At the end of World War II, the U.S. defense and national security apparatus faced a variety of challenges left over by the conflict.
One of the most important was the formulation of a process to collect, collate, evaluate, analyze, produce and disseminate strategic intelligence to guide decision-makers in the formulation of national policy.
Implicit in this search was the need for a professional cadre of analysts able to carry on this process with impartiality and with full awareness of their own psychological limits, able to forge strategic intelligence products with minimal institutional bias – thus the Central Intelligence Agency was born.
Whether the CIA has accomplished its foundational imperative laid upon it by the National Security Act of 1947 is a matter of judgment for historians to make. But the original idea is a good one: The nation needs a centralized intelligence agency separate from the military services to inform policymakers on crucial matters of national security.
The Office of Strategic Services was the CIA’s wartime predecessor. Led by Brig. Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the OSS scored many impressive achievements during wartime, but by the end of the war it proved too “Army-centric” to serve as the organization required to be the central repository of strategic information and analysis needed to fight the nascent Cold War.
That is because the Army’s intelligence collection and analysis serves the purposes of the Army; the other military services have their own intelligence components serving the vital needs of the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
In the civilian law enforcement community, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency host intelligence divisions tasked to make sense of the immense flows of information gathered by these agencies, which enable them to assign technical and human resources nationwide to do their jobs properly, which is all good and proper.
However, just as the intelligence produced by the Army (or Air Force, or Navy, etc.) cannot be considered national intelligence in view of its “service-centric” focus, the FBI’s, or in our particular instance, DEA-produced, intelligence is also too parochial and self-focused on its own bureaucratic needs to serve as the strategic drug intelligence our decision-makers need to formulate a balanced national drug control policy.
The DEA’s bloodhound is a good dog but of limited use if all it can sniff is its own smell.
The National Drug Intelligence Center was created to fill the gap in drug intelligence that the CIA created to fill the realm of all-source, strategic intelligence. But the work of the NDIC was made difficult from the beginning by the increasing reluctance of all participant agencies to share the information NDIC needed to do its job.
A cadre of DEA executives – such as former DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson and former DEA Deputy Administrator James Milford, who was once deputy director of the NDIC, seemed to resent the very existence of the NDIC and probably fostered a corporate DEA culture of decreasing cooperation and increasing hostility against the Johnstown-based center.
These gentlemen, who otherwise have served our nation so well, are in part responsible for what we are seeing today – the partial or even total closure of the NDIC.
Without the NDIC, the nation will lose a tremendous tool needed to analyze and understand the threat posed by drug abuse and by the criminal organizations behind their illegal trafficking.
If we allow NDIC to close, we should be prepared as a nation to tolerate a greater organized, though less understood threat, otherwise defined by DEA’s bureaucratic imperative to justify its continued existence, absent the independent “reality check” provided by the NDIC during the past 17 years.
Lawmakers and NDIC-haters have forgotten the lesson that led to the creation of the CIA and NDIC. DEA’s parochial, bureaucratic view would reign supreme as the nation’s strategic drug intelligence.
The NDIC should neither be closed nor weakened. Rather, it should be expanded and strengthened by a law-mandate forcing all concerned agencies to contribute their information or lose funding.
That the Justice Department has proven powerless or shown an unwillingness to recognize the NDIC’s value and defend its achievements and national need has been deplorable.
The real victims of its failure of vision, and its failure to act will continue to be our children, and our children’s children.
Pedro O. Vega is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and currently is serving in Afghanistan. When not on active duty, he lives and works in Johnstown. His views are his own and not representative of any branch of the U.S. government.