Able Danger Blog

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Judge Posner mentions Able Danger

In a new report published by the AEI Judge Richard Posner discusses Able Danger, but might be confusing it with Total Information Awareness:

Congress decreed reorganization of the U.S. intelligence system in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which the president signed into law in December of that year. The intelligence community has been engaged in implementing the law for a year, since the president appointed Ambassador John Negroponte to be the first director of national intelligence (DNI). A recent article by Scott Shane in the New York Times states that “a year after the sweeping government reorganization [of intelligence] began, the [intelligence] agencies . . . remain troubled by high-level turnover, overlapping responsibilities and bureaucratic rivalry,” and that the reorganization has “bloated the bureaucracy, adding boxes to the government organization chart without producing clearly defined roles.”[1] The question on which I focus in this article is whether these are merely teething troubles--the inevitable transition costs involved in an ambitious government reorganization--or whether they point to fundamental design flaws in the intelligence reorganization.

It is tempting to suppose that all must be well because the DNI has hired able people. Indeed he has. But it is possible that these people could be working equally or even more productively for the individual agencies from which they (largely) came. The reorganization reshuffled rather than augmented the nation’s federal intelligence personnel. In evaluating a reorganization, one must always consider the incremental benefits created by it, and compare them with the incremental costs.

The fundamental cause of the ambitious reorganization of the intelligence community that we are living through is not, I believe, some deep flaws in the system as it existed on the eve of the 9/11 attacks. Rather, it is a deep misunderstanding of the limitations of national-security intelligence. It is the kind of misunderstanding that the commissioner of baseball might harbor if he thought it a scandal that 70 percent of the time even the best hitters fail to get a hit, and if he proposed to boost batting averages to 1.000 by reorganizing the leagues. His thinking would be deeply flawed, and his reorganization would fail to raise batting averages, though it might lower them....

Another Pentagon agency that has gotten into the domestic intelligence act is the Information Dominance Center (IDC), which developed the Able Danger data-mining program, a very promising program derailed by the involvement of Admiral John Poindexter and the failure of the administration to explain and defend the program. Another recent article in the Times reported

that the military’s counterterrorism effort is hampered by bureaucratic duplication, officials said, citing in particular an overlap between new government centers, including the National Counterterrorism Center . . . The review found that the government-wide national security bureaucracy still does not respond rapidly and effectively to the new requirements of the counterterrorism campaign. The report said more streamlining was necessary across a broad swath of the civilian bureaucracy and military.[7]

Able Providence anyone?