Why the Department of Homeland Security has not been able to succeed in unifying the U.S. intelligence community

“The intelligence community within the United States is a chaotic, massive, bureaucratic nightmare. After the 9/11-attacks, the whole community IC was under the microscope and public dissatisfaction forced Congress to address the failure and shortcomings of the American intelligence. The Department of Homeland Ssecurity is the newest player, among seventeen intelligence agencies, whose intention was to unify the IC and foster cooperation.”

By Ashley Rebecca Donald-Tebbutt

 

Despite only opening its doors on March 1st, 2003 [1], Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted in 2010 that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was not functioning optimally and that there was great room for improvement [2]. Even in the DHS’s short-lived lifespan the hindrances of political ambition have become undeniable to those connected to the agency.

The intelligence community (IC) within the United States is a chaotic, massive, bureaucratic nightmare. After the 9/11-attacks, the whole IC was under the microscope and public dissatisfaction forced Congress to address the failure and shortcomings of the American IC. The DHS is the newest player, among seventeen intelligence agencies, whose intention was to unify the IC and foster cooperation [3]. The intentions behind the DHS were idealistic; its mission threefold: secure the homeland from the evolving threat of terrorism, bring common agencies into one organization to foster cooperation, and to have a primary agency that could promote communication and the sharing of resources within the IC and independent agencies [4].

The DHS upon creation amalgamated twenty-two existing agencies and became a bureaucratic giant [5]. The head of the new organization was supposed to be able to “access, receive, and analyze law enforcement information, intelligence information, and other information from the Federal government…”[6]. These resources were central to allow the DHS to function as intended. However, the political ambitions hindered the reforms that delivered the DHS and its continued functioning. During the reform and development of the DHS, fundamental agencies of the IC, such as the CIA and FBI, viewed the agency as a rival and did not support the centralization of the community fearing power loss and budget cutbacks [7]. As such, the CIA and FBI used their influence to prevent the DHS from having the ability to compel information from other agencies. Without the power to compel, the rivalry between agencies endured manifesting in a bureaucratic ‘turf war’ and ultimately restricting the effectiveness of the DHS [8].

It seems that the DHS has only added to the problem by adding another bureaucracy bidding for political influence and consumption of intelligence budget. With the political reforms that brought the DHS into reality, the inability to compel other intelligence agencies has resulted in a large number of redundancies across the IC. Despite the intentions of the DHS, the institution has been hampered in its inability to unite and foster a cohesive community. The blame for the DHS’s failure should not rest on the department but on the members of Congress that only provided the department with half the power it required to meet its full responsibilities. For the DHS to be able to achieve its primary intentions another series of political reforms are required; tragically those seem unlikely to occur until the U.S is faced with another attack on its national security.

 

References:




[1] “Creation of the Department of Homeland Security” Homeland Security. 
Last modified 09/24/2015. https://www.dhs.gov/creation-department-homeland-security

[2] “Quadrennial Homeland Security Review Report: A Strategic Framework for a Secure Homeland.” 
Department of Homeland Security. February 2010. pg. iv

[3] Thessin, Jonathan. “Department of Homeland Security Recent Developments.” 
Harvard Journal on Legislation 40, 2 (2003): pg 529

[4] “Homeland Security Act of 2002” Public Law 107-296 107th Congress.(November 25th, 2002)

[5] Cuellar, Mariano-florentino. Governing Security: The Hidden Origins of American Security Agencies. 
Stanford University Press: Stanford, (2013). pg. 126

[6] “Homeland Security Act of 2002” Public Law 107-296 107th Congress.(November 25th, 2002) pg. 12

[7] Thessin, Jonathan. “Department of Homeland Security Recent Developments.” 
Harvard Journal on Legislation 40, 2 (2003). pg. 528

[8] Durbin, Brent.The CIA and the Politics of US Intelligence Reform. 
Cambridge University Press: New York, (2017). Pg 38