The CIA and the Cult of Reorganization

Paul Pillar

Re-arranging bureaucracies has long been a favorite Washington way of pretending to make improvements. It is a handy recourse in the absence of good ideas to make real improvement. Revising a wiring diagram is the sort of change that can be made visible to the outside world. It does not require reaching consensus about significant increases or decreases in the priority given particular programs or their budgets. It offers a basis for convincing ourselves that the bureaucracies involved will perform better, even if the main reasons we don't get everything we would like to get from those bureaucracies are to be found in the inherent, unavoidable challenges of the tasks they are assigned to perform.

The urge to reorganize is not limited to government. Revising wiring diagrams is alluring to senior managers in private sector organizations as well. It is a way of showing initiative and appearing to be dedicated both to improving the organization and keeping pace with changes in the outside world. It is one of the most visible ways for any senior manager to leave a mark and establish a legacy.

Now the Central Intelligence Agency is being hit again with the reorganization bug, with changes that director John Brennan announced last week. The intelligence community has been subjected to this sort of thing at least as much as other parts of the federal bureaucracy. The most notable instance was a reorganization of the community a decade ago as the most visible part of the 9/11 Commission's response to a popular demand to shake things up after a terrible terrorist attack. That change added new bureaucracy on top of continuing old organizations, and in the years since has given us little or no reason to believe that it was a net improvement.

The principal feature of the changes that Brennan announced is to move all of the agency's operational and analytical work, and not just selected parts of it, into integrated “mission centers” covering issue areas defined either geographically or functionally. As with most other reorganizations, both criticism and praise tend to be overstated. Any change in a bureaucracy's performance, for good or for ill, resulting from changing the wiring diagram will not be nearly as pronounced as either critics or promoters usually would lead us to believe.

A criticism of this newest reorganization, for example, is that it would lead to still more focus on current doings at the expense of longer-range analysis. But within each issue area there is no reason to believe that worthwhile long-range analysis cannot be done in the mission centers. Another line of criticism involves a feared compromise of the integrity of analysis because of overly close association of the analysts with operators. This would only be a problem, however, where covert action is involved. Although some unfortunate experiences involving Central America in the 1980s demonstrate the corrupting potential, covert action—despite the public image of what the CIA does—constitutes a small (and usually well-compartmented) portion of the agency's work. There is a substantial hazard of policy preferences influencing analysis stemming from relations with policy-makers, but that is a separate matter from relations between analysts and operators within an intelligence agency.

The justification for the changes is also overstated—or fuzzy and hardly compelling. Mark Mazzetti's article in the New York Times about the announced changes mentions that Brennan relied heavily on “management jargon” to try to explain and justify what he was doing. There were all the unsurprising buzzwords about needing to “wring efficiencies” out of the system and having to modernize and about not wanting to become as obsolete as Kodak, but how this makes one particular wiring diagram better than another one is difficult to see. Brennan talked about the “array of very challenging, complex and serious threats to our national security”—the sort of language that any CIA director, at any time, uses—but what does that say about the supposed advantages of a particular organizational scheme? He said a central aim was to eliminate “seams” in coverage, but aren't there seams in any organizational arrangement, including the seams that will exist between the mission centers?

The particular organizational issues involving the CIA entail, as many such issues in other organizations do, inherent trade-offs, with each possible wiring diagram presenting both advantages and disadvantages when compared to other possible schemes. The main advantage of the announced new arrangement is to make the interface between analysts and collectors working on the same substantive issue as close and smooth as possible. This helps the analysts to understand better the sources of some of the information on which they are relying, and it helps the collectors to understand how the information they are collecting is being used and where are the most important information gaps that still need to be filled.

A significant disadvantage is that bureaucratizing whatever is considered at the moment to be worthy of its own mission center makes for a less flexible and less nimble organization as issues change and especially as new (and sometimes difficult to recognize initially as important) issues emerge. The seeds of future intelligence failures can be found in the seams between the centers. Interface is important not just between collectors and analysts but also between analysts working issues that are different but may turn out to be related in important ways.

