Although it is often assumed that policy makers formulate policies and that intelligence agencies implement those policies, the reality is often more complex. An analysis of the relevant literature suggests that there is a rather persistent tension that exists between policy makers and intelligence agencies when it comes to defining analytic priorities in the United States and framing the intelligence questions to be examined.
There have been clear instances, to be sure, where policy makers have enforced the conventional operational distinction between themselves and intelligence operations; on the other hand, there have been many instances in which intelligence agencies have intervened in and influenced the policy making processes in ways which contravene the conventional wisdom.
In this way, this essay will argue, American policy making more accurately reflects a competitive policy making atmosphere in which differently perceived national and international priorities affect how strenuously and how honestly policy makers and intelligence agencies seek to exert influence on the policy making process. This competitive struggle is especially evident in cases where national security issues are involved.
In order to properly illustrate how reality deviates from the conventional wisdom, this essay will explore the philosophical underpinnings of policy-maker supremacy, the reality of intervention by intelligence agencies in the policy making process, and discuss some specific examples where policy makers and intelligence agencies have fought to define analytic priorities. Conventional Wisdom: Policy-Maker Supremacy As a preliminary matter, it is necessary to examine the philosophical underpinnings and the structural division of labor.
As a general rule, and consistent with the aforementioned conventional wisdom, policy makers through their policies reconcile different political issues whereas intelligence agencies are expected to remain politically neutral. Because policy makers, to a large extant, are more directly accountable to Americans through elections they are expected to define analytic priorities and to make the relevant political decisions.
Intelligence agencies, not being directly accountable, are therefore expected to refrain from usurping the policy maker’s role. Indeed, it has been stated that In theory, intelligence work, much like academia, should be objective, autonomous, and free of political influence. It should be limited to two main tasks: first, to supply policymakers with objective information, analysis, and advice designed to assist action; and, second, to implement policy in accordance with political direction, through covert action.
(Bar-Joseph, 1995, p. 1). The expected tasks to be performed by intelligence agencies are essentially derivative; more specifically they are tasked with supplying information consistent with the analytic priorities defined by policy makers and to implement policy decisions as subordinate branches of government. The division of labor, in terms of policy formulation and implementation, would appear to be clearly defined.
Despite the philosophical underpinnings and legal constraints, seeking to hold policy makers accountable to the electorate for policy decisions, intelligence agencies frequently operate outside the bounds of their subordinate role. It has been demonstrated that In reality, however, intelligence work is seldom autonomous and free from political pressures. Moreover, in many cases intelligence work ceases to be objective.
Political preferences and intra- and interbureaucratic interests, as well as personal ones, can influence the conduct of the intelligence work that should ideally be done solely on the basis of its “professional ethic. ” (Bar-Joseph, 1995, p. 1) What arises in place of the aforementioned conventional wisdom is a fluid and dynamic rather than static set of relationships between intelligence agencies and policy makers in which each, at times, has intervened or overstepped traditional boundaries.
The relationship between intelligence agencies and policy makers is based upon a sense of mutual trust, common objectives, and agreement regarding appropriate methods and procedures. When this relationship breaks down, as it frequently has in America, the competition to define analytic priorities becomes fierce and the conventional assumptions regarding policy maker supremacy do not always hold. In order to better understand how these breakdowns occur in the United States, it is helpful to view intelligence interventions as the consequence of certain intelligence-political relationships.