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07 March 2006

Beyond the boundaries of the wheel

The complex amalgamation of structures, territories, domains, and boundaries that has evolved over time into the aggregation that we refer to as the Intelligence Community - in capitals always writ large with the abbreviation “IC” often preferred in works of length - is more familiar to most practitioners and certainly their managers than their own personal family tree. It has been debated, hashed over, refined and polished throughout budget sessions, training commentaries, and even within the venerated pages of our professional journals (albeit usually when a particular author is setting forth his viewpoint on how such and such a function should be subsumed within his agency.) It has been presented in more powerpoint slides than the Holy Trinity, and remains a remarkably stable part of our mental conception of what it is to “do intelligence” – even as virtually every other aspect has been supplanted or at least challenged. Even the radical and historic changes imposed by the creation of the National Intelligence Director have done little to impact the classic presentation except to change the acronym used at its hub.

The traditionally presented wheel of the intelligence community is long outdated. The carefully wrought bureaucratic vision of compatible segments fusing at a common center of reporting and direction is as meaningless as the patterns drawn in the sky by ancient astrologers. The community has grown beyond the wheel. Its shape is no longer symmetrical. Its lines are no longer clear-cut. It is in so many ways now a cloud, or at least a complex network of multiple associations and implicit relationships. The change has occurred in numerous ways, as subtly as moss accretes on a river stone worn smooth by the passage of countless snows. It has changed because the overlap of accounts and interests have blurred the lines scribed on the wheel, because working groups and interagency task forces have begun to demand multidisciplinary paradigms, and because intelligence is increasingly becoming privatized. Understanding the nature and impact of these changes will be critical for the effective management of the community as an enterprise, and the examination of hitherto unexplored aspects of community dynamics will be essential in order to develop a robust community management function. The classic Intelligence Community wheel has long been an abstraction, and all too often an intellectual crutch, by which the discussion of community management is subsumed. A basic understanding of the nature, roles, and relationships of the actual players within the community, rather than the idealized diagrammatic abstraction used to represent them, is the first step in providing for effective leadership and direction.

However, while it is easy to sketch the formal structures reached through agreed upon memoranda of understanding (as revised on a date always prominently mentioned as reference), it is far more difficult to quantify the informal relationships reached over long lunches and between cubicle partitions, or in the classrooms of the service schools. The increasing prevalence of co-located workspaces but contributes to this intertwining of interests. Unfortunately these are not relationships that are formally encouraged enough – largely due to the fact that they are essentially human affairs, not something easily passed from individual to successor on a given account. To be sure, it does work out occasionally, but how often have we lost near irreplaceable contacts simply because someone was transferred or an email account changed and their successor did not share the same interest in a particular problem? Can we accurately gauge the impact of these informal contacts? Can we measure the subtle influences in approach, doctrine, and training “borrowed” by one agency from another – or one working group from the next?