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Most of you no doubt caight the major story today of President Bush accepting a recommendation of the Robb-Silberman Report to create a new National Security Service within the FBI and the Justice Department. Variously described as a new service and an autonomous division, the NSS has three bureaucratic masters – the Attorney-General, The National Intelligence Director and the Director of the FBI.

My analysis:

  • This represents an institutional culture shock for the FBI on two grounds. First, forcing the elevation of Intelligence and Counterintelligence into a top tier priority for the Bureau which has long looked with disdain at such tasks. Secondly, the Bureau’s iron wall that resisted White House control by such formidible politicians as FDR, LBJ,Nixon and Clinton has been bureaucratically breached by George W. Bush. To sum up the siginificance in an image, J. Edgar Hoover is rolling in his grave as the ghost of Richard Nixon dances upon it.
  • Counterintelligence, historically the weakest area for the USG in the IC, has become a significant focus, at least on paper, with the addition of the NSS to the recently established National Counterintelligence Executive ( the relation between the two remains unclear though both report to the DNI). This bodes well because never before in history has the strategic counterintelligence environment been more diverse and the challenges so complex. An environment further aggravated by the recent intelligence reforms themselves that are starting to decompartmentalize some aspects of intel flow:
  • “The arrival of interconnected networks and computer databases has exponentially raised the damage a hostile mole can do to the intelligence community. In the past, a hostile mole could steal the papers on his desk; now he can steal his own work and everyone else’s that is in the various database to which he has access. To paraphrase Paul Redmond, one of the CIA’s counterintelligence gurus: “It is an actuarial certainty that there is a hostile mole operating within the intelligence community at any given time.” The next mole is going to clean the intelligence community out because of interconnectivity. There are some computer security steps that can be taken, but bluntly, they are hard to do, expensive, and do not work well. This is a cost and an unforeseen consequence of interconnectivity within the intelligence community. It is a matter of when, not if. If the policymakers are not warned early and often, then the intelligence community leadership will deserve the outraged criticism it will receive.”
  • Interestingly, the old National Security Office of the Department of Justice – now merged into the NSS – shared responsibility with the White House Counsel’s office for drafting and/or reviewing the legalities of National Security Directives ( NSPD/NSDD/PDD) issued through the National Security Council. These directives are Executive Orders, often classified, carrying the weight of law though they must be within compliance with the pertinent legislation and Court rulings. Essentially, the power of interpretation of presidential authority has moved away from the Attorney-General and closer to the White House.
  • Short term, this would seem to be a win for John Negroponte and a big loss for Robert Mueller but institutionally, given the very long term of service for an FBI Director, I find it doubtful that the office of the NDI will be able to retain control over a NSS that will initially draw heavily upon FBI personnel whose career loyalties are to the Bureau ( perhaps we will see Negroponte bringing in DIA and CIA CI people to leaven the mass of G-Men). The triumvirate system of managing the NSS is a half-assed bureaucratic compromise that can never work in practice except as temporary window dressing.

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