How to Prevent the Next Edward Snowden

Intelligence Re-Reform

Photos of Edward Snowden and Barack Obama on the front pages of newspapers in Hong Kong, June 11 2013. Bobby Yip / Courtesy Reuters

If the case of Edward Snowden -- the former employee at Booz Allen Hamilton (a defense contractor for the National Security Agency) who smuggled classified information out of his workplace and provided it to news organizations -- has revealed anything, it is that the U.S. intelligence services made some mistakes as they reformed after 9/11 and the Iraq war. It is true that many of the changes they made have been for the better. But some, such as increased collaboration and information sharing, have now backfired. Snowden’s case, and possibly that of army private Bradley Manning, who is on trial for sharing classified documents with WikiLeaks, highlight the problems caused by involving more people, more agencies, more contractors, and more classification in intelligence gathering and analysis -- all trends that have accelerated in the past decade. In light of this, and of the first decline in intelligence spending since 2001, it is time to rethink how the U.S. intelligence community functions yet again.

First, the very structure of the intelligence community should be updated. The most important post-9/11 reform -- indeed, the most important reform since the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 -- was the establishment in 2004 of an Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The ODNI is supposed to coordinate the United States’ 16 separate intelligence agencies to prevent important intelligence, i.e., Osama bin Laden’s plans to attack, from slipping through the cracks. However, its creation turned out to be a half measure. Instead of bringing together the spooks at the CIA, the analysts at the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence, and the agents at the Drug Enforcement Administration, for example, it only added a superfluous layer of bureaucracy (some 1,600 staffers in all) to an already clunky intelligence community.

The reason: ODNI was given little actual control over the operations and budgets of the sprawling intelligence infrastructure, which is still dominated by much more powerful agencies such as the CIA, the National Security Agency,

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