The Washington Post reported late last week CIA Director John Brennan is considering “sweeping” changes to the Agency’s organizational structure, potentially merging the analytical and operational Directorates in a way similar to how the Counterterrorism, Counterproliferation, and Counterintelligence Centers (CTC, CPC, and CIC, respectively) are run. Analysts and case officers would be sitting cheek-to-jowl in the same office, cure instead of being firewalled from each other in different parts of Headquarters. This would be CIA’s most radical restructuring since the Agency’s founding after the Second World War.
If this reporting proves generally accurate, this would be a welcome change for, and at, CIA. For too long, most analysts and operators have been artificially divided from each other for bureaucratic reasons, hindering both Directorates’ missions. If executed correctly, merging the talents & skill-sets of CIA case officers & analysts across the CIA could demolish old structural barriers and create great value to both the analytical product and operational efforts.
I’ve seen first-hand how these needless intra-Agency barriers hinder CIA’s mission. Years ago, I once went to talk with another colleague in a regional office who was completing a paper about a Middle Eastern country’s political dynamics. As a former CTC analyst, I had solid reporting indicating his conclusions were, in fact, off-base, but I couldn’t share it with him because it was data found in raw cable traffic – traffic I had access to, but he didn’t.
I implored him to reconsider his conclusion, but in the absence of data that I could provide to support my case, he politely refused to change his bottom line. The paper went out as written, with incorrect conclusions. Reforming the system and allowing line analysts access to the raw traffic generated by case officers might have avoided this.
The possibility of a real bureaucratic shakeup at CIA also indicates Director Brennan is willing to leave his imprint on an organization where he has been employed for just about all of his entire working life. It certainly takes guts to be willing to commit to invasive self-surgery, even if it’s one that is long overdue.
Of course, if this as-yet in-process process is handled ham-handedly by a lumbering bureaucracy ever-concerned with turf issues, this reorganization could prove to be disastrous. After all, attempting any major structural overhaul of a large organization is always a tricky business. The formation of the Department of Homeland Security and its subsequent organizational dysfunctions is a great example of what happens when long-standing federal Agencies and Departments are mashed together with great haste. The details count.
But this is an overall restructuring that CIA should strongly consider, even as the actual blueprints are still being worked out. If the leaders of America’s premier intelligence agency decide to commit to jettison a bureaucratic superstructure that has been in place more or less since the late 1940s, this would be a welcome evolution at CIA in its quest to confront the threats and challenges of a new century.
photo: from CIA.gov. “2430 E St. NW” was the address of the original CIA Headquarters. It took over the site from its wartime predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services.