). Focus on international terrorism; therefore, discretely increased during the 1980s. However, gaps in security and exposure and elements of surprise were underscored by the 1983 attack against the US Marine compound in Lebanon. Charges of failure, miscarriage of communications, and weaknesses “on the relationship between intelligence and policy” remained cornerstone arguments for reform (Hastedt 1988, 10, 16, 18-19, 21).

That same decade, assistance to contingents of mostly Sunni fighters—Mujahideen, might at least partly and retrospectively, symbolize dubious intelligence activities. Channeling sophisticated weaponry and propaganda was facilitated by the CIA under code name Operation Cyclone, purportedly “the largest covert operation in history...” under Director Casey. The operation should have hinted at portents of uncertainty and risk—wrong places and wrong hands (Hoodbhoy 2005, 21-2). Having forced the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, next marshaled a terror epoch resulting in an indefinite post-Cold War order. Religious radicalism generated factional and non-state allegiances against American targets abroad and at home. Sustaining the national security context meant that intelligence requirements needed to transcend beyond the Iron Curtain, Détente, and the conventional NATO alliance.

Conversely, author and professor of security studies, Armin Krishnan, associates transitory downsizing of defense and intelligence to the end of the Cold War. What is more, a nexus that soon after resulted in a “great shortage of intelligence personnel...” seemed to trigger the emergence of outsourcing and deploying private contractors. Ultimately this gave rise to subcontracting for tactical support, technologies, research and collection—eventually correlating "rapid expansion of the I.C. since 2001" (2011, 177-78). Marked principally to the 9/11 Attacks,

efforts to coalesce the country’s domestic and foreign intelligence advanced the counterterrorism effort, creating what would essentially become an information clearinghouse, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Controversial policies also raised constitutional concerns, perhaps most noted to the Patriot Act, integrating law enforcement with homeland security, and utilizing telecom surveillance. These may still be moot examples, but as questions of civil liberties and privacy cut through with public indignation, commissions and recommendations for reform still hurried forward.

I.C. expansion through the use of government contractors also assumes wearisome contexts of limitations. According to Krishnan, complications with outsourcing implicate corruption and inefficiency, private interests and biases, and that privatization creates challenges for government monitoring (2011, 179). Private contractors working closely with the U.S. military have likewise reached a lucrative turning-point, particularly since the Vietnam era. Concurring with open source data and with policy studies author David Vine, financial, political, and professional relationships have manifested via tax-funded expenditures, together with enormous financial yield, fraud, and massive waste that is funneled through with “lobbyists...military budgeteers and policymakers” (2013). 

Decades beyond the National Security Act, have no less compelled a burgeoning framework of U.S. intelligence disciplines that today comprise 17 organizations. Roles and missions unquestionably have shaped U.S. interests by assisting policymakers, supporting requirements for diplomatic and economic reports, to providing strategical and tactical information for defense and military planning (Commission 1996, 21-23). Communication barriers, hierarchies, compartmentalization, stovepipes, and political biases, have inadvertently and perhaps willfully and over time, contributed to problematic turf and rivalry. Exemplifying but a few of the difficulties for effective collaboration, these impediments characterize a dense context of echelons and limitations.

Just as policies were partly reinforced by Cold War rhetoric, running the gamut with surreptitious activities also associates to problematic scandals. Iran-Contra may still evoke a case-in-point relative to botched covert exploits, questions of illegalities, breaches in checks and balances, and undoubtedly misleading and compromised disclosure. This matter embodied highly charged political aftermath and was causal for re-examining systematic procedures. At the close of the investigation by the early 1990s, the affair impacted foreign policy dealings very little. Matters of intelligence and exceptionally covert and clandestine operations have advanced legitimate tradecraft debate quite beyond 1947, recapping some of the earliest concerns, findings, and recommendations of the Hoover Commission and Dulles Report onward. Shortcomings have consistently highlighted dissimilarity and bias, duplication, competition, and accompanied uncertainties (Warner and McDonald 2005, 7-9).

A simplified chronology of indications, events that have happened, and indicators, incidents likely to happen (Khalsa 2004, 10-12) are essentially tied to prediction and forecasting. Manifestations prior to 9/11 and also the errors concomitant with the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction claims, both substantiate and reinforce that interagency cooperation is paramount. Additional findings, including those of the 9/11 Commission, equally stress unsurprising dysfunction within congressional corridors of oversight. Repeated calls for merging “...appropriations and authorization powers into each select committee or the creation of a new Joint Committee on Intelligence” are hampered with consistent barriers involving secrecy (Halchin and Kaiser 2012, 2, 34)—persisting in arduous inquiry and sometimes with banal proposals. Legislative efforts to facilitate supervisory reform implicate unremitting debate, muddled with limitations on nondisclosure agreements, questions on security clearances, and sensitive and classified information amid worries vis-à-vis potential for leaks. Hence, bureaucratic entanglement is constant and seems to work against itself. Whereby numerous congressional committees, subcommittees, and long drawn-out and revised studies attest to layers of incoordination, streamlining both the I.C. and statutory management remains fragmented.

