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JACKSONIAN AND OTHER RESPONSES: EXTENDING THE CONVERSATION

Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project asked me to respond in greater detail to the critical feedback that the post on Modern Foreign Policy Execution sparked, in particular, Dave Schuler’s post that I linked to yesterday and to a detailed treatise by Kurt Hoglund at The Jacksonian Party. Bruce has kindly put my remarks up in his post “The Difficult We Do Today; The Impossible Just Takes A Little Longer” where he expounds on the need for reform of foreign policy structure to be a task for which we must take the long view but for which steady pressure must be applied. Bruce explains:

“Schuler’s skepticism is warranted, but self-limiting. As we used to say in the Marine Corps: The Difficult We Do Today; The Impossible Just Takes A Little Longer. That’s not meant to infer that our foreign policy become Marine-like in spirit, but to suggest that focus and organization coupled with faith in mission will overcome.

….I believe that although difficult, and the impossible will take a bit longer, that one inevitable result of our current troubles will be the development of a flatter interdepartmental foreign policy and execution that will be much more informed, prescient, coordinated, and effective.”

I agree. This is going to be politically difficult because we are proposing taking some power away from senior Washington mandarins – both in the positive as well as the liberum veto sense – and moving it to the experienced field hands who will be collectively given the financial independence ( perhaps by initiating ” foreign policy block grants” instead of line-item departmental appropriations) and tasking authority to accomplish foreign policy objectives. If ever seriously proposed by a president ( even in watered down form), there will be an epidemic of apoplexy inside the beltway and every knife will come out to stop this reform from becoming a reality. Nevertheless, the weight of cultural evolution, technological innovation and globalization will continue rushing forward in the world whether bureaucrats like it or not. Networks are here, friendly and hostile and they must be engaged.

Regarding Mr. Hoglund’s post, the “Jacksonians” occupy an aggressive but “swing” position in American politics according to the taxonomy developed by Walter Russell Mead ( a subject Dave has previously explored in his informative posts here and here). Their attitude might be epitomized by the military writer Ralph Peters – they are seekers of clean and clear victories and have scant patience for the building of nations. Despite my being more ” Wilsonian” than is Hoglund, he has keyed on to the same problem that I have discerned (frankly, the current foreign policy process is going to produce mediocre results regardless of whether the president is a neoconservative adventurer or a dovish isolationist – the bureaucracies pursue their agendas under every president). An excerpt from “Taming the Turf Wars “:

“The topics cited in the Article I cover in Reforming the Intelligence Community, which looks at the massive and internecine ‘turf wars’ as the main problem for the IC and getting the best cross-specialization INTEL available for multi-level analysis and then synthesis of knowledge. This would require not only a complete overhaul of how work is approached, but remove the Agencies from the ‘product ownership’ area and put them into a ‘skills management’ role. By enforcing the idea that certain types of INTEL can stand alone, the entire IC is dysfunctional as there is no lower level cross-agency working system. Thus each Agency gets its own view of the INTEL it *has* but no ability to synthesize across many Agencies and outlooks. Here non-traditional INTs such as economic and agricultural forecasting would also come into play for a full synthesis of necessary knowledge types available. By removing the Agency fiefdoms and making INTEL gathering and analysis a shared Community Level activity, the internecine turf wars are removed and Agencies are judged on how well they manage contributed skills within the Community at large, not how much work product and viewpoint they turn out. This does require moving clandestine ops back to something directly under Presidential control, like the old OSS. They can be sent to gather specific INT needs, but only with full knowledge and approval of the President.”

Aside from my remarks that Bruce has published, the National Intelligence Council is supposed to help in the synthesizing process and was somewhat more aggressive in doing so, reportedly, under NID John Negroponte. Assuming that was the case, that synthesis is being layered on top of the analytical process, like frosting on a cake, rather than occurring in the mixing of the batter by the analytical ” cooks”. There people out in the blogosphere with direct experience working in the IC and the NIC who are better placed than I to comment further here.

A further point on synthesis, I had envisioned these field teams be appropriately IT-networked so as to allow continuous virtual as well as F2F collaboration. Critt Jarvis at Conversationbase, himself a former member of the IC community, responded with a post “Modern foreign policy execution needs mass collaboration“, tying my idea to the principles enunciated in the networked book Wikinomics and to Dr. Barnett’s A-Z Ruleset. Further and deeper exploration of the topic of the intersection of the IC with the tools of IT can be had by diving into the archives of Haft of the Spear and Kent’s Imperative, both of which I heartily recommend.

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3 Responses to “”

  1. A Jacksonian Says:

    My thanks!

    On ‘Nation Building’ I would say that it is only worth it for those Nations we have been at war with and defeated. It is good and honorable for the Nation to help those up who had been honorable foes and those that had been under the heel of repression. Get folks up after war so that they can defend themselves and guide themselves and then they can judge if they want to create more with you… or not. At that point they are on their own, with or without us.

    The view on the analysis side is that garnered from having been in an Agency that morphed into the INTEL Community arena. Thus the old ‘outsider to insider’ I’ve had a chance to see it from both sides and the different problems and cultures from DoD to Civil. That is a huge gulf.