Another set of disadvantages stems from breaking up what would otherwise have been critical masses of people working in the same discipline and with the same skill set. Doing so is generally not conducive to enhancing specialized skills, whether those skills involve the craft of espionage, or of analysis, or something else. Particular mission centers, depending on who leads them and what are the relative weights of different types of people assigned to them, may tend to be co-opted by certain disciplines at the expense of the necessary professional care and feeding of those in other disciplines. The further separation of missions and operational control from the management of employees' careers (and the new scheme will retain existing directorates, including those for operations and for analysis, for that latter purpose) will tend to exacerbate issues of personnel management, including loosening the tie between effective contribution to a specific assigned mission and reward in the form of promotions. Retention of the existing directorate structure in addition to more mission centers also makes the whole organizational structure of the agency more complicated.

A principle too rarely recognized is that the advantages of a new organizational structure are uncertain (when compared to the existing structure, which is apt to have to have evolved over time as experience has shown what works and what doesn't), but the costs and disruptions associated with any major reorganization are certain and substantial. The disruption involves everything from having to forge new relationships with bosses, co-workers, and customers, to having to figure out exactly where new lines of responsibility are to be drawn. Rather than impeding accomplishment of the mission with such disruption, it often is better just to let people get on with their jobs—although anyone who makes this observation risks being rebuked as a stuck-in-the-mud resistor of change.

In the face of the inevitable trade-offs, the current organizational arrangement in the CIA, in which there are some integrated centers for selected issues such as terrorism but not for everything, is probably a reasonable compromise. Unmentioned in much of the commentary so far on the announced changes is how much had already been done, outside the centers, to enhance communication and cooperation between collectors and analysts. This includes physical changes made years ago to locate in adjacent office space the analysts and operations officers working on the same geographic areas.

What we most need to be wary of with these latest announced changes in the CIA's organization is not some wave of corrupting influences that will destroy the integrity of analysis. We should instead ask whether this is yet another of the many examples of a senior manager using reorganization to try to make his mark and leave a legacy, especially a legacy that won't be centered on unflattering matters such as strained relations with Congressional oversight committees.                           



TopicsIntelligence RegionsUnited States

Confirmed: China Is Building 2nd Aircraft Carrier

The Buzz

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is building its second aircraft carrier, several senior Chinese military officials have confirmed, a Hong Kong daily is reporting.

On Monday, Taiwan Focus News Channel cited the Chinese-language The Hong Kong Commercial Daily in reporting that China has begun work on its second aircraft carrier, which will have a more advanced launch system the one currently used on China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

According to Taiwan Focus News Channel, the initial report cited Liu Xiaojiang, the former political commissioner of the PLA Navy, as saying that the “government's industrial and manufacturing agencies are now in charge of the ship's construction.” The report also cited Ding Haichun, who was promoted to the position of deputy political commissioner of the PLA Navy back in January, as confirming that China’s second aircraft carrier is under construction.

Taiwan Focus News Channel went on to paraphrase Ding as saying that “after the completion of the ship's construction, it will be turned over to the Navy for training maneuvers.”

Want China Times, which is also based in Taiwan, also carried a story about the original report on Monday.

This is not the first time that Chinese officials have commented about the presumed second aircraft carrier. As I previously reported, back in January 2014 the Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao newspaper quoted Wang Min, Party chief of Northeast China’s Liaoning province, as saying that construction on China’s second carrier had begun in the port city of Dalian in Liaoning province. Wang said that the carrier would be completed in six years’ time, and that China ultimately intended to build four aircraft carriers.

That report was quickly taken down.

Similarly, last month another local Chinese government, that of Changzhou, a city in Jiangsu province, published a report saying that a local company had been awarded a deal to supply products for China’s new carrier. That report was also quickly taken down. Even state-run media outlets in China have hinted at this reality, and noted that the Chinese government has not denied.

Thus, it seems undeniable that China is pursuing at least one more aircraft carrier. The main questions remaining are when will it be completed  and how many will Beijing ultimately build?

Regarding the former question, both Ding and Liu denied various reports that said that China’s second aircraft carrier could begin testing as early as this year, citing the technical difficulties involved in building an aircraft carrier. Neither appears to have offered up any guesses as to when the new carrier would be launched.

