All organizations must be concerned with the growth, retention, and utilization of their best and brightest. Call them what you will -- the Iron Majors, the Strategic Corporals, the go-to desk officers and field operators -- they are the backbone and future of all of our organizations, and our aces-in-the-hole for the Long War.
Our bright and dedicated professionals have a passion to fight to win. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm, flexibility, and innovation often collides with the inertia of the status quo, which is frequently manifest in legacy attitudes, organizational rice bowls, and careerism and bureaucracy that linger amongst the establishment. Today's personnel systems at best fail to support employing all of our manpower in ways that our missions require, and at worst impair our up-and-comers who somehow find a way to contribute anyway in the arena where needed, rushing to the action while others stay comfortable.
In times of great organizational stress like we have today, there is increased tension between the old and the new. It is a fine line between over-indulging the new breed, and resting too comfortably or defensively on our old laurels. Sometimes we mature the next generation, sometimes we squash its innovation and drive it under a rock or out the door in either acquiescence or frustration. When the latter happens, we lose our most valuable assets, our skilled and dedicated people, just at the time when they are most needed. Wake up calls are never easy for organizations.
That brings us to the following e-mail we received from one of those young Turks, someone who is well known to us and has a history of serious professional contributions. This is professional hope and frustration, not idle gossip or whining. We publish it here at the author's request under the pseudonym Epictetus, but only after verifying that Epictetus was in a position to experience first-hand the issues commented upon, and that there is an issue to raise here rather than just an axe to grind. This case involves the DIA, but it could be any of many of our organizations struggling with their new realities.
A Wake Up Call for DIA
"Interest in supporting the warfighter stops at the Lieutenant Colonel level"
-- Former DIA Iraq Analyst
If the outcome of the mid term elections were a wake up call for the Bush administration, the Iraq Survey Group report was a wake up call for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The report singled out the agency's Iraq office as an example of what was wrong with the intelligence effort in Iraq. Sadly, it is not the first such wake up call for this troubled agency.
The first wake up call came in the fall of 2005. For the first time since the Vietnam era, the agency was forced to resort to an internal draft system to fill its deployment requirements to Iraq and Afghanistan. This draft prompted another policy change that allowed personnel to bypass their supervisors to volunteer for deployments. Supervisors, reticent to lose personnel to these deployments, respond with threats of retaliation against volunteers. To stop their offices from losing personnel, mid level managers threatened their subordinates with poor evaluations if they volunteered to deploy. Amazingly, analysts volunteered anyway. DIA's lukewarm support for deploying its personnel is not surprising. The last few heads of the Iraq office had never been to Iraq before being given the job.
The second wake up call came the following spring when the results of the annual Human Capital Survey were released. Less than a quarter of all employees agreed with the statement "Morale is high at DIA." Most disturbingly, the most dissatisfied employees were "Class of 9/11" analysts, the crop of entry level intelligence officers hired in the wake of 9/11. These analysts, some working full time with high level security clearance before they could buy beer, were often sent to Iraq at the first opportunity with less than a month of training. Analysts who had never fired a rifle before were given loaded machine guns and told to look for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The next wake up call came in October of 2006, when the online journal On Point published an editorial detailing the continuing problems in the Iraq office, including a shortage of computers that reduced analysts to reading newspapers in Pentagon coffee shops . While the ISG lamented that only 30 out of the 1,000 personnel at the US Embassy in Baghdad spoke any Arabic, DIA's Iraq office was employing its Arabic linguists vacuuming offices. While it was quietly passed around some of DIA's corridors, the article went largely unnoticed by the agency's leadership.
The coup de grace came when the ISG reported that DIA had less than ten analysts who had more than two years studying the insurgency. "Agencies must have a better personnel system to keep analytic expertise focused on the insurgency. They are not doing enough to map the insurgency, dissect it, and understand it on a national and provincial level." This was the wake up call the agency's leadership could not ignore.
DIA's official response to the report was as depressing as it was predictable. They "clarified" that instead of the 10 analysts who had studied the Iraq insurgency for more than two years, the number was closer to 20. It also mentioned the "300 dedicated analysts" they had focusing on Iraq. This response was met with cynicism and disbelief by some of the Iraq office's analysts. As one Iraq analyst lamented in an online forum shortly after the ISG report was published "If there are 300 analysts, I never saw them." He had worked in the Iraq office for six months. Another echoed the words of the tragic Vietnam figure, John Paul Vann; describing DIA's response as "one of the bright shining lies."
Morale has become bad enough in the Iraq office that DIA has had to drop the requirement for analysts who deploy to Iraq work in the office after they return. In the last several months, the office has experienced an exodus of many of its veteran analysts. The office remains critically undermanned and short of computers. Analysts have begun to apply for jobs with local county police departments.
DIA's current director, Major General Michael Maples, was the head of the Army's artillery school at Fort Sill when the school was rocked by a cheating scandal exposed by the late Col David Hackworth. General Maples' response was a witch hunt to find out who had leaked the damning information to the press. DIA's situation, however, is much direr. As the war enters its fourth year and with American causalities over three thousand, now is not the time for bureaucratic damage control. It is time for bold and decisive action.
If General Maples cannot overhaul this troubled agency, the administration must find someone who can. Anything less would be a disservice, not only to DIA's many brave and dedicated personnel, but to the military that it serves.