Notwithstanding the three-branch system of government, the bureaucratic dilemma may have rendered an unofficial fourth branch—profoundly an administrative framework. Characterized in a short documentary several years ago, a televised discussion focused on challenges facing the I.C. and concurrent legislative difficulties. Leaving no doubt about hindrances, the dialogue emphasized there were over 100 intelligence oversight committees and subcommittees following the 9/11 Attacks. Partisan clashes are sometimes irreconcilable to appropriations alongside turf rivalries between the Legislative and Executive branches¾equally stressing problematic disorder (PBS NewsHour 2010).

Policy and intelligence criteria have indisputably broadened—trade, finance and banking, energy and power grids, ecology and climate change, world health and infectious diseases, migration trends, emerging markets, illicit networks, non-traditional adversaries, WMDs, cyber threats, space, innovation, and technologies—comprising strategic influencers on national interests. Bourgeoned administrations have widened the scope for domestic and international surveillance. Dispensations layered between policies substantial to Containment and maintaining Détente are moreover central to a post 9/11 era of global fluctuations linked to new threats and instabilities. Establishing the Department of Homeland Security also sanctioned policy trends at honing domestic safeguards, while attaching ambiguous programs and guidelines. Policy trends have rendered additional conditions for justifying oversight—that of judicial review. Legal scrutiny initially extended to intelligence as a result of 1970s scandals, and mainly from the Church and Pike Committees, Rockefeller Commission, and greater congressional authorizations. (Manget 2011). However, legal questions significantly hover between balancing challenges of present day vicissitudes without jeopardizing democratic principles, privacy, and civil liberties.

Whether or not or how much bloated bureaucracy degrades security and oversight configurations, it nonetheless insinuates disproportion. Rethinking the subcontracting sector and its attachment to multifarious national security implores prudence. For example, relative to findings several years ago that “massive growth in the U.S. intelligence-counter-terrorism community since 9/11...1000 agencies and nearly 2000 private contractors...,” is likely a diligent assumption that “No one knows how big it is or how effective” (PBS NewsHour 2010). Additionally, the juxtaposition between oversight criteria that may be weakened by a lack of tradecraft expertise is further distinguished by “knowledge of intelligence activities or the know-how about technologies employed” (Rosenbach and Peritz 2009, abstract). Notwithstanding varied complexities, debate on whether or how to overhaul massive institutional structures is still incomplete and implies persistent tension.

Is bloated administration a serious and imminent policy discussion? A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report explores oversight, reform, and background contexts between legislative, executive, and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The report clearly highlights evidence of bureaucracy and dysfunction (Devine 2018). Nearly two decades after 9/11, a highly charged socio-political and unsteady transnational climate seems to operate more or less under the status quo, and possibly with assumptions that doing so may be provisionally adequate. The whole interface appears to symbolize a labyrinth of misgivings over uncertainty and perhaps overblown threats—host to a platform for plausibly creating more institutions. Henceforth, the pattern of rivalry and special interests, politicization, and even levels of diversionary targeting will continue—the latter an extended geopolitical presumption. Difficulties encumbered by a sustained morass of the inflated establishment will undoubtedly keep challenges at the political forefront.

A final synopsis may attest to extrapolation, as organizational misgivings from 1947 onward, have demonstrated patterns of a repetitious impasse. Although the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 is credited for revising the National Security Act, it was expected to strengthen consolidation. By overhauling a nearly impenetrable bureaucracy, the Act created a central I.C. authority—the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)—an alternative response to integration, communication, and coordination failures. Consequently, partial gaps have continued in the “broader sharing of threat information,” suggesting requisite oversight and reinforcement of NCTC guidelines (DeVine and Peters 2017). Despite unresolved dysfunction, debate on whether or how to overhaul massive bureaucratic and institutional structures is still incomplete. And 18 years beyond the tragedy of 9/11, the implications to rancorous partisanship and constitutional and ideological disputes are running even higher.

Allyson Christy holds an MA in Intelligence and Terrorism Studies from American Military University, in addition to an Executive Certificate in Counter-Terrorism from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel.                                                                                                                            

This paper was written from using carefully selected open source research, combined with the author’s knowledge and opinions. It is not meant to represent the opinions of others.


Banka, Andris and Adam Quinn. 2018. "Killing Norms Softly: U.S. Targeted Killing, Quasi-  secrecy and the Assassination Ban.” Security Studies 27, no. 4 (19 July): 665-703.          https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2018.1483633


Cronin, Audrey Kurth. (2003). “Behind the Curve: Globalization and International Terrorism.”          International Security 27, no. 3 (Winter 2002/03): 30-58. https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/files/publication/88504_cronin.pdf


Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community. 1996.        “The Role of Intelligence: The Missions of Intelligence.” In Preparing for the 21st Century. An Appraisal of U.S. Intelligence. 20-3. Diane Publishing Co.                       https://books.google.com/books?id=dnsnezKcV6IC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q         &f=false     

                                                                                                              DeVine, Michael E. 2018. “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence: Background and          Selected Options for Further Reform.” Congressional Research Service. (4 December).          https://fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/R45421.pdf

Devine, Michael E. and Heidi M. Peters. 2018. “National Counterterrorism Center (NTCT).”     Congressional Research Service. (11 July) https://fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/IF10709.pdf


German, Michael, ed. 2015. “Strengthening Intelligence Oversight. Introduction.” Brennan    Center for Justice at New York University School of Law: 3-5. https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/strengthening-intelligence-oversight      


Grabo, Cynthia M. 2004. Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning. Edited by Jan          Goldman. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.


