Murphy's Law: Spies and Bureaucrats

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May 20, 2007: The Department of Defense is still trying to solve the problem of intelligence bureaucracies that, by their very size and complexity, delay the delivery of needed information to the troops. This problem can be explained by the work of British historian C. Northcote Parkinson, who noted the counterproductive behavior of government bureaucracies. But it has also been noticed that one of the most oppressive bureaucracies, Soviet Union, managed to create an intelligence organization that was, in many ways, superior to the American one.

The Soviets, like any industrialized economy, were prey to the desire of bureaucrats to centralize power. But they still managed to create one of the most effective espionage networks in history. Noting that, U.S. intel establishment should have worked harder on their HUMINT (human intelligence, or spies) capabilities. While the Soviet superiority in that area was attributed largely to inferiority in the technical area, one can also make the case that a police state simply has an easier time of it in developing and using HUMINT assets. In a democracy, the side effects of HUMINT scare the bureaucrats who, above all, are about self-preservation.

Fear of unpleasant (in the media) side effects continues to limit the American use of spies, and human "assets" in general. Enemies who don't care about bad press, or don't get tagged by the media for nasty behavior (leftist terrorists tend to get a pass) have a big advantage when it comes to spying. This often involves using violence, or threats of violence, to recruit agents, and similar nasty business when dealing with your opponents spies.

 


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