Liu was equally evasive when asked how many carriers the PLA Navy would ultimately operate. According to the reports, he said that at a minimum China would need one to be at sea at all times, one to be in maintenance at all times and one to be used for training purposes. At the same time, he added: “I think if we need carriers, the more the better. The key is how much funding do we have.”

Taiwan Focus News Channel also reported, again citing The Hong Kong Commercial Daily, that numerous military experts said the new carrier would feature a catapult takeoff system, rather than the less advanced ski jump ramp utilized by China’s current aircraft carrier.

The new carrier would the first one that China built domestically, as the Liaoning is a Soviet-era carrier Beijing purchased from Ukraine.


The Dressing Up of Bibi's Speech

Paul Pillar

There was so much that was improper about one political party giving a foreign leader a privileged platform in the U.S. Congress for the purpose of undermining U.S. foreign policy, and so much understandable criticism of this improper action, that what now sounds like a responsible and “sober” thing to say, as Shai Feldman presents himself as saying at The National Interest, is that we should not get distracted by all the commotion over how Benjamin Netanyahu came to give his speech, even though there may be grounds for criticizing his strategy in giving the speech, but instead should take seriously the substance of what he said. This posture sounds so reasonable that one can plausibly imagine Netanyahu and his American acolytes welcoming controversy over the unrespectable way in which the speech came about so that the substance of the speech would, by comparison, sound more respectable than it really was.

We should not be deceived by any such framing strategy. No matter how successfully we can put out of our minds the impropriety of giving any foreign leader this platform for this kind of purpose and the underhanded way the platform was given, the most sober possible appraisal of the speech is that it was (besides being in some respects a skillful oration) a scaremongering, internally inconsistent rant aimed at tying the hands of the makers of U.S. foreign policy. President Obama was stating the obvious when he remarked that Netanyahu offered no alternative to what the United States and its five foreign partners have been endeavoring to do for the past year and a half in negotiating an agreement to keep Iran's nuclear program peaceful.

Feldman states that a reading of the speech shows that “Israel's Prime Minister did not travel to Washington to prevent any deal with Iran.” Of course Netanyahu didn't say that was his purpose; if he had said that, he would have been blatantly and stupidly presenting himself as an incorrigible obstructionist. It makes much more tactical sense for him to sustain the impression that with the right terms he would accept an agreement with Iran—somewhat like how he has tried to sustain the impression that with the right terms he would accept an agreement creating a Palestinian state. But the only plausible interpretation of Netanyahu's behavior throughout on this issue is that preventing any agreement with Tehran is precisely his objective. Actions speak louder than words in understanding what he is trying to do, especially the action of trying hard to kill the best, and probably for the foreseeable future the only, opportunity to place restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program.

So what is supposedly the alternative formula that Netanyahu would accept? According to Netanyahu, and to Feldman, it's a “better deal.” That's it; don't expect anything more specific. Of course everyone would like a “better deal”; what do you suppose the U.S. Secretary of State has been spending an enormous amount of time and effort trying to achieve in those long negotiations? Whatever are the terms that Netanyahu supposedly would bless, all we know is that they would not be whatever terms emerge from the current negotiations. And given the prime minister's history of goalpost-moving, we have good reason to expect that no agreement, no matter what the terms, would ever get his support. When he was displaying his cartoon bomb at the United Nations, stopping Iran's medium-level enrichment of uranium was supposedly the main concern, but he later denounced a preliminary agreement with Iran that achieved, along with other measures, exactly that objective. Once a one-year “breakout” time sounded like it would be acceptable to Netanyahu in comparison with the couple of months without an agreement, but now that the Obama administration appears to be sticking firmly to that one-year figure Netanyahu seems to want more (but just how much more we are left to wonder). Formerly the sine qua non of any agreement of Iran was to halt the advance of the nuclear program, but now that the negotiators seem on the brink of achieving a deal on that supposedly overriding issue, Netanyahu is talking more (as Feldman himself notes) about bringing in other issues involving other forms of Iranian behavior. And so on.

