Too Hard to Fix on the Margins–Fix Big or Don’t Fix At All,
April 8, 2000
This is a very worthy and thoughtful book. It breaks new ground in understanding the bureaucratic and political realities that surrounded the emergence of the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA was weak by design, strongly opposed by the military services from the beginning. Its covert activities emerged as a Presidential prerogative, unopposed by others in part because it kept CIA from being effective at coordinated analysis, for which it had neither the power nor the talent. Most usefully, the book presents a new institutionalist theory of bureaucracy that gives full weight to the original design, the political players including the bureaucrats themselves, and external events. Unlike domestic agencies that have strong interest groups, open information, legislative domain, and unconnected bureaucracies, the author finds that national security agencies, being characterized by weak interest groups, secrecy, executive domain, and connected bureaucracies, evolve differently from other bureaucracies, and are much harder to reform. On balance, the author finds that intelligence per se, in contrast to defense or domestic issues, is simply not worth the time and Presidential political capital needed to fix but that if reform is in the air, the President should either pound on the table and put the full weight of their office behind a substantive reform proposal, or walk away from any reform at all-the middle road will not successful.