ThreatsWatch.Org: Commentary

The Other Marshall Plan

Addressing The Threats At Home

By Michael Tanji

On the eve of war in Europe President Roosevelt promotes a relatively young but highly capable brigadier named George C. Marshall to Army Chief of Staff: a four-star position. Once he became a full general, Marshall kicked off something of a purge of the old-school generals who wouldn’t or couldn’t get with the 20th century program. To replace them he advanced to the general officer ranks – just as he had been – a variety of obscure, sometimes infamous, but talented company and field grade officers.

Marshall knew that there was no way he was going to win a war of tanks, airplanes and blitzkrieg with leadership that cut their teeth on trench warfare and horse cavalry. I mean after all, this was the crew that court martialed Billy Mitchell, the father of US Air Power. Marshall needed sharp and open minds and forward-leaners. In a way, he had the luxury of not having to go to war with the Army he had; he was able to seed the Army he wanted.

The time has come for the promotion of a new Marshall to lead our national security apparatus, and with him a new purge of the old guard. Someone with the willingness to cast off those who cannot or will not adapt to the changes that are adversely impacting our ability to fight and win the war we are in now, as well as the conflicts of the future. Consider:
  • From inside the wire at the Defense Intelligence Agency we have an updated, first-hand report of mismanagement and resulting morale problems. If history is any indication, this report will result in a foolish inquisition, not a necessary introspection. 
  • Since the war on terror started, the FBI has continued to lose weapons and computers, though at a slower pace than previously noted by inspectors. Despite a massive investment in time and money, it's Virtual Case File system had to be scrapped and there is no clear indication that the project that replaced it will avoid meeting a similar fate.
  • Long an example of waste, fraud and abuse when it comes to the application of technology, the National Security Agency is still failing to keep up with the pace and threats of the information age. To top it all off they’ve figured out how to manage themselves out of electricity.
  • One of the largest public-private “partnership” organizations, which was established to help improve infrastructure protection and address cyber crime, has had to cancel its annual conference. Not enough interest and/or support from the membership. Even as terrorists become more at home online and cyber crime moves from kids to capos, both the potential victims and those charged with fighting these threats can’t muster the interest or the resources to join forces to combat them.
All of these and countless other tales of institutional woe in our national security system can be traced to bad management. Those who share this view and have first-hand experience are loathe to call it “leadership” because leaders would have long since found a way out of the mess our hard- and soft-power institutions find themselves in. People who were on the job in national-security positions before 9/11 will readily divulge that nothing substantial has changed in the past five years; they probably log more hours, but the administrivia is as thick as ever and the security, budgetary and procedural morass – not to mention inter-agency in-fighting - is just as bad as it has always been. Those who joined after 9/11 have no frame of reference, but the fact that many are opting to vote with their feet indicates they know a bad thing when they see it.

Timid adjustments labeled “reform” are not going to cut it. The bright lights of intelligence wikis and blogs are blocked out by the shadow of growing bureaucracy. Saying you’re adapting to the information age because you are using computers while still clinging to industrial-age processes is worse than sticking with typewriters and paper. Recycling cold-warriors and the people who got you into this mess in the first place is sending these institutions into a retrograde orbit.

I have waxed and waned about the need to purge current management because it can be dangerous to paint with too broad a brush. However, this latest round of stories about business as usual in our national security apparatus has forced me to cast off any misgivings I might have harbored for throwing out a very small baby in a great volume of tepid, fetid bathwater. We should thank those who have served honorably for their time, energy and sacrifice, but their time is over.

Failure to take rapid and dramatic measures on this front will have implications beyond the staffing and morale levels of given agencies. Absent fundamental changes in policy, procedure, and key personnel, national security institutions will decline in relevance and utility. The best and brightest will opt out of federal service so as to avoid becoming cube-dwelling, ticket-punching automatons. Traitors will be cultivated and exploited, criminals will go unpunished, valuable sources of intelligence will go unexploited, and when the next shooting war starts our ignorance of the threat we face will be so profound that victory in battle may very well be in doubt.