According to Netanyahu, achieving a “better deal” is a simple matter of pressuring Iran with more sanctions. But the entire history of the nuclear issue and of Iran's other behavior, along with the realities of human nature, strongly suggest that this notion is a fantasy. We have direct, compelling experience of failure with this; when the sanctions screws were applied to Iran after the United States rejected the last previous opportunity to strike a deal on the subject with Tehran, the result was substantial expansion of the Iranian nuclear program over the subsequent decade.

Nancy Pelosi accurately commented that Netanyahu's lecturing about threats from Iran and about nuclear proliferation was an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.” It would be an insult to the intelligence of Benjamin Netanyahu to suggest that he doesn't understand fully that there is not some “better deal” that somehow would materialize and that rejection of whatever agreement emerges from the current negotiations would mean having no agreement at all.

Feldman turns to another theme that anti-agreement forces have increasingly seized upon of late, and he tries to make Netanyahu sound reasonable about that, too. This is the certainty that an agreement will have “sunset” provisions such that Iran would not be kept in international purgatory forever. Feldman's excuse for Netanyahu believing that Iran should be kept in purgatory forever is that “Iran remains committed to Israel's destruction.” Any discussion of policy toward Iran that claims to be sober would be well-advised to dispose of that trope. Iran is not committed to Israel's destruction, although it has had leaders who have used language that in the retelling and mistranslation gets so construed. Even if Iranian leaders did want to destroy Israel they realize it would be impossible for them to do so. They also realize that any attempt to do so would lead Israel to wreak far greater destruction on them in return.

With or without the tropes, the whole anti-agreement line of argument resting on sunset provisions is no more logical coming out of Netanyahu's mouth than it has been coming out of others. The principal reasons the argument doesn't make sense are nicely reviewed in John Allen Gay's dismantling of a similar line of argument from Ray Takeyh, who posited a strange scenario of the Iranian supreme leader planning to lie in ambush for a decade before springing a nuclear weapon on the world. One of the most glaring illogicalities of the whole anti-sunset idea is that to use this as an excuse for opposing the product of the current negotiations is to say that, while assuming the worst about Iranian intentions, we would rather face the consequences of an unrestrained Iranian nuclear program today than face it after it has been under ten years of restrictions. Besides, sunset provisions are standard diplomatic stuff, even in agreements that have been reached with Evil Empires.

Feldman talks about the need to “test” Iranian behavior over time. That is exactly what any nuclear deal, with a sunset provision, would entail. Whatever the time period involved, at the end of it Iran would face all the same disincentives, involving economic sanctions and maybe even military attack, against violating its continuing obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In fact, if prospect theory is valid, the Iranians would feel even greater disincentive than they do now, given that such behavior would mean losing whatever economic gains they had gotten in the meantime in the form of sanctions relief.

Feldman, quoting Netanyahu, makes it sound as if there would be some open-minded “testing” of Iranian behavior, but they are not talking about observance of the provisions of a nuclear accord, and about how a decade or so of Iranian observance of the terms of the agreement would be a huge piece of evidence confirming Iran's commitment to a future without owning nuclear weapons. They are instead, in more goalpost-moving, talking about other Iranian behavior they say they don't like, and declaring that Iran should be required among other things to (in Feldman's words) “abandon...its commitment to Israel's destruction.” How exactly is Iran supposed to do that, especially if it is not committed to that objective in the first place? And how do you write something like that into an agreement?

Unmentioned in Feldman's piece are the glaring inconsistencies in Netanyahu's speech. Roger Cohen notes one of them, in which in one breath Netanyahu portrays Iran as a regional juggernaut that is “gobbling” up other countries and in a different breath says it is a “very vulnerable regime” on the brink of folding. “Well,” asks Cohen, “which is it?” One might also note inconsistency in portrayal of Iranian leaders as, on one hand, irrational, undeterrable religious fanatics who don't think like the rest of us and could never be trusted with dangerous weapons and, on the other hand, as people who, if faced with economic sanctions being cranked up a few more notches, would carefully count the hit to their foreign exchange earnings and make more concessions at the negotiating table. Again, which is it?

Feldman concludes with criticism of Netanyahu's political approach that has endangered Israel's relations with parts of the American political elite. But for U.S. citizens concerned about U.S. interests that is not the main problem in anything Netanyahu has done. The main problem is with a foreign government trying to prevent the United States from pursuing U.S. interests and international security with all the diplomatic and other tools available to it.                               

