Courtesy Reuters

Intelligent Design?

The Unending Saga of Intelligence Reform

In This Review

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

By Tim Weiner
Doubleday, 2007
720 pp. $27.95

Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11

By Amy B. Zegart
Princeton University Press, 2007
336 pp. $24.95

Enemies of Intelligence: Knowledge and Power in American National Security

By Richard K. Betts
Columbia University Press, 2007
264 pp. $26.95

In the 67 years since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, countless commissions, committees, and other official inquiries have lamented the shortcomings of the U.S. intelligence agencies. Even more unofficial ink has been spilled on intelligence failures and the supposed need for reform. But then why, if there is a problem that needs fixing, has it not yet been fixed, despite the enormous amount of attention devoted to it?

Some observers argue that the U.S. government simply has not found the right formula for change. Yet the many volumes already devoted to the subject of intelligence failure and reform make it unlikely that any bright new ideas (or even dim ones) will emerge. Another popular explanation is that reformers have had good ideas but the political stars have not been aligned in their favor. After all, it took the combination of an election campaign, the trauma of 9/11, and an aggressive commission that skillfully exploited public insecurity to bring about legislation establishing a director of national intelligence in 2004 (an idea that had been discussed for decades). However, this explanation overlooks the strong bias toward reform among managers inside the intelligence community. Like ambitious managers anywhere, they make their careers not by sitting on the status quo but by championing new initiatives and strategic redirections. The dominant pattern in the U.S. intelligence agencies has been not stasis but almost constant revision, even to the point of disruption. Another common claim is that the challenges faced by the intelligence agencies have changed so dramatically that solutions from the Cold War era are now obsolete. But the intelligence agencies were addressing the "new" issues of terrorism and the proliferation of unconventional weapons while the Cold War was still raging. It is true that threats such as terrorism have evolved, but they have not changed nearly as much as the public believes. The shock of the 9/11 attacks was so profound that many Americans mistakenly assumed that they must have come from a new danger

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