Not long ago, during one of the many terrorism alerts we have endured in Washington, it was made clear that even on matters related to the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland, our intelligence agencies still refuse to share information. Two important intelligence agencies had different assessments concerning the seriousness of a particular terrorist threat. These differing assessments came about not because of different tradecraft or aggressive alternative analysis, but because one of the agencies did not have access to all the relevant information concerning that threat.
Unfortunately, this situation is not unique. The examples sound like this: Two intelligence agencies, both working on terrorism, will not share intelligence information with each other, even though both agencies are made up of patriotic Americans with the same top secret clearances. This failure to share is glossed over with arguments about security and "need to know", but it mostly comes down to petty bureaucratic politics.
Over the years, the intelligence community has evolved into a system of "have" and "have not" agencies. The agencies that collect the intelligence "have" the intelligence, and the agencies that perform mostly analysis "have not." The intelligence collection agencies enjoy significant clout in our government through their control over the flow of information.
Key terrorism analysts in our intelligence agencies must be given access to every single piece of relevant intelligence data concerning threats to the homeland. When analysts have uneven access to information, policymakers can't tell whether two analysts disagree because one of them has done a better job of sorting through the information, or if they disagree because one just doesn't have access to an important piece of information.
To make matters worse, analysts in the "have not" agencies often don't know what they don't know. What this means is that these analysts often don't even know the right questions to ask in seeking out information because they don't know that the information exists. The intelligence community is not a "level playing field" when it comes to information access.
Another illustration of this sad state of affairs is the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). If you visit the intelligence watch center, and look under one of the analysts' desks, you will find an amazing collection of ten or more computers, each with a different connection back to one of our intelligence agencies. In 2005 this bailing-wire solution is the only way we can bring together our vast holdings of intelligence data.
Why is it that this strange arrangement exists? Why don't our intelligence agencies work off of one system in which a properly cleared intelligence analyst can instantly search the data holdings of the entire intelligence community from a single computer?
Simply put, we have this arrangement because knowledge is power. Absent some outside pressure, bureaucracies usually only share valuable information when there is something in it for them. Accordingly, every time the 15 different intelligence agencies have met over the last decade or more to discuss intelligence-sharing, they work for 15 different bosses, and no one person is in charge to force them to make the compromises necessary to link our intelligence networks.
Those with top secret clearances at one intelligence agency can't imagine how those with top secret clearances at another intelligence agency could possibly be trusted to protect their precious intelligence data, so the networks and databases never get connected.
We count on the analysts at the NCTC to detect terrorist threats to the homeland. It is preposterous that those analysts have to toggle between ten to 15 different computers to find what they need. They should have instant access to every piece of data the intelligence community collects through a single search on a single computer. We need to change the way business is done.
And as bizarre and inefficient as that arrangement at the NCTC is, I'm afraid that's not the worst of it. At least the NCTC's terrorism analysts have access to the relevant computer networks.
If you are a terrorism analyst who works outside the NCTC, you don't get access to all of those different computer networks. And for other targets that are no less important, like North Korea, China or the proliferation of nuclear weapons, none of the analysts, no matter where they work, has access to all the intelligence data we collect on those targets.
If we are to move toward an intelligence community where all analysts, no matter what they work on or where they work, have the full benefit of every relevant piece of data the intelligence community collects, we must reject the concept of "information-sharing" in favor of what I call "information access."
I believe that information sharing is a limited idea that falsely implies that the data collector is also the data owner. The concept of information sharing relies on collectors to push information to those analysts who they deem need it. We need new thinking on this issue. While we must continue to protect intelligence sources and methods, cleared analysts with a need to know should be able to use a single computer to pull information from all intelligence databases, without waiting for any one agency to deem them worthy.
This is a challenging proposition. I can assure you that the intelligence collection agencies will not greet such efforts with much enthusiasm. Even with the intelligence failures of 9/11 and Iraq hanging over us, and the staggering willful inability to share information associated with those failures, achieving a free flow of intelligence information over a single computer network has still proved elusive.
It is my hope that Director Negroponte, as our first director of national intelligence, will be able to provide the leadership and, if necessary, a kick in the pants to get our collection agencies to finally perfect the concept of information access. If we are to achieve information access, Director Negroponte is going to have to break rice bowls and step on more than a few toes along the way. I have made it clear to him that he will have my unwavering support every step of the way.
Today's intelligence community is mired in a system in which knowledge is power and the agency you work in can be more important than the strength of your analysis. The closer we move to information access, however, the closer we will move toward a more level playing field for intelligence. Once all analysts, regardless of where they work, have true access to the information they need, the intelligence community will be better able to provide actionable intelligence to both policymakers and war-fighters.
The intelligence failures associated with September 11 and the Iraq WMD assessments have been important catalysts for change. Much work, however, remains to be done. The next time the congressional leadership receives an emergency brief on a possible or probable threat to the homeland with the U.S. Capitol in the crosshairs, we must make sure that the analysis at least represents a consensus within the intelligence community. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I look forward to the challenge of continuing that work.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Realism is Right
Last year, in delivering a lecture on the centenary of Hans Morgenthau's birth at the BMW Stiftung Herbert Quandt, I addressed the question of what position Morgenthau would have taken on the Iraq War. (The full text is available at www.opendemocracy.net)
I think that Hans Morgenthau, who some four decades ago made the realist case against escalation in Vietnam using arguments similar to those realists employed in the run-up to the Iraq War, would have opposed that war as well if he had been alive.
More important would be his observations on where we are now in Iraq. Realists tend to believe that the most powerful political ideology on the face of the earth is nationalism, not democracy. President Bush and his neoconservative allies largely ignore nationalism. It is simply not part of their discourse.
Realists, by contrast, think that nationalism usually makes it terribly costly to invade and occupy countries in areas like the Middle East. People in the developing world believe fervently in self-determination, which is the essence of nationalism, and they do not like Americans or Europeans running their lives.
Nationalism can quickly turn liberators into occupiers, who then face a major insurrection. The Israelis, for example, invaded Lebanon in 1982 and were at first greeted as liberators. But they overstayed their welcome and generated an insurgency that drove them out of Lebanon 18 years later.
Morgenthau understood that if the United States committed large-scale military forces to Vietnam, it would face a major-league insurgency that would be extremely difficult to beat. It is natural to conclude that he would have understood that this same basic logic applied to Iraq and thus would have opposed the Iraq War as fiercely as he opposed the war in Vietnam.
Hans Morgenthau was an ardent critic of the American effort to democratize Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Morgenthau was not opposed to making Vietnam democratic. He just thought that Vietnam was not ready for democracy and that American efforts to impose it on that country would ultimately fail, regardless of U.S. intentions.Essay Types: Essay