TopicsIran Israel RegionsMiddle East

Revealed: The Devastating Aftermath of a Nuclear Attack on Manhattan

The Buzz

My generation doesn't think much about nuclear weapons, disarmament and the consequences of nuclear-weapons use. Some certainly do, but generally, the cause of nuclear disarmament is being carried on by an older generation.

I think that's a problem. Nuclear weapons seems like an old issue, from a previous generation and time. Plus, we have our own causes and as the argument often goes, 'no one is ever going to use one anyways, right?' This never convinces me, for a variety of reasons, but I also think we just haven't lived in a time when geopolitical tensions were such that two nuclear armed powers were close to war (except perhaps India and Pakistan in 1999, and the growing nuclear dimension of the tensions between Russia and the West today).

There is also the fact that the immediate and full effect of a military-grade nuclear weapon hasn't really been represented in pop culture since the end of the Cold War. For example, films since 9/11 have only depicted explosions from small nuclear weapons, usually orchestrated by terrorists like in the film The Sum of All Fears, but also in The Dark Knight Rises and to a lesser extent The Peacemaker. The point is that younger generations have never really been exposed, even fictionally, to the dangers of nuclear war. Some films do deal with this, like Crimson Tide (great film, but nuclear war is averted, yet again) and Independence Day (the nuclear explosion is not depicted, and it fails to stop the aliens, except later in space with the help of Jeff Goldblum).

In short, my generation has never had its version of The Day After.

That's why an article from 2004, recently republished by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (h/t The Browser), grabbed my attention. The article is adapted from Lynn Eden's 2004 book Whole World on Fire, which essentially argues that US military planners have consistently underestimated the destructive effects of nuclear weapons by only calculating their blast damage, and not the additional damage caused by fire and firestorms.

It is worth quoting Eden describing the results of an 800 kiloton nuclear warhead detonating over Manhattan, which she does to terrifying effect. First, the temperature of the detonation itself:

Within a few tenths of millionths of a second after detonation, the center of the warhead would reach a temperature of roughly 200 million degrees Fahrenheit (about 100 million degrees Celsius), or about four to five times the temperature at the center of the sun...

...After one second, the fireball would be roughly a mile in diameter. It would have cooled from its initial temperature of many millions of degrees to about 16,000 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 4,000 degrees hotter than the surface of the sun.

Eden then describes the destruction the heat would cause downtown:

At the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, about one half to three quarters of a mile from ground zero, light from the fireball would melt asphalt in the streets, burn paint off walls, and melt metal surfaces within a half second of the detonation...

...Those who tried to escape through the streets would have been incinerated by the hurricane-force winds filled with firebrands and flames. Even those able to find shelter in the lower-level sub-basements of massive buildings would likely suffocate from fire-generated gases or be cooked alive as their shelters heated to oven-like conditions.

And then the fires that would engulf the city and the surrounding suburbs:

On a clear day with average weather conditions, the enormous heat and light from the fireball would almost instantly ignite fires over a total area of about 100 square miles...

...As the massive winds drove flames into areas where fires had not yet fully developed,the fires set by the detonation would begin to merge. Within tens of minutes of the detonation, fires from near and far would join to form a single, gigantic fire. The energy released by this mass fire would be 15 to 50 times greater than the energy produced by the nuclear detonation...

 ...These superheated ground winds of more than hurricane force would further intensify the fire. At the edge of the fire zone, the winds would be powerful enough to uproot trees three feet in diameter and suck people from outside the fire into it.

The destructive power of nuclear weapons is imaginable, real and frightening. Even though recent set-backs have slowed down the momentum for nuclear disarmament, it's critical that it at least remains a visible part of the global agenda.

Brendan Thomas-Noone is a Research Associate in the International Security Program and the Digital Editorial Assistant at the Lowy Institute.This article first appeared on the Lowy Interpreter, here.


Will the Next-Generation Stealth Bomber 'Ground' the Air Force?

