Ishmael Jones is the pseudonymous former Central Intelligence Agency case officer who focused on human sources with access to intelligence on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. His assignments included more than 15 years of continuous overseas service under deep cover. He is the author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published by Encounter Books and just out in paperback.
We invited Mr. Jones to write something for us on a theme related to his book. He has followed up with the following post on a subject close to our heart:
A challenge to free societies today is the growth in size, power, and cost of highly paid, non-producing administrators and bureaucrats. These Soviet-style nomenklatura classes can stifle the fundamental missions of organizations. As a former CIA officer involved in intelligence reform, much of the work I do is aimed at the systemic control of bureaucracy.
In the CIA, bureaucracy weakens intelligence collection and makes Americans vulnerable to attack. At a college such as Dartmouth, which Power Line editors have followed closely, bureaucracy must be carefully monitored or it will hinder undergraduate education.
Study of the CIA’s clandestine service is helpful in the analysis of other organizations because its use of secrecy, essential for conducting espionage operations, also allows it to avoid accountability. It is a Petri dish that shows how bureaucracy can grow if unimpeded.
Bureaucracy perverts human nature. The CIA is filled with brave, talented, patriotic, and energetic people, but the system does not encourage clandestine work. Clandestine work is hard and lonely, and it takes place in dingy hotel rooms in dysfunctional countries, far from family. Any CIA officer who goes to hunt bin Laden, for example, will be living in tough and dangerous conditions for long periods of time. Absence from CIA headquarters means the officer will not develop the connections, friendships and administrative skills necessary for advancement. Any CIA officer who goes to hunt bin Laden will return years later, unknown and unpromoteable. Espionage has come to be regarded as low-level work, meant for newly trained employees or the naive. It’s much better to become a headquarters manager, with regular hours, low stress, plenty of time with the family, and stronger promotion possibilities.
At an educational institution like Dartmouth, which like many universities has seen a dramatic increase in administrative staff, an administrative job can be attractive. If a dean is considered more important than an educator, there will be strong pressure to create more positions for deans and to become a dean oneself. Undergraduate education means hard work. Undergraduates can be exasperating and rebellious. At the end of each term they might write unpleasant evaluations of professors which can be read by everyone on campus. It’s much better to seek power, rank, and closer access to Dartmouth ‘s president and board by becoming an administrator.
I once attended a meeting at CIA headquarters with a group of bureaucrats and was astonished to see that an admired friend and colleague had joined their ranks. He’d once done brave work in tracking nuclear proliferators in Africa . We laughed about his transition to bureaucrat, and he apologized for his sloth, but pointed out that his new path led to promotion, more money, and the chance to make big bucks some day through CIA contracts. He’d found a job for his wife as an administrator as well, and she sat in a nearby office. The CIA finds it easier to live a bureaucratic lifestyle within the United States – no getting arrested by foreign intelligence services, no hassles, clean drinking water. More than 90% of CIA employees now live and work entirely within the United States , which is in violation of the CIA’s charter. The number of effective CIA officers operating overseas under deep cover is almost insignificant.
Professional relationships don’t need much of the administrative support that bureaucracy thrives upon. Good intelligence can usually be sent directly to the person who needs it – the President, military commanders, law enforcement – without much supervision. Bureaucrats just slow it down. Intelligence on the “Underwear Bomber” was available at the US embassy in Nigeria in November 2009, thanks to the bomber’s father, but the information could not be pushed through the masses of supervisors during the five weeks before the bomber boarded the plane.
Professional educators, like CIA officers, require little supervision and should not be burdened with excessive deans and other administrative personnel. Dartmouth professors such as John Rassias, renowned for his decades of close interaction with students, need little supervision. More importantly, such educators should not be removed from their fundamental work to become administrators themselves.
The real dollar cost of bureaucrats is much greater than their salaries and benefits alone, because bureaucrats strive to look busy and to rise within the establishment, to control more funds and people. So they invent programs. A CIA contractor may take home $300k and his or her spouse another $300, with benefits at perhaps another $50k. We can still bear this burden. What we cannot bear are the $100 million programs these people create in order to advance themselves. Programs crowd out real espionage, which doesn’t cost much. Good operations need only the cost of hotel rooms, airline tickets, and payments to sources.
If highly paid employees at a college are not involved in education, then what are they doing? I suspect many are doing the same things that CIA managers do in Washington , DC: attending meetings, drawing up budgets, jockeying for position and influence, solidifying their political power, and doing whatever it takes to look busy.
Bureaucracy’s effect on human nature is fascinating. Its growth into a living creature within the CIA provides important lessons and warnings for the design and leadership of other institutions.
Mr. Jones has set up a site for his book here. He writes that all book profits go to veterans’ charities.