In a TLS review of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, Edward Luttwak traces things back to dynamics within the post-9/11 intelligence bureaucracy. In Luttwak’s telling, it’s a case study of bureaucratic expansion.
He argues that “Only a few hundred were really justified of the many thousands employed to service collection antennae on land, at sea and in the air operated by the signals’ branches of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and of the many thousands of translators, cryptologists, decoders, super-computer operators, and analysts of all sorts as well as more thousands of managers. As the Cold War receded, there was an increasing danger that the fiscally prudent on Capitol Hill might uncover the situation, and demand mass firings.”
After all, “the sum total of emitters in Afghanistan was tiny, while communications identified as suspect worldwide were scarcely more numerous. . . . things looked up for the signals intelligence business with the 2003 Iraq war, but again the volume of business was not substantial, compared to the huge size of the installed capacity – so long, that is, as it was suspects that were to be intercepted.”
If there wasn’t enough work, the solution was not to cut personnel but to make more work: “the answer to the problem of the shortage of suspects was simply to intercept ‘possible’ suspects as well.”
On the other hand, he charges, the CIA doesn’t do what is necessary actually to have a major impact on terrorism – they aren’t engaged in operations: “terrorist groups simply cannot be defeated without action on the ground, to infiltrate them with volunteers, to detect them in the dodgy places where they can still emerge, to lure them into false-flag traps, and such like – all the activities that the CIA performs splendidly in films, but which in real life interfere with intra-office, other-office, interagency and intra-embassy meetings, so that in reality they are not performed at all. . . . Operators are outnumbered even by fairly senior managers, they are outnumbered by the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office, they are outnumbered by the human relations and affirmative action.”
When Congress increased the CIA budget, little went to improving operations: “The CIA knew exactly what to do with the money: it promptly added new layers of management on top of the old ones, just in time for the arrival of a whole new intelligence Directorate for all intelligence organizations placed over it, increasing the administrator/operator ratio to levels scarcely credible.”
The intrusions that Snowden revealed arose, Luttwak claims, in a context of incompetence and cowardice: “the mass intercept of everyone’s telecommunications became just another way of evading the penetration and disruption tasks that need to be done – the tasks that the CIA will not do because of sundry inconveniences and possible dangers.”