Secret intelligence

Bureaucracies are usually effective at creating delays and confusion and unintended consequences, but ineffective at doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing, and inefficient in their use of resources. All this is at least as true of state bureaucracies as it is of other bureaucracies, in part because state bureaucracies are generally not constrained by the disciplines of the marketplace.

The secret intelligence services are state bureaucracies. The jobs they are supposed to be doing are to deter subversives and terrorists and foreign spies, and to detect the ones that they have not succeeded in deterring. (They also have the job of spying on foreign countries, but that is another matter.) We cannot find out what happens inside the secret intelligence services, but there seems to be no clear and cogent reason why they should not be plagued with the same problems as other state bureaucracies. Indeed, things may be much worse inside the secret intelligence services as, in comparison with other state bureaucracies, they are much less subject to scrutiny by Parliament, by the electorate, and by the media.

It would be unwise to take at face value the claims made about the secret intelligence services by themselves, and by others on their behalf. Any such claims may be largely or entirely propaganda.

If the secret intelligence services are bureaucratically inefficient and ineffective, why do not subversives and terrorists achieve more success? (Foreign spies may succeed in spying on us, but we are understandably not told much about their successes. Nor are we told whether their successes are many or few.) Could it be that there are fewer subversives and terrorists than the secret intelligence services, and the politicians who nominally are in charge of them, would like us to believe? No doubt there are some people who hope to overthrow our society by engaging in subversion and terrorism, but are those people more likely to be dim-witted fantasists than ruthless and well-organised fanatics? Or is it that the subversives and terrorists are conspicuously failing, and the foreign spies are inconspicuously failing (or so we hope), because they are under the control of state bureaucracies based in foreign countries?

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