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Policy Is Only Half The Equation

I do so love documents like this latest ODNI Fact Sheet. And while I think its way too early to start assessing the presidency of George W. Bush, listening to him say on the air that the we have "transformed" the intelligence community just drives home the point that no one actually involved in this business should expect change unless they sack up, stand up, and take control back from the wonks.

FISA Modernization, EO 12333, and security clearance reform are great examples. Everyone knew these were amazingly out-of-date and untenable, but 3,000 people had to die before we bothered to do anything about it. Makes you wonder just what was so bloody serious before 9/11/01 that took up policymaker's time?

Cybersecurity is a serious problem, but it is also a five-year boogie-man that gets dusted off and polished up and re-invented every time there is a lull in the world of the kinetic or someone's carelessness results in a digital kick in the groin. The fact that you can't tell the difference between a cyber security story from the mid-90s and one written today tells you all you need to know about what sort of priority it really gets.

Analytic Transformation . . . well, we've got plenty of evidence, both public and private, that makes it clear that that is largely a lot of programmatics wrapped around a buzzword. Lots of early, small successes, but its far from pervasive much less the status quo it needs to be. You would think that in an information-centric enterprise like the IC the speed at which info-age change spreads would be much faster than it is, but you'd be wrong.

That you have to put forth a special effort to realize that pay-for-performance is a good thing, that joint duty could prove useful (even if that utility is rarely leveraged), that a well- and regularly-educated workforce should be a priority speaks to the attitude and disposition of those who have run this business for too long. Advancement is still largely clique-based, and like high school, those with actual skills and prospects don't stick around long.

Every one of the points they raise in the fact sheet are successes in a policy sense, but therein lays the rub: policy not put into effective, extensive practice is just paper. In the wonk's world the fact that you could get a dozen+ agency heads to agree to a few paragraphs of heavily caveated English is a success; that no one bothers to truly implement anything to the depth and breadth that is necessary doesn't matter.

I guess if you wanted to add to the "cons" list of the Panetta pick you could do so based on this latest PR effort. A career policy guy is not going to bother to verify implementation; a practitioner (not a career manager) would understand what needed to be done to implement policy and make it happen.

I suppose there is always hope.


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