Subordinating Intelligence

By J. Paul Pope Joint Force Quarterly 95

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Subordinating Intelligence: The DOD/CIA Post–Cold War Relationship
Subordinating Intelligence: The DOD/CIA Post–Cold War Relationship
David P. Oakley
Photo By: University Press of Kentucky
VIRIN: 191122-D-BD104-010

Subordinating Intelligence: The DOD/CIA Post–Cold War Relationship
By David P. Oakley
University Press of Kentucky, 2019
264 pp. $37.70
ISBN: 978-0813176703

J. Paul Pope is Professor of Practice at the LBJ School for Public Affairs and Senior Fellow in the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

Long experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflicts have resulted in an increased emphasis on civil-military relationships and the interagency community in U.S. doctrine. Predeployment training now includes exercises requiring coordination with Embassies, Ambassadors, and U.S. and international agencies. Harnessing, aligning, and integrating the collective expertise and capabilities found in these organizations is essential for mission accomplishment. This integration cannot be assumed in mission planning; it requires closer coordination than previously understood, mutual understanding, and intentionality at all levels.

The practical record shows we have too often failed to achieve even basic mission alignment or deconfliction. But beyond an exhortation to expand our collective understanding of jointness, how does this actually work? Why is it so hard? Who is responsible for making it happen? Who works for whom? Subordinating Intelligence: The DOD/CIA PostCold War Relationship represents an important contribution to the body of literature on joint operations in this interagency context.

Other intelligence and non-intelligence organizations are important to military operations, but the Central Intelligence Agency is a particular case. In some recent instances, CIA was the only U.S. organization already operating in a region where the Department of Defense (DOD) was assigned a combat mission, as was the case in Afghanistan after 9/11. In noncombat zones, chiefs of station are tasked by the CIA director and the Director of National Intelligence with coordinating all intelligence operations in-country. CIA analysts guard their independence stubbornly, and commanders from William Westmoreland to David Petraeus have found themselves frustrated by the effect their analysis had on the civilian leadership’s framing of “their war.” Professional development often does too little to prepare rising officers to work with CIA in the field or at senior staff levels, with the recent exception of special operations forces.

Subordinating Intelligence is a well-written analysis of the evolution of the relationship between DOD and CIA in the post–Cold War era. One valuable contribution from this history is the identification of the barriers to cooperation, which pop up time after time in the various instances Oakley describes. A second contribution is the isolation of the factors that made a difference where integration was achieved. As implied in the title, however, Oakley’s book addresses another important and specific question. CIA was created to be an independent agency outside any Cabinet-level department and a strategic intelligence organization to serve the needs of the President and the National Security Council.

Oakley sees a threat to this mission based on the creeping militarization of U.S. foreign policy, including explicit and implicit demands that CIA be subordinated to a support role for DOD (despite its immense intelligence resources). An interesting quality of the book is that it is a Soldier—who understands the potential value of CIA capabilities when employing U.S. combat power—who articulates the potential costs of sacrificing its strategic collection and analytic responsibilities to DOD’s “infinite demands on a finite resource.” Oakley not only illustrates this “support-to-supported” tension for particular missions but also highlights instances where one side or the other fails to understand that their missions are actually different. He quotes a CIA officer describing the DOD’s expectation of tactical support in its “sprint” to leave Iraq, while the Department of State and CIA were tasked to focus their efforts on a “marathon” to support a stable Iraq. In his excellent concluding chapter, Oakley quotes Senator David Boren (D-OK) musing about the appropriate role for CIA in 2013 by asking, “In the long term, what’s more important, Afghanistan or China?”

While bringing this baked-in dilemma into stark relief, Oakley correctly resists the urge to prescribe bold legislative or executive remedies to resolve it. Yes, the CIA exists to collect strategic intelligence, to provide strategic analysis for the President and his key advisors, and to conduct covert action when lawfully ordered to do so. On the other hand, the CIA can bring unique capabilities to the fight and can contribute to the “rich contextual understanding” (as General Stanley McChrystal described it) required for success on complex battlefields. It would be folly either to subordinate CIA to supporting warfighters or to preclude its assistance when Americans are shedding blood. The chapters between the introduction and the conclusion offer examples and practical principles for building effective teamwork and avoiding these draconian choices, while taking advantage of all available capabilities.

Both military and intelligence professionals would be well served to read this excellent book to find examples of what can go wrong, but also what can go right. Consistent with organizational theory, Oakley records instances of interagency conflict, or “storming,” which in turn led to “norming,” which led to jointly “performing” the mission. His cases show that this process occurred much faster on the second and third attempts. They also highlight that the importance of personal relationships—often forged by shared danger—speak to the necessity for liaison officers, and offer examples of what can happen when mutual respect for the ethos of other organizational players in the shared operational space results in deep trust. The historical examples seem to indicate that this process can be accelerated, but not replaced, by reorganization or imposed process.

Interagency alignment is a prerequisite for success. Oakley’s book is a model for more that needs to be written—on DOD and State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and CIA, U.S. Aid and DOD, and so forth. I highly recommend his book. JFQ