U.S. intelligence needs retooling

August 20, 2002|By Melvin A. Goodman

WASHINGTON -- Sept. 11 demonstrated a serious failure of government. Our massive intelligence apparatus, spending over $30 billion in recent years, did not protect us. What actions are required to prevent future attacks?

Our government leaders -- the Bush administration and Congress -- have responded in classic bureaucratic fashion, throwing lots of money at the problem in hopes of finding a solution. Next year's defense budget will be close to $400 billion, an increase of nearly 30 percent since 2000. The intelligence budget will increase by 20 percent in 2003, climbing to nearly $38 billion.

What will we get for these big spending increases? The defense buildup protects the current force structure and ongoing weapons modernization programs, and assigns top priority to deploying a national missile defense. These increases have little to do with countering terrorism.

But the budget increases will satisfy the needs of three powerful institutions -- the military, the defense contractors and their allies in Congress. Remember President Dwight Eisenhower's warning against the military-industrial complex in 1961?

The intelligence buildup will pay for more men and machines, but not improve the analysis or intelligence sharing. The performance of U.S. intelligence has been unacceptable for a long time, both during the Cold War and in recent years.

Intelligence estimates overstated Soviet military power, failed to anticipate the collapses of the Soviet empire in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991, and suffered multiple misses on critical events in the Middle East and South Asia. More recently, intelligence missed the numerous terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel during the 1990s.

The Defense Department has dominