The effect of reading Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, Robert Kaplan’s Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts and rereading (actually, listening to) Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower is grateful esteem for the professionalism and adaptability of the American military as detailed by Kaplan, and growing despair over the failures of the American intelligence community as described by Weiner and Wright. None of these authors are conservative intellectuals, but rather painstakingly careful journalists, and it is impossible to read their works without coming to the conclusion that while the military has moved rapidly to confront the changes necessary to deal with the new enemy, the intelligence community has failed terribly in the past and there are only few signs of hope for systemic reform of the sort necessary.
One great advantage the military has is its system of service academies, ROTC programs, and its series of schools for all ranks. It spends years training its leadership, and keeps training them throughout their careers. There are a handful of similar programs in the intelligence and national security world like the FBI Academy and the CIA’s “Farm,” and some private sector institutions, but the pictures painted by Weiner and Wright lay out a haphazard approach to the recruitment, training and professional development of the thousands and thousands of intelligence, security and law enforcement professionals needed by the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and a host of other agencies and now the Department of Homeland Security.
I have written about the pressing need for a National Intelligence Academy modeled on the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard Academies, but discussed it yesterday with Weiner (in an interview to be broadcast a week from Thursday –this Thursday features a program-length interview with Kaplan). Given a chance to mandate the four year course of studies, the intelligence community would soon be welcoming graduates of such an academy into their professional life after four years of Arabic and Chinese, or Farsi and Russian, and a sophisticated immersion in history and of course security studies and intelligence practices. The natural location for such an institution is in Virginia near the alphabet agencies it would help staff, and the attraction of a free four year college education and a near-guarantee of employment afterwards would allow such an academy to stand up quickly and attract extraordinary 18 year olds immediately. Like graduates of the service academies, such men and women would owe at least a minimum term of service to the government, and hopefully like the officer corps, the best of them would make careers out of the profession.
It isn’t a quick fix, but it is an essential part of reforming the almost systemic dysfunction in the intelligence community which has never lacked for courage but desperately needs a new generation of leaders and a new generation of recruits already possessing the tools necessary for the long war and the one after that.
Senator Warner is completing a long and distinguished career, and Senator Webb beginning one. Both have been Secretaries of the Navy and Webb an Annapolis graduate and thus both know the value of service academies. Perhaps if they decided to co-author the proposal it could escape the debilitating partisan attacks and get a launch. If either or both read these books, I think they would agree.