Intelligence community tries to burnish its image

“We’re creative, determined, and passionate. We’re artists, linguists, cartographers, logistics experts and analysts. We’re also everyday people.”

Thus the intelligence community describes itself on its newest website, intelligence.gov.

The optimistic, folksy site, rich with great photography, opened this week. It’s a little buggy still. Each page has “intel.gov” in the upper-left corner, a URL that doesn’t work. Mostly the site is an illustrated set of links to component agencies’ own websites. But still, it’s a nice portal.

By coincidence, this week the New York Times is running a long, disturbing piece on just how badly cybersecurity breaches have damaged the National Security Agency. The story uses words like “catastrophe” and “disaster.”

The Times’ piece joins several others detailing the incident over the past year. Back in 2013, the “Shadow Brokers” hacker group briefly got into NSA systems. It took a large trove of cyber weaponry the NSA had painstakingly developed over years and used them to hack foreign governments and other organizations. Since the summer of 2016, the Shadow Brokers have been publicly posting the tools. Law enforcement and the IC believe they’ve been used in several large cyber attacks.

Also this week, President Donald Trump refreshed his long-running dispute with the intelligence community. He did so long distance, after conferring briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin — a man who somehow seems to stand at the center of half the national news stories these days.

It’s not a good time for the IC.  Maybe not as bad as the days of the Frank Church hearings, but not fun. Back then, the CIA came into the crosshairs. Now it’s the NSA.

On the NSA’s website, you won’t find any mention of the breaches. Ditto with the fact that, according to the New York Times piece, NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers nearly lost his job when the loss became known. Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Secretary Ash Carter recommended his firing to President Barack Obama, but it didn’t happen.

Anyhow, the intelligence community is doing what other organizations do when under siege. They burnish their image. And why not? That the NSA may harbor still-unfound moles and betrayers doesn’t alter the writ-large dedication of the workforce, nor the importance of its work. Reputational crises hurt morale. IC employees should check out this story in the Wall Street Journal about morale amid scandal.

In some cases, the only recourse is dismantling or selling the company. The big example now is the Weinstein Company in Hollywood, reportedly for sale after … well, you know. When the name on the door is the source and embodiment of the cancer, the game is up. Whatever contracts and lists the company had will be of value to someone, but you won’t see “Weinstein” on the letterhead.

Sometimes federal agencies get so far into the tank they require total restructuring. For instance, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar established it and a couple others in 2010 after scandal rendered the old Mineral Management Service unsalvagable. The Obama administration sent fixer Michael Bromwich to deal with it.

When the basic organization is sound, why not do a little primping while you go about fixing what’s inside?

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