Re-Forming Intelligence

Re-Forming Intelligence

Mini Teaser: Congress has made a start. But the priority of the new Director of National Intelligence must be better HUMINT.

by Author(s): Saxby Chambliss

The year 2004 was a disruptive and frenetic one for the intelligence community. Intelligence officials were linked to the detainee abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq; it became clear that the Central Intelligence Agency's intelligence estimates on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were off the mark; the 9/11 Commission released its report and issued a range of significant recommendations to reform the intelligence community; the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, of which I am a member, released a highly critical report dealing with pre-war intelligence analysis and collection capabilities; the long-serving Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), George Tenet, stepped down and was replaced by former Congressman Porter Goss, which triggered other senior personnel changes at the CIA; and a series of open, often emotional and sometimes contentious hearings was held in Congress, which resulted in the most sweeping intelligence reform since the National Security Act of 1947.

The centerpiece of this legislation is the creation of a new position, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), to lead our intelligence community. The DNI will not head any single agency--as was the case when the 1947 National Security Act created the Central Intelligence Agency and dual-hatted the DCI as head of the CIA and chief intelligence officer for the U.S. government. The 9/11 Commission correctly pointed out that the old structure gave the DCI too many jobs to be able to do them all effectively. Taking away the onerous responsibilities of running an intelligence agency will allow the new DNI to focus on overseeing the broader intelligence community and managing the national intelligence program.

Another positive aspect of the legislation is the creation of the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), which will conduct strategic operational planning for joint counterintelligence operations. The NCTC will serve as the primary organization for analyzing and integrating all intelligence pertaining to terrorism and counter-terrorism not dealing exclusively with domestic issues. This fusion of terrorism-related intelligence will allow us to see a much more complete picture of the threat and to shape strategies to deal with it.

But the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 is only the beginning of the process to reform our intelligence community. The new law does not in itself guarantee success. Whether all of its provisions will be workable remains to be seen. And the inevitable turmoil that results whenever a major overhaul of the bureaucracy is undertaken should make us especially sensitive to the need to protect the morale of our intelligence officers, especially those serving in dangerous undercover positions.

It is crucial that the role of the military in the new intelligence community structure be defined carefully. The new law does not address combining the current eight Defense Department members of the intelligence community under a single commander who would be the military link to the DNI. A single military point of contact would greatly assist the director in fulfilling his or her national collection and analysis responsibilities, and would keep the DNI fully apprised of those military intelligence requirements from our combatant commanders that might be satisfied by intelligence branches outside the Defense Department.

The impetus for intelligence reform was the surprise attack on the United States on 9/11. It is not accidental, therefore, that the 2004 legislation is animated by a "never again" philosophy. As the chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security in the House of Representatives, I, along with ranking member Jane Harman (d-ca), submitted the first detailed report to Congress in July 2002 on the intelligence deficiencies that existed prior to September 11, 2001. We identified systemic problems in the CIA. We pointed out that they had lost their focus on espionage missions and needed to put more collectors on the streets, rely less on foreign intelligence agencies, and find ways to penetrate terrorist cells. In addition, we found that there was inadequate coordination and sharing of information within the intelligence community, especially between the CIA and the FBI; that intelligence was not always timely; and that estimates and analysis were often flawed.

Last year's debate on intelligence reform, leading to the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, should have been--but was not--centered on human intelligence. As we continue with the intelligence reform process, we need to make sure human intelligence gets the right emphasis.

Americans like technology, and our ability to monitor certain activities via satellites, signals intelligence or other technical means, while not perfect, is pretty good. Our weak point is human intelligence, which has atrophied to the point that it must be rebuilt. In fact, before George Tenet resigned last year, he told the 9/11 Commission on April 13, 2004 that it will take another five years to have the kind of clandestine human intelligence capability that our nation needs. Human intelligence, to a much greater degree than the other intelligence disciplines, can tell us what the enemy is thinking. The strength of good human intelligence is that it can answer this key question: What are the enemy's intentions about when, where and how to strike?

All of our intelligence capabilities need improvement, but human intelligence is where we need to put our priority of effort. As has become common knowledge since the release of the 9/11 Commission Report (if not before), the inability of our intelligence services to prevent the attacks was in large measure a result of the inability to penetrate Al-Qaeda with spies. Not all intelligence collection disciplines are of equal importance for every threat that we face. Yet, while there was general acknowledgement during the debates over intelligence reform last year that human intelligence needed to be improved, it was not afforded the primacy in the legislation that it deserves. In fact, human intelligence is not mentioned even once in the 26-page summary of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 prepared by the Congressional Research Service.

We must have no illusions. Human intelligence is a dirty business and a dangerous profession, and we must be prepared to accept the risks associated with spying on those who seek to harm us, whether they are a terrorist group or a rogue nation-state like North Korea. In our continuing efforts to promote intelligence reform, we need to make sure that we do nothing to impede the creation of an institutional culture that favors and promotes spying.

After all, when President Franklin Roosevelt, realizing that U.S. intelligence capabilities were lacking, created the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), he put at its helm a colorful figure not averse to taking risks, Army Colonel William "Wild Bill" Donovan. Donovan quickly built a legendary organization renowned for putting thousands of agents into countries occupied by the Germans, Italians and Japanese to conduct espionage and sabotage.

Donovan encouraged his agents to be inventive and even reckless, which is a far cry from the "risk-avoidance" culture that has evolved in the CIA over the last decade and that Director Goss is assiduously working to overturn. Our case officers today are no less cunning or brave than those OSS agents. But they need the freedom of action necessary to do their work. They must have legal safeguards for their sanctioned activities. And they deserve our respect and admiration for willingly putting their lives in jeopardy on behalf of us and our allies.

Not only must we support existing human intelligence operations, we also need to expand our understanding and definition of human intelligence beyond that which deals with covert espionage activities. While the CIA is the nation's premier human intelligence agency, there is also a Defense HUMINT Service in the Defense Intelligence Agency that includes a range of human intelligence capabilities, such as the Defense Attaché System (DAS), interrogators and debriefers.

The DAS is especially important for forging key professional and personal relationships with foreign militaries and defense intelligence organizations. Our military attachés are providing unique access to, and credibility and influence with, hundreds of foreign military establishments worldwide, even when U.S. political and diplomatic relations with a certain country might be strained. These attachés are unique in that they operate simultaneously in the worlds of policy and intelligence, responding equally to the needs of the secretary of defense, the ambassador, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the regional unified combatant commander, and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The centerpiece of the DAS is the U.S. Army's Foreign Area Officer (FAO) program. This little-known program is producing the best area specialists in the entire U.S. government. FAOs are given language training, advanced academic area studies, and most importantly, multiple tours in their country or region of expertise. Ideally, their first tour will be as a student at a foreign military school, taught in the native language, which allows them to meet many of their military contemporaries. Friendships and local contacts made as younger officers are very often critical later to help coordinate important U.S. military policies and programs with foreign governments. In the eastern Mediterranean, for example, it was only because of one FAO's unique access to Greek and Turkish military leaders that agreements could be reached to reduce tensions in the Aegean Sea and on Cyprus, which lowered the potential for conflict between these two NATO allies.

Essay Types: Essay