The Buzz

From the time it came into being in 1948, the United States Air Force has had a state-of-the-art long-range bomber in its inventory. The first was the extraordinary B-36 Peacemaker—the name intending to signify its deterrent value rather than (just) being ironic—and the latest is the B-2 Spirit “stealth” bomber. There has been several notable aircraft, not least the B-52, which is now scheduled to have a service life in various versions of an astonishing 90 years. (For a review of the current USAF bomber fleet, see here.)

Bomber aircraft have been an important part of America’s superpowerdom, allowing it to project global air power and forming part of the nuclear deterrent. Some bombers over the years have never seen combat, but others have flown many “hot” missions. So it’s no surprise that a new Long Range Strike–Bomber (LRS-B) system is in development.

The value assigned to long-range bombers by the U.S. is shown in how much it’s spent developing and building them. They’ve frequently been the center of controversy about costs—not just the sometimes eye-watering direct costs but also the opportunity cost of other capabilities foregone. The B-36’s first battle was fought in Washington, with the newly-minted USAF and the U.S. Navy (USN) slugging it out over which Service would carry the strategic nuclear capability. In summary, the USN lost a planned “supercarrier” to fund the bomber. The B-36 was called “the billion dollar blunder” at the time (or $10 billion dollar blunder in today’s money), but at least that referred to the entire program of nearly 400 aircraft. The B-2, by contrast, cost almost a billion dollars each to build—and when the R&D is added in, the 21 aircraft fleet cost $55 billion.

Which begs the question, what might the LRS-B cost? Being a closely-held program, data’s scarce, but the USAF is hoping to keep costs “down” (these terms are relative) to $550 million per aircraft including R&D. Of course, we’ve heard those words before, and anyone who has followed my scribblings will know that historical trends aren’t easily defeated. The F-35 was supposed to be substantially cheaper than the legacy aircraft it was to replace, for example. It isn’t – but it is less expensive than the F-22 which immediately preceded it, so there’s some hope of a better outcome for the LRS-B than we saw for the B-2.

(Recommended: US Navy's 6th Generation Fighter Jets Will Be Slow and Unstealthy)

One of the major drivers of cost is likely to be survivability. The B-36 could fly intercontinental distances thanks to sheer size and fuel capacity, and it flew at high altitude, which was supposed to bestow safety from the early jet fighters. However, that supposition was never tested, and it’s highly questionable whether the B-36 had the ability to fight its way through defended skies into the 1950s. In the 1960s, the B-52 proved vulnerable to the relatively modest air defenses of North Vietnam, despite its much higher performance, and almost two dozen aircraft were lost to enemy action. The B-52 fleet might have been able to defeat Soviet defenses in the event of major hostilities, but not without extensive electronic jamming and corridors carved out by prior nuclear missile strikes.

Today, the B-2’s survivability in contested spaces is largely based on stealth, but that’s unlikely to be a winning strategy as sensor technology enabled by vastly increased signal collection and processing capability enables counter-stealth systems. Because being hard to see will always be better than being easy to see, the LRS-B is going to have to be stealthy too, but it will also have a range of other active and passive defense mechanisms, including electronic warfare and (probably) directed-energy systems. And they’ll have to be at the cutting edge—a sure-fire recipe for cost risks to be realized.

(Recommended: The U.S. Just Tested a Stealthy Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile)

The USAF estimates that it can build 100 LRS-Bs for the same cost as its 21 B-2s. But we know how optimistic costs and numbers data can be. While little is known about actual costs to date—or even how much design progress has been made—some analysts are already suggesting a nearly 50 percent cost increase. Worryingly, the Congressional Research Service has already noted that “while standing by that cost, Air Force officials have observed that capping the cost now or in the future is likely to result in limiting some of the LRS-B’s capabilities or restricting the quantity produced.”

Quantity is the likely victim of cost increases. In the early 1990s the USAF had plans for 132 B-2s and 750 F-22s; it got 21 and 187 respectively. While they’re very capable platforms, numbers matter too. Almost certainly, the LRS-B program will cost more and deliver fewer aircraft than the USAF is hoping for. The important question then becomes whether they deliver enough capability to justify the high costs. There are some business cases floating around, and we’ll take a look at those in later posts.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defense capability and director of research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).This article first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist blog here.