Hugh Hewitt has suggested that the United States Government establish a ‘National Intelligence Academy’. I do not doubt that the idea will have a number of supporters, including some in Congress, because at first glance it seems to make sense. Unfortunately, I strongly doubt the practical efficacy of such an institution, for reasons I shall submit here.
Let’s start with why we have Intelligence services in the first place. The United States government admits to fifteen official agencies and offices whose primary role is Intelligence; the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which used to be the overseer of Intelligence for the President of the United States (that role has been assumed by the office of National Director of Intelligence (NDI); the National Security Agency (NSA), who handle electronic intercepts and codes; the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which handles satellite imagery for the most part; the National Geo-Spatial-Intelligence Agency, which handles high-altitude activity and analysis; the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR); Intelligence organizations controlled by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have been around for more than a century, and even the Coast Guard has an Intelligence arm. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has a Counter-Intelligence unit, as do the Departments of Energy and the Treasury. And finally, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has an Intelligence office.
But we’re just warming up, because there are some other agencies and offices which do not officially exist, but are quite real, for all of that. For example, remember the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) from the 1980s, which existence was denied by the government, then admitted but later retracted as a mistake, then officially was said to have been shut down? There is also the Diplomatic Security Group (DSG), the State Department commando force which was – supposedly – absorbed into the INR, although a bunch of the DSG’s best simply vanished from sight; and Delta Force of course, which is alleged to have its own Intelligence resources, having a strong distrust of any Intel weenies who have been in contact with Congress. Or what about the National Infrastructure Defense Office set up during the Clinton years to guard against things like Cyberwarfare? Come to that, ever wonder what old ex-spooks do in their ‘golden years’? Spooks are not like most veterans, because while their bodies age, in many cases their minds remain very sharp and they know things, valuable things, which their nation may call upon at need.
What I am saying with all that, is that it’s a tall order to imagine creating a single place to teach men and women what they need to become effective Intelligence agents. For a long time, we had to send people behind the Iron Curtain, so whites who could pass as Slavic folks were in high demand. Nowadays, we need folks who can pass as militant Muslims, not only by race and language, but who know the ins and outs of the “Death to America” crowd. And it’s pretty obvious that we need a cadre of Asians, able to blend in at Pyongyang, or at Beijing, or in Manila. And by the way, if you think the agent who fits in Com-China can also be equally accepted in NorKorea, you need some remedial World Culture, buddy. We also need experts in South American culture and practices, and just because we always seem to get into wars there, we can’t forget about Europe. So, right from the get-go, our campus is going to need six departments just to handle continental distribution. From there, we need to figure out what sort of Intelligence work our agent will handle. In the bad old days it was all about the military plans, baby, specifically weapons and intentions. Not so simple, now. There are still tactical and strategic weapons to chase, as well as operational and contingency plans, but just as vital now are financial strategies and political operations; for some reason, people don’t realize that our enemies would – very much – like to influence the outcome of our elections, and indeed have been working hard to that end. Ahhh, ahh, ahhh Hsu!! Sorry about that, darn allergies, where was I? Oh yes, categories of Intelligence operations. The reason we have so many different Intelligence agencies, after all, is because there are so many areas where we need diligence and attention. We have to watch skies and e-mails, we have to consider money and material and weapons and speeches, we have to track cultural and political and religious climate changes, and we have to do it all in a way that keeps us from being set up for a sucker punch. It is all but impossible for one school to do all it is needed, and that does not consider the fact that as the world changes, our Intelligence agencies need to keep up with technology and capabilities.
And then there is that little matter of Congress. A National Intelligence Academy would have to be set up and have funds allocated for it by Congress. Anybody want to guess how long it would take for the NIA to become a political football, subject to the Macchiavellian maneuvers of the personalities in vogue at a given moment? Or how long the headmaster at that academy would enjoy anything like autonomy, with a sub-committee holding the final vote on funds each year? It’s hard enough as it is for Intelligence professionals to make the hard call without playing up to a political patron, and that’s with the budgets for each agency set up on a much more pragmatic approach. I mean really, in the end a National Intelligence Academy would be little more than a marketing tool for whichever party controls the Hill, because with Congress voting into existence, there is no chance they would ever hand over control to the President, the Military, or the people who actually know what to do to train agents.
By the way, where do you suppose they’d build the thing? The East Coast already has West Point, Annapolis, and the Coast Guard Academy and the Air Force Academy is in Colorado. Since the logical place to train agents in secret operations and handling classified information would be a remote and well-guarded place, we can expect such an academy would most likely be built in California or somewhere on the West Coast, instead. With the present Blue majority and spineless character of the Right in Congress just now, that goes almost without saying. And with the high-profile image the place has, how long do you figure before someone sues the Academy for discrimination? After all, Sandy Berger will eventually be allowed to apply for a security clearance again, so who’s to say that someone can’t be a secret agent, even if they hate the United States?
As bad as things are now in trying to recruit, train, and equip agents and Intelligence operations, the only sure results from a National Intelligence Academy, is that it would make things worse for National Security, that it would be expensive and wasteful, and that it would be spun like a top on an almost daily basis.