Single point of failure
Posted by aogFriday, 27 August 2004 at 23:39 TrackBack Ping URL

I have to say that the concept of having an “intelligence czar” is one of the truly bad ideas to come out of the 9/11 Commission report. It’s easy to say “hey, let’s have one guy who knows everything to get coordination” but this is the Fatal Conceit in another guise. It’s just not possible to move all that information in to a single person to have them make detailed judgements on it. Central planning hasn’t ever worked, so it’s hard to see how it’s going to work in this case.

Beyond that, we have the “single point of failure” problem. If the intelligence czar (IC) is incompentent or just blinkered, then there is no alternative path for information to flow to the President, who makes the final decisions. To some extent the IC would be come the director of foreign policy if he was able to control all intelligence efforts by skewing the results presented, either deliberately or even subconciously. That kind of power must be kept in the hands of elected officials, not appointed ones.

One also wonders what this IC would be able to do that the President’s cabinet officers and direct reports can’t do. If one can envision the IC firing people, why not an existing member of the federal executive? What’s stopping them now and why would it be different with an IC? Heck, the FBI can’t even coordinate internally and having a single director of the FBI doesn’t seem to have solved that problem.

I have yet to see any claimed benefit that couldn’t be done better at a lower level through relaxing internal barriers and improved technology. Moreover, I don’t see how anything can get accomplished without at least one of these two efforts.

In the end, it’s hard to take this suggestion seriously and it’s quite disheartening to see so many in Washington DC do so, particularly President Bush. I suspect what makes it really attractive is that it offloads the responsibility to perform proper oversight from Congress. Just put in a czar and grill him during highly publicized hearings when anything goes wrong. It’ll do good for Congress critters but not much for the country.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Dave Sheridan Sunday, 29 August 2004 at 01:37

Richard Posner makes a similar observation in his critique of the 9/11 report (in today’s NYT). He says “…since the tendency of a national intelligence director would be to focus on the intelligence problem du jour, in this case Islamist terrorism, centralization of the intelligence function could well lead to overconcentration on a single risk.”

Hayek is a good analogy here.

End of Discussion