April 8, 2014: Strategy Page
Pakistan recently decided to form the NID (National Intelligence Directorate) in order to pool intelligence gathered by over 30 Pakistani agencies. Even many Pakistani intelligence officials are not sure how many government and military intelligence collecting organizations there are in Pakistan. An effort is under way to compile a definitive list. The NID was created because of the growing number of instances in which counter-terrorism efforts failed because vital information existed but was not known or available to the army or police. Not unusual, but there have been a growing number of cases in which vital information was available within the intelligence community but there was no easy way to connect the agency with the information with the army or police units tasked with actually doing something about the problem. The NID is supposed to solve the problem but many inside Pakistan and in intelligence agencies worldwide doubt it.
Much of this doubt comes from a failed American effort to do what NID is attempting. Back in 2004 the United States decided, for the same reasons, to create a similar agency called the DNI (Director of National Intelligence). The DNI was to control all intelligence. This promptly ran into resistance from the CIA which had, for a long time, filled the role as the "Central" Intelligence Agency. The DNI got things rolling quickly by proposing that the chief intelligence officer (the CIA "station chief") at each U.S. embassy be someone other than a CIA officer. The main alternatives proposed were someone from the DIA (the Department of Defense intelligence agency) or the NSA. The problem, as the CIA saw it was that if the intelligence station chief is from NSA or DIA, the senior CIA guy there would have another layer of bureaucracy to go through, and this would slow things down. Although the DNI, technically, has the power to order this change, the CIA unofficially threatened to use its considerable influence (in Congress, the media and elsewhere) to oppose the move.
This proposal actually makes some sense. For example, there are a lot of talented espionage operatives in NSA and DIA who would make good station chiefs. Moreover, in many small countries, the DIA has more agents and intelligence operations than the CIA. Same deal with the NSA whose electronic eavesdropping is often the primary source of intel on some nations. But the CIA countered by pointing out that the CIA has been handling the station chief duties competently for decades, so why change something it is working well.
All of these turf wars are the result of the huge growth in intelligence activities since the end of World War II over sixty years ago. As some of these new agencies, especially DIA and NSA, grew quite large, it became a problem getting everyone to play from the same sheet of music. Each intelligence agency has its own little fan club in Congress, and elsewhere in the federal government and among major defense contractors, and knows how to play the media game to get what they want. This is very similar to the situation in Pakistan.
With fifteen different intelligence organizations, the problem of coordinating all of them is nothing new. The CIA was created in the 1947 to coordinate intelligence activities for the president. Unfortunately, each of the fifteen organizations has a different boss, a different mission, different traditions and, well, you get the picture. Just to drive the point home, here are the fifteen intelligence agencies, along with short description of what they do, and who they do it for.
Everyone talks about getting the intelligence agencies to work together, but in over half a century, no one has been able to make it happen. In fact, no one, at the moment, is making a serious effort to make it happen. It's also illuminating to remember what one real Russian czar said about the subject, "I do not rule Russia, 10,000 clerks do."
Speaking of Russia, other nations have had similar problems with competing intel agencies. For decades after World War II, the Soviet Union had two different organizations running spies overseas. Most of the effort was from the KGB (a sort of combined CIA/FBI/Border Patrol/Coast Guard/Etc.) and a much smaller GRU (military intelligence). GRU was thought to be more dangerous, perhaps because they were a smaller operation and hustled a bit more as a result. Having two Soviet spy agencies to worry about did make counterintelligence more difficult.