I was pleasantly surprised, and yet simultaneously trepidatious, to read in the Washington Post on November 19th that CIA Director John Brennan was considering sweeping organizational changes to the agency he heads. Let me start by saying that I am not one of those who thinks that the CIA is broken, partisan, or incapable of functioning in today’s chaotic and ever-changing world. You do hear those arguments — a lot — though not from me. I am probably what one would call in the intelligence business “biased,” given that I worked in the NCS. However, I strongly believe that the agency does good work, and is the premiere intelligence service in the world.
Having stipulated the latter claim, I also think the agency could do with a reorganization or modernization, along the lines reportedly being considered by Brennan. The Post reports that the director is considering reorganizing the agency along functional lines, or according to “issue areas.” In other words, Brennan reportedly seeks to reorganize the agency so that it operates much as the current “centers” do within the CIA. The latter are devoted to counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and counter-proliferation.
These cross-directorate centers bring together analysts from the Directorate of Intelligence — operations officers, collection-management officers, staff-operations officers, paramilitary case officers, and targeters from the NCS—support personnel from the Directorate of Support, and non-agency liaison personnel from across the U.S. government. All of these officers work against a single target (i.e., terrorism) and serve under a unified leadership that is mission-focused on a particular target set. In other words, the director of the Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) is in charge of the whole of CTC, and reports directly to the director of the CIA, much as a geographic commander-in-chief (CINC) in the military reports to the top military leadership.
In contrast, the rest of the agency is still broken up into regional divisions, which focus on various geographic areas of the world. So, in the Near East Division within the NCS, operations officers focus their efforts on Southwest Asia and North Africa. They are complimented by a Near East Division within the Directorate of Intelligence, in which analysts comb through the reporting coming out of the region to formulate finished intelligence. The two separate divisions within the two directorates report to separate leadership and do not co-locate or work together as seamlessly as do their counterparts in the centers. The chains of command are separate.