Halchin, L. Elaine and Frederick M. Kaiser. 2012. “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence.    Current Structures and Alternatives.” Congressional Research Service. (14 May): 1-37.          https://fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/RL32525.pdf    

Hastedt, Glenn. 1988. “Intelligence Failure and Terrorism: The Attack on the Marines in          Beirut.” Journal of Conflict Studies 8, no. 2 (3 March): 7-22. https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JCS/article/view/14797           

Hoodbhoy, Pervez. 2005. “Afghanistan and the Genesis of Global Jihad.” Peace Research 37,    no.1 (May): 15-30. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24469676

Jervis, Robert. 1992. “A Political Science Perspective on the Balance of Power and the Concert.”      American Historical Review 97, no. 3 (June): 716-24.          https://www.jstor.org/stable/2164776

Khalsa, Sundri k. 2004. Forecasting Terrorism: Indicators and Proven Analytic Techniques.          Lanham: Scarecrow Press

Krishnan, Armin. 2011. “The Future of U.S. Intelligence Outsourcing.” Brown Journal of       World Affairs 18, 1 (Fall/Winter): 177-93.
http://psm.du.edu/media/documents/reports_and_stats/journal_articles/reports_j         ournal_author_k_krishnan_intelligence.pdf

Lloyd, Richmond M., ed. 2009. “American Foreign Policy: Regional Perspectives. Proceedings, A Workshop Sponsored by the William B. Ruger Chair of National Security Economics.”     Executive Summary. Ruger Workshop. U.S. Naval War College. (13-15 May). http://archive.thedialogue.org/PublicationFiles/NavalWarCollege_May09_publication.pd         f

Manget, Frederic F. 2011. “Another System of Oversight: Intelligence and the Rise of     Judicial Intervention.” Central Intelligence Agency Library: Center for the Study of      Intelligence. 39, no 5. (3 August). https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-         of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/96unclass/manget.htm

Melko, Mathew. 2008. “Hegemony vs. Balance of Power Within and Between Civilizations      in World History.” Comparative Civilizations Review 58, no. 58, 9 (spring): 75-89.       https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/ccr/vol58/iss58/9/         

Nitze, Paul. 1950. “NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security.”       Report to the President Pursuant to the President's Directive of January 31, 1950.         National Security Council. 14 April. https://fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsc-hst/nsc-68.htm

Pach Jr., Chester J. 2019.  “Dwight D. Eisenhower: Foreign Affairs.” University of Virginia-      Miller Center: U.S. Presidents. Dwight D. Eisenhower.  https://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/foreign-affairs

Pape, Mathew S. 2002. “Can We Put the Leaders of the “Axis of Evil” in the        Crosshairs?”  Parameters: Strategic Studies Institute: Army War College. (Autumn): 62-    71. https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/articles/02autumn/pape.htm            

PBS NewsHour. 2010.  “Intelligence Oversight: Is Congress the Problem?” by Margaret          Warner. Published 3 August 2010 on YouTube.          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTAMEcgUHBg

Rafalko, Frank J., ed. 2004. A Counterintelligence Reader. Vol. 3, Post-World War II to Closing        the 20th Century. “Counterintelligence in the Turbulent 1960s and 1970s.”          https://fas.org/irp/ops/ci/docs/ci3/ch2.pdf


Rapoport, David. C. 2004. "The Four Waves of Terrorism." In Attacking Terrorism. Elements of a Grand Strategy, edited by Audrey Kurth Cronin and James M. Ludes, 46-73.       Washington: Georgetown University Press.

Richelson, Jeffrey T. 2011. U.S. Intelligence Community. 6th ed. Boulder: Westview Press.

Rosenbach, Eric and Aki J. Peritz. 2009. “Confrontation or Collaboration?” Congress and the          Intelligence Community.” Report for Belfer Center for Science and International        Affairs: Harvard Kennedy School. (July).         http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/index.html

Vine, David. 2013. “How Contractors got Billions for Bases.” Institute for Policy Studies. (14 May). https://ips-dc.org/how_contractors_got_billions_for_bases/

Warner, Michael and J. Kenneth McDonald. 2005. “U.S. Intelligence Community Reform Studies     Since 1947.” Strategic Management Issues Office. Center for the Study of Intelligence.      (April). https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-         publications/booksandmonographs/US%20Intelligence%20Community%20Reform%20S  tudies%20Since%201947.pdf

                                                                                                        Allyson Christy holds an M.A. in Intelligence and Terrorism Studies from American Military University, in addition to an Executive Certificate in Counter-Terrorism from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel. Follow @allysonchristy

Show comments Hide Comments