    What is even worse, however, is the inability to get good and hard cross-INT work done. One needs to mortgage their life away to get all the necessary overhead and then determining the classification level of the synthesized data is a nightmare. The Executive and Legislative branches each have outlook and want analysis done to support their outlooks. Unfortunately analysis is a qualification of certainty, not a hard and fast ‘yes or no’ for large questions. And as each source of INT has its own idea of what those qualifications are, when they are put together by their Agencies and put forth there is a need for high level reconciliation. The problem is that the actual information and weighting of it is done by analysts who know *why* they give things the weight they do. That is not explicit trained knowledge, but implicit working experience knowledge and very hard to capture in a high level document. So when you have all the INT Agencies coming together for the NIE, you get a bland document that has more qualifiers strewn throughout it than is helpful to understanding what the actual situation is. What does come across is each Agency’s *position* on the situation… and if one Agency through its means and methods does not see something and another *does* through its different means and methods, then just how does that get reconciled? Months of working groups, usually and even then analysts are not the heart of the reconciliation process.

    What my concept was, and still is, is the divorcing of the ‘manpower’ issue from Agencies to that of a ‘skills base’ for the entire IC. Manpower is a pure phenomena of who has what skills, and if enough skills are not available then current options are relatively limited: hire someone new and train them. In a shared working environment the better option is that of cross-training so that individuals get a better working depth and breadth of National Intelligence problems. Actually getting work from the entire IC, then, becomes a work allocation by project problem, with weighting given to higher needs and priorties as set by the Executive. That is what the NID would be for: parsing out needs and weights then allocating working time to objectives.

    This does require that the entire current security arrangement is *scrapped* and that a new, network enabled system be put in place, so that work could be discriminated upon based on working environment and information security. Those three keys would each determine who can work on what, where. With that sort of system the actual *seat* one works at has its security environmet, as well as equipment, and data. This then disaggregates the working environment across all networked locations so that work can be done at any of them according to those security needs.

    When the entire community needs more skills-time and cross-training is not a good option, then individuals can be brought it and trained in those necessary skills by that community segment and taught how to work in the community. Note that this is a far *larger* community than currently exists, as it reaches out to all areas of the Federal Government that does analysis for National Security problems.

    In this sort of system the work envrironment holds the work and all data to work on and then skills are applied as necessary to collected data. Feedback comes from end users, team leads and skills reviewers, with the first being the leading component of team-based analysis quality. There is a learning process in this, but the rewards are to find good and able individuals able to work well in cross-specialization groups and that comprehend the needs of the specific problem involved and to *not* be focused on Agency level CYA. The entire automated private industry of large corporations has gone through this, already, and has seen a removal of previous white collar ‘management’ jobs as the leverage capability of email and other automated systems allows for greater oversight by fewer people. This concentrates the skills on actually getting the job *done* and done well, with a good understanding of what conflicting information and sources *mean*. That is something that the higher-ups cannot properly disaggregate as they have been out of the active analysis job for too long. Which is the mush we end up with in the NIE, currently.

    The analsysts know that lives are at stake and put their best effort forward *today* for the Nation. That effort is diluted by the bureaucracy and politics. No analyst I ever met wants to be a political football, but wants to do their job well for the Nation so that the entire Nation can be served in that. That is what is at risk with the politicizing of the bureaucracies in the IC: loss of faith by the analysts that their work is respected, regarded and meaningful to the Nation they serve.

  2. mark Says:

    Well…that was one of my better replies left in the history of my comments section.

    I assumed that you had some direct familiarity with IC issue from your post. American intelligence must have bled talent through the 1990′s to get where it is today. Perhaps if a loud enough hue and cry can be raised, things will get better.

  3. A Jacksonian Says:

    That is my common accusation: having left a good comment. Even worse is accused of leaving something better than the original post…

    The main problem is not being bled dry, although that is a problem, but the movement of some types of INT over to the private sector thus moving that skills base from Federal to commercial. That is a continuing event and the questions of how to maintain standards in the commercial sector for Federal INTEL is one that is not being addressed. That lovely pendulum swing of moving between contractor and direct hire is now reaching harshly into the contractor side while removing the skills base from the direct hire side. And because contracts are for *terms* not long-term employment by the Government, the effect of sequestering skills TO the contract side means that they are no longer held by the Government. At some point the question of which is more necessary – Government having reliable workers that know they are accountable to the government or skills accountable to a contract via a contractor must be addressed. The first allows direct oversight and movement of individuals within the IC while the second is limited by contract. You *cannot* make a contract that broad, there are harsh limitations on Federal Contracting that prevent that for various reasons.

    At some point we must see these skills as valuable for the People as a whole,not a commodity to be traded amongst contractors. And they *do* see migration of personnel when contracts are lost… or, even worse, those skills and historical knowledge moved outside of the INT utility area and lost to it. I am all *for* grounds keeping, janitorial services and even a modicum of other services to be contracted out. The base skill set that the lives of the Armed Forces and the entire Foreign Policy structure depend upon are slowly falling out of the Federal realm. The ins and outs of contracts often prevents the skills that are needed in one area being applied elsewhere due to the limitations in those contracts. And you cannot make anything like a ‘personal services’ contract as that is forbidden. If you want the flexibility of training, shifting work load and position, moving to different projects outside of normal ones to gain experience or garner methodology, then contract services are a hinderance to that. I actually expect that a ‘flattening’ of the control structure would mean a *smaller* workforce for the mid-term and then a more highly flexible one in the long-term that will utilize specialized skills ‘as needed’ via contract. To get there is 15 years at a minimum. If we don’t get there, then I don’t see how we will address the various problems of the Nation as the admixture of terrorism, organized crime and unaccountable trade and banking is not making the world free… but is giving cheap and lethal arms to those that would bring destruction to Peoples and Nations.

    That, of course, requires acknowledging that we are in a global war on Transnational Terrorism and have Goals to address that. Unfortunately that requires a real and statable foreign policy that is *not* a bunch of programs but an actual statement of what this Nation seeks to do in the world. If we can’t state the goals, then how can we ever state the problem in a meaningful way?


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