Doing the Right Thing for IC and DoD
Dr. Russell Ackoff (P)
The President wants $400B shaved off security over 12 years. The DNI thinks he is excluded from that number. Possibly, but that’s only because the President hasn’t yet come up with a similar number for intelligence. $80B for all intelligence is too much, and intelligence agencies need to cut back. Congress in its Appropriations bill implores the DNI to think differently as we head into this new era. But there is no real program to do that. The community was breathlessly awaiting the DNI’s strategy. It is a short list of nice sentiments, duly framed and posted on all the floors, without a hint of irony. Yet the DNI is not completely insensitive to the situation. When presenting his strategy, he observed that since 9/11 intelligence has only grown, and that there is no living experience with cutbacks nor any mechanisms for managing it. It simply isn’t done. Mr. Leiter, the NCTC chief, was agitated at the meeting, sensing a train wreck. Along with Gates, he cautioned that a salami slicing approach would be the absolute worst way to do it. Like Gates, Leiter promptly resigned a week later, preferring to go out on top, before the deluge.
So what are we doing now? Salami slicing. CIA is reducing headcount 5% this year and 5% next. Predictably, performance will collapse at a greater rate than will the headcount. There will be crying for delay and retention of funds. But as Edward Luttwak has said, the agencies should really be pleading with Congress to have their budgets cut, in order that they may IMPROVE performance. How could this be? Essentially by thinking differently — exactly what Congress asked for and that the establishment refuses to take seriously.
Luttwak has always been a controversial figure. He is irritating not just because he says unpopular things, but also because he knows what he is talking about. Good intelligence simply can’t succeed on a gigantic scale, a scale that defies integration. In history, the best performing intelligence establishments are limited in size but not in sense. They think and strive toward sense and use that as their guide. A recent Scientific American article on the human brain provides an apt analogy (July 2011). The writers explain that it would not be possible to gain more performance from the brain, in terms of higher processing power from the physical substrate. Any expansion in size or speed in any dimension would have net detrimental effects. Biologically speaking, we have an optimally sized brain. Not so, organizationally. We think that size and speed matters. That is true only up to a point, a point long passed in the intelligence community.
So what to do? Cutting back a gigantic, ill-designed system — without redesign — will make matters worse. It may save money, but at the expense of security. Hardly a good tradeoff. What we can do is listen to Congress, to Luttwak, and to countless other reformers and redesign, with an eye toward an optimum capacity, adapted to today’s environment.
This new way of working doesn’t need to happen all at once. It ca be built with scraps as we dismantle the old. All along the way this new institution can compete, new against the old, as it fits itself for greater battle. It will win, both against its Goliath competitor, and against adversaries. (Competitive intelligence was itself recommended as an important reform by the Commissions, annd it has barely been tried.)
To fund this venture, we can offer a five-for-one trade. For every five dollars in budget reduction, one dollar is invested in the new design. This balance should be about right for maintaining overall performance. (In other words, the new system can be at least as capable as the old at about 1/6th the price.) There are some crucial details, of course. The new design must have strict separation, free of the dead hand of leaders who can’t recognize failure and can’t pursue innovation. It must have an infrastructure of rules, technology, and personnel that allow it to take full advantage of the information that is easily there for the taking. We are awash in good information and no effort should be wasted regenerating “our own”, which typically is poor, late, and fussy in ways that provide no value to sensemaking. This would be a venture that ambitious, clever, and insightful people would want to join. An agency with high esprit that really works and has no fear to demonstrate and substantiate its superior performance with decision makers.
Where this leads is uncertain. The old system might fall back into routine maintenance of obsolete surveillance equipment as the new establishment introduces lighter, smaller, cheaper, high tech equipment that does the job well enough. But you can’t expect the current system to change its spots. That would be like expecting the mainframe IT department to shut down the behemoths and hand everybody wearable cloud devices. That’s not going to happen.
Phi Beta Iota: Buckminster Fuller, Russell Ackoff, Will Durant, and Thomas Jefferson are among cornerstones of historical thought upon which the M4IS2 revolution is deeply grounded. The current leadership of the US Government strives to ignore reality; we are quite certain that reality will not ignore–nor treat kindly–the current leadership of the US Government.