I have previously criticized the quality of American intelligence, here, and here, so I am probably a poor choice to be arguing in favor of the status quo. And I am really not, but I am suggesting that we have some serious second thoughts about the 9-11 Commission's recommendation that all intelligence services be consolidated under a single individual, with authority to train, hire and fire, and with budgeting authority over all these services.
Other persons have noted that this position would be enormously powerful, and might allow the intelligence services to be politicized to an enormous degree. My immediate concern is a lititle different, I think there is a value to having different organizations with different methods, focus and priorities, which might be lost if everything was centralized within a single command structure. In other words, different organizations bring true diversity--diversity of thinking--to bear on a problem.
This same debate occurred back in the 1940, with respect to American air power. Numereous commentators and experts complained about the fact that the U.S. effectively maintained a number of separate air forces, with the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps all having significant number of aircraft. And after World War II there was a serious political effort to unify the country's air arms under the control of the fledgling Air Force. There was serious opposition to this within the other services, and controversy resulted in a compromise with the National Defense Act of 1947. The Air Force was established, but each of the other services would continue to maintain its own air branch. Many thought the compromise an unhappy one:
Perhaps dissatisfaction with the act was best expressed by Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, whose thoughts on unification appeared in the December 1948 issue of Air Force magazine. He labeled it "an unfortunate compromise" that had made the new Air Force primarily responsible for national air power but had left the Navy free to pursue its policy of self-sufficiency. This contradiction resulted in "two self-sufficient, competing air forces, each planning to win the air war in its own way."
From my own worm's-eye view as a Marine flier, I thought that the separate air arms were a strength, not a weakness. The Marine Corps, a "boots on the ground" oriented service, concentrated its focus on "close air support", which involves the use of air power in direct support of ground operations. We were (and still are, I hope) specialists in integrating air power with the ground maneuver elements, and striking targets in close proximity to friendly ground forces.
The Air Force had a different focus, concentrating on air superiority (i.e. shooting down enemy planes and neutralizing enemy air defenses) and deeper tactical strikes. And the Navy was always off playing war-at-sea games, with its primary goal protecting its floating assets from attack, and sinking opposing naval forces.
I remember one incident, which occurred back in the 80s, while my unit was engaged in a peacetime training operation in the Phillipines called "Cope Thunder". I was working as a forward air controller (airborne), and was trying to get a division of Air Force A-10s onto a target. A close air support mission is by necessity carefully timed--the ground forces open up a narrow window (it was 90 seconds back then) in the other supporting arms for the strike aircraft. The A-10s hit the target okay, but came nowhere near my time hack. In a real operation they would have been fragged by friendly artillery. (Fortunately, the ground forces in this exercise were entirely imaginary).
Later we had a briefing with members of the A-10 squadron. Our people got a "gee-wiz" lecture on the A-10s capabilities, which granted are impressive. And then I asked their briefing officer - in what I thought was baby talk appropriate to the situation - what control measures they used in order to avoid flying into friendly artillery fire. I said that they didn't seem to recognize our own methods for coordinating air strikes with ground units, but if they would explain their doctrine, we would be happy to give it a try.
This fellow acted like he had never heard of the problem before. He stumbled about for a bit and then--I kid you not--he said "just a moment" and left the briefing room. He was replaced by a more experienced guy who had done some joint service work. This new briefer admitted candidly that they didn't have any doctrine for working in close proximity with friendly ground forces, that it was just something they did not do. To say I was surprised was putting it mildly, given that the A-10 warthog is nothing if not a close air support aircraft.
Now, I don't intend this as a knock on the Air Force. I thought their pilots and ground crews were superb, and they were without par in the air-to-air and deep strike missions that they regularly practiced. But an average Air Force pilot could go an entire career without taking orders from a ground combat commander, and--within their command structure--they just didn't see the need for close air support.
I could put the same knock on the Navy. It was their weakness in hitting ground targets in Lebanon in 1983 that led to the formation of "Strike U" at NAS Fallon for studying and training close air support doctrines. (I doubt you will find anything official on this, but I have friends that taught in the first class at Strike U).
Again, I think Navy fliers are some of the world's greatest (you try bringing a jet aboard an aircraft carrier at night during high seas). It is just that the Navy had its hands full trying to figure out how to win the battle of the North Atlantic if the balloon ever went up, and close air support was not a high priority.
The point being (and yes, I do get there eventually), that the division of America's air assets was a strength, not a weakness. Each service, because of its unique perspective, had something different and useful to bring to the table, and this would have been lost if we had listened to the experts in the 40s. And I suggest that before we fall over ourselves unifying our intelligence services, we stop and reflect whether we might be losing something valuable in the process.