Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, July 09, 2004

Stovepipes, Group Think and Intelligence Reform

Stovepipes: Both Democrats and Republicans frequently declare that the problem with intelligence prior to 9/11 was “stovepiping” or the practice of only sending reports up the chain of command within the FBI, State Department, or the CIA etc without any communication about those reports between agencies. This is used as justification for the concentration of intelligence, police and anti-terror functions in one agency. But is it an accurate presentation of the problem? I say no.

I have several reasons to believe that the problem was actually that higher officials ignored reports from below not the divisions between one agency and another. In the case of the so called 20th hi-jacker who was arrested in Minnesota, the local FBI and CIA agents were in close communication and both sent reports up the chain of command within their respective agencies. But those reports were ignored by the Assistant Directors and Directors in Washington. The White House anti-terror expert, Richard Clark was in constant contact with his counterparts in the State Department, the Justice Department, the FBI (John P. O’Neill – Frontline had a great story about this guy!) and the CIA. But all of them were ignored by their respective superiors especially after the Bush administration came to town. At the local level and at the middle management level there was NO STOVEPIPE problem. The only place were such a problem existed was at the level of political appointees and that problem was made worse by the dramatic drop in top level meetings in the Bush administration.

It’s really a pity that the “other kind of political scientist” isn’t posting regularly on this blog because he could give a far better explanation of group think than I could. Essentially, groupthink is when a number of decision makers start to share each others assumptions – either because of bullying by a dominant personality or shared points of view. These shared assumptions on their own would not be a problem but group think kicks in when they all ignore evidence that refutes their assumptions. The US Senate Intelligence Committee specifically cites groupthink as a major cause of intelligence failures with regard to WMDs in Iraq. A common characteristic of group think is high ranking decision makers ignoring reports from below that conflict with the assumptions shared at the higher levels. This is the same problem they had pre-9/11! Note, it has nothing to do with “stove pipes.”

Intelligence was screwed up why do the details of how it was screwed up matter? If we all buy the “stove pipe” theory we’ll think the best reform is to concentrate power in one big agency like the Homeland Security Agency or the oft called for "MI-5" model of a domestic intelligence agency with police powers. But that won’t solve the problem of political appointees ignoring local and middle level officials’ reports that conflict with ideologically driven assumptions.

1 comment:

US West said...

RBR, you mention that part of the probelm was the reduction in high level meetings in the administration. I just finished listening to Clark's testimony before the 9/11 commission (available for free at and he said something interesting. When he tried to go directly to Condie Rice with his concerns over possible terrorism, she told him that he was not supposed to got directly to the "principles" but to the deputies meeting. He explained that this was not the case in the previous administration. He went directly to the president, that was his job. But in this administration, he had to go to the deputies. And then they would push it to the principles. He said that the he went to the deputies who met in like June. But the principles didn't meet until Sept. 8th. So you are correct in your assessment.