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News | May 1, 2015

DIA in the 1990s: A Decade of Organizational Decline

By DIA History Office

As the 1980s drew to a close, the Defense Intelligence Enterprise had come under increased scrutiny. For decades, the Intelligence Community had spent much of its time and resources responding to threats emanating from the Soviet Union. Although the Cold War was ending, the threat was not eradicated.

The breakup of the Warsaw Pact brought its own challenges, and the United States faced a new array of security threats and potential conflicts.

The collapse of the Soviet Union prompted DIA to refine its role as a military intelligence organization. Army Lt. Gen. Harry Soyster, DIA director from 1988 to 1991, observed that the major focus of intelligence during the Cold War had been containing the Soviet Union — and as that major effort declined, the Agency’s next focus was unclear.

As a result, DIA ended up going into parts of the world, such as the Balkans, where it did not have the same level of expertise.

“We had trained our analysts, Soviet and East European analysts, with the mindset about the strength, character, and purpose of the Soviet Union,” Soyster explained. “We had to change.”

Closely related to the pressure for resource reduction was the call for reform in
Defense Intelligence.

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney moved aggressively to reorganize the Intelligence Community to address the rapidly changing nature of worldwide military threats and the certainty of future Department of Defense budget cuts.

In June 1989, Cheney submitted a report to President George H. W. Bush focused on improving the management of DoD resources. Cheney assured the president that his department was prepared to begin implementing the plan immediately.

Because of Congress’ decision to delay Air Force general officer promotions, Major General James Clapper, Soyster’s designated successor, waited longer than anticipated to receive his third star and become DIA’s next director.

In the interim, Cheney approved the appointment of Deputy Director Dennis Nagy as acting director. Nagy was the first civilian ever in that role.

Clapper was very familiar with DIA, having followed the Agency during his time as assistant chief of staff for intelligence for the U.S. Air Force, and would come to the job with a great deal of experience and ideas for the future of DIA.

In 1993, DIA went through a sweeping reorganization, streamlining production and management in order to meet expanding requirements with fewer resources.

Clapper formed a team of talented senior officials to translate his broad concepts into a blueprint for reorganization but, as one senior pointed out, there was no one to challenge the concepts or evaluate the soundness of the structures the team devised or to project unintended consequences.

The restructuring cut the number of supervisors by roughly 30% and reduced the organizational layering. The Agency also reduced its high grade structure.

DIA’s senior executive corps shrunk by 17.5%, GG-15s by 20%, and GG-14s by 17%. Also, 45% of DIA’s senior officials shifted to new jobs. DIA lost 25% of its uniformed force due to military service reductions.

Just as the various elements of Intelligence Community organization, production and dissemination underwent consolidation and change, so did the human intelligence function.

The planning for a centralized defense HUMINT organization in the early 1990s took place in the context of a broader effort to reorganize defense intelligence.

When the Intelligence Community was reviewed in 1989 by Duane Andrews, the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, a key theme that emerged was the need to improve the DoD’s joint approach and its support to combatant commanders.

He recognized that DIA and the other intelligence agencies were faced with declining budgets and needed to bring down costs.

In early 1991, Andrews instructed Soyster to develop a plan to further centralize the DoD HUMINT system. The move toward the consolidation of defense HUMINT, underway since the 1980s, suddenly intensified.

The creation of a Defense HUMINT Service, like the other DIA additions of the 1990s — the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center (now the National Medical Intelligence Center) and the Missile and Space Intelligence Center — represented more responsibility and growth for DIA, ironically as DIA was drawing down. This presented a real leadership challenge.

Army Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, who became DIA director in February 1996, had been closely watching the changes unfold at DIA from his vantage point as the J2.

When Hughes became director, he pulled back from Clapper’s ambitious organizational change.

He found the morale of the workforce at its nadir, and that there were not enough people to fully support the Agency’s mission and operations.

Within days of taking office, Hughes called a meeting in his conference room in the Pentagon with his principal staff, and was uniformly told not to reorganize again.

His senior civilians told him that they had been through several years of major organizational change, some of it damaging, and pleaded for a halt to unnecessary change.

The experiences and challenges of the 1990s for DIA and for defense intelligence continue to resonate.

Clapper became the director of national intelligence, occasionally referencing the challenges of the 1990s and acknowledging his effort to profit from that experience in laying out a strategy for dealing with the current budget environment.

In testimony on Capitol Hill, he referenced the profound cuts in the Intelligence Community in the early 1990s, conceding that he and others “didn’t do it very well.”