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22 May 2007

The existential fight over the old NDIC

For those that have been around the intelligence community since the pre-9/11 era - and we are an increasingly small number it seems – there is another older NDIC, not the National Defense Intelligence College (once the Joint Military Intelligence College), but rather the National Drug Intelligence Center. It is rare that we at Kent’s Imperative comment on any specific institution or mission, but the news of recent events is so striking as to demand our notice.

We are deeply ambivalent about the old NDIC and its work. On the one hand, it could have been the perfect example of the kind of de-centralization and distributed analytical production that we have long advocated. Pushing the work of the intelligence community to places outside of the Beltway is a major need if we are going to have the kind of workforce, and the kind of sustainability, that the Long War requires. Indeed, we are personally acquainted with a number of good officers and analysts which left other fast track DC jobs to head to that entity based on family concerns. After all, their GS salaries go a lot further there – even if they will never see an -11, let alone a -13, billet.

However, the organization is deeply and fundamentally flawed. The location – on paper defined as “acceptable” due to the supposed 6 hour drive to DC (in reality much longer due to traffic, weather, and constant construction) – is a depressed and failing industrial area with no substantial local talent pool of any description. Its staffing has been long considered exile by most in the counterdrug specializations in the intelligence community. True, some may choose exile rather than continue to be consumed by the intrigues in the belly of the beast – but most cannot accept the career-ending move that the assignment has historically meant, unless they were very close to retirement or otherwise no longer interested in having a career. So the bench of substantive expertise available to that entity is very thin indeed…

Nor can most good analysts tolerate for long an excessively incestuous bureaucracy, driven by political factors held over from previous administrations, and beholden to a party line rigorously enforced through a coordination process that is legendary as the “seven levels of editing hell”. And all to produce finished intelligence which is largely regurgitated materials culled from HIDTA reporting, presented with a kind of analytic arrogance that only a fusion of DOJ and DEA cultures could create.

So it is with no surprise that we see the budgetary battles to continue to fund the pork-subsidized existence of NDIC are playing out once again, with the usual suspects front and foremost. The letter itself however gives us great pause: “The NDIC also anticipates undertaking a new and vitally important mission in partnership with the National Counter Terrorism Center, including: assuming responsibility for the terror no-fly list, the terror incident tracking program…”

Needless to say, we believe that such a move would be the height of folly. These are programs far too important to entrust to a backwater group of second-rates and has-beens – even if there are a few true professionals hidden among them. The NCTC Worldwide Incidents of Terrorism program alone has commanded the attention of some of the finest minds in the community, and stands as one of the un-paralleled examples of analytic tradecraft and rigour applied to a nearly impossible problem set – one that is accomplished in a form that its primary products can be publicly released. And let us not even discuss the implications of a major shift in responsibility for the no-fly list...

The funding line for NDIC is small beer by any real community standards. We are not opposed to its continued existence – in fact, we would support continued funding contingent on robust management oversight and the transformation of the entity into a hub for virtual distributed analysis and production. Such transformation should focus especially on an expansion of its training and education mission in order to support the new state & local fusion centers, and other less connected law enforcement agencies. (Perhaps such an expansion could even be modeled along the same lines as similar efforts at the National White Collar Crime Center.)

But let us be very clear that such experimentation should not come at the cost of vital missions stolen from key community players simply to justify a single politicians’ pet pork barrel.

h/t to Instapundit, with our thanks for his continuing interest in the earmarks process. We are interested only in the outcomes, but are grateful that someone keeps track of the details.

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