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20 June 2007

The politics of the (old) NDIC

We are surprised to see that our post regarding the old National Drug Intelligence Center has apparently struck such a deep nerve in at least one of our readers. We knew it was a popular item in the Department of Justice – having been visited hundreds of times by quite a range of individuals there (as well as our usual wide range of readership). We did not realize it would provoke such venom – nor somehow create an assumption that our writing was for the political purposes of the Republican administration. (We are strictly and professionally apolitical, and amongst the various elements of our skunkworks you will find no greater variance than in personal political opinions… while this is likely hard to believe in the age where the personal is nearly always political, there you have it.)

We are also fascinated to see the interpretation of our writing posed by the new “intelligencer”. Needless to say, we shall not quibble details of traffic, fight over the method of counting billets, nor discuss how and why our opinions of the place were formed. Our intent was not to add to the clamor of the budget fight over the earmarks that fund the place – as we note, this is very small beer indeed in the real intelligence community. (We have spent more in a fiscal quarter in some programs than their entire annual budget; and frankly even on the same sized programs elsewhere seen performance and quality to better effect - routinely exceeding their total annual production volume on a monthly basis on almost any account with a far smaller staffs. But editing hell does tends to kill a shop’s production…)

We do not wish to see the place closed entirely but rather reformed and revitalized to its as yet unfulfilled existing purpose and missions. Our primary motivation for critique is that we were, and remain, appalled at the suggestion that some of the most critical programs in the counterterrorism community might be shifted in the political winds, particularly to a shop with such a poor performance record when compared to the ground breaking work done at places such as National Counterterrorism Center.

Our reactions to the old NDIC are not driven by envy, as our newfound critic might suggest (such envy as we might harbor is reserved for those with nice European or island postings assigned to small, out of the way accounts), but rather by disappointment in its failure to live up to its potential. There are few times when intelligence functions move outside the Beltway, and we have long encouraged the process in order to start the sea change required to make that happen as a realistic career option rather than the exile that it most certainly is now.

And for the record, we think this sort of debate is exactly what Sherman Kent had in mind when he first called for a literature of intelligence. A profession which cannot reflect upon itself and its activities in a robust and spirited debate - be they good or ill - is no profession at all.

For this reason, we welcome our new virtual colleague, and hope to see him/her contribute more to the literature beyond the narrow discussion of a transient politicized fight. Perhaps he/she can use this opportunity as a better chance to illuminate the discussion of new methodologies in counter-drug analysis, highlight new analytical software (but please, something other than the Microsoft driven abortion that is RAID or the utterly unused Orion packages), or debate DOCEX processes. If nothing else, we always appreciate new perspectives on future transformation of the community – and even if we might disagree on where NDIC currently stands, we might find common ground as to where it, and other decentralized components of the larger community, should be headed.

So, to our new counterpart, we offer the traditional benediction handed down to us from the days of SOE - merde alors.

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