Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC. .

Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC. . – book review

Michael J. Lieutenant Colonel Barron

Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC. By Amy B. Zegart. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000. 336 pages. $19.95. Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. Barron, assigned to the Joint Advanced Warfighting Program, the Joint Staff, Washington, D.C.

Flawed by Design studies the organizational development of the principal agencies created by the National Security Act of 1947. Surveying more than a half-century of bureaucratic policies, Amy Zegart posits a new, institutionalist, “national security agency model,” to explain a pattern of administrative creation and survival.

Flawed by Design is an institutional analysis of the principal agencies for making US national security policy: the National Security Council (NSC), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) within a newly created Department of Defense. All of these Cold War agencies were the offspring of what is arguably the most important legislative statute in international affairs, the National Security Act of 1947. Zegart’s claim that “we know more about mobile nuclear missile silos than we do about the original set up of the National Security Council system, the Central Intelligence Agency, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff” is certainly overstated. On the other hand, there is a strong argument for the case that institutional analyses have been given short shrift in comparison to the history of international diplomacy. Flawed by Design follows the grand tradition of analyzing the interrelationship of the trinitarian elements of public administration: “bureaucracy, politics, and public policy with reference to American national security.”

Zegart has written an ambitious book that argues for a “new institutionalist approach to the national security agencies to provide a model that can explain a specific agency’s ‘developmental trajectory.'” Specifically, national security agencies are driven by executive branch political considerations and function in an environment of only sporadic congressional oversight and weak interest-group politics. Domestic regulatory agencies, by contrast, are a legislative domain with regular congressional oversight and high interest-group involvement. In sum, “national security agencies arise and evolve in fundamentally different ways than their domestic policy counterparts.” Overall, the iron triangle paradigm of administrative agency interactions needs to be differentiated between domestic and national security agencies.

Zegart devotes two chapters to each of the three principal national security agencies. She properly places the NSC within the broader context of the rancorous struggle between the Army, on one side, and the Navy and Air Force, on the other, over the creation of a unified Department of Defense. What was originally proposed in the Eberstadt Report as an interdepartmental coordinating body to preclude a completely integrated armed forces became, instead, a presidential advisory system. Moreover, “The system that emerged was one in which the President’s own appointed NSC staff–led by the special assistant for national security affairs–managed the policy process, analyzed policy options, and offered policy advice with only the President’s interest in mind.”

Similarly, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had its origins in the debate over military unification. “And it too, was crafted by conflict between the War and Navy Departments, while Congress sat on the sidelines.” The JCS that existed from 1947 to 1986 reflected a compromise between presidential demands for a unified command and the interests of the separate services in maintaining their institutional autonomy. The coordination provided by the JCS for two decades was, in President Harry Truman’s words, “better than no coordination at all, but hardly a unified command.” It was not until the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, arguably the most significant legislation on military matters since 1947, that the goals of unity of command were realized, with a dominant JCS Chairman who would be the President’s principal military adviser and rank at the top of the chain of command.

According to Zegart, “Just like the NSC system and the JCS, the CIA was created without much input from interest groups or members of Congress…. The CIA that emerged from the National Security Act of 1947 satisfied the War and Navy departments. It was weak by design.” The author argues that the transcendent goals of the military services, as well as the departments of State and Justice, were to protect their hard-won intelligence services from outside interference. “The ideal CIA was a weak CIA,” that is, an agency without strong central control or coordination. On the other hand, the same bureaucratic actors did not oppose the evolution of the CIA into a presidential instrument for clandestine operations. “Strengthening the CIA’s clandestine service kept the agency busy and out of the coordination business. And so long as the CIA stayed out of the coordination business, each intelligence service could continue setting it own priorities and conducting its own activities.”

Flawed by Design surveys a broad swath of administrative politics over a half-century of US foreign policymaking. Undoubtedly, Zegart has had to compress a great deal of general information and particular nuances in a fashion that will cause institutional specialists to cavil with some of her observations. For example, in her discussion of the evolution of the NSC, it would almost appear that Presidents are passive creatures who adapt to a process of bureaucratic determinism. The author also has a tendency to overstate the newness of certain propositions in order to buttress her neoinstitutional theory. For example, she frequently asserts the uniqueness of her emphasis on an agency’s original design as an explanatory variable; however, this has long been recognized in earlier works by Samuel Huntington, Morton Halperin, and others. However, these are minor points. Overall, Flawed by Design is engaging, well written, nicely argued, and informative. It is a highly useful primer on the administrative history of national security agencies and would be an excellent supplement for anyone studying the Presidency, US foreign policy, or public administration.

COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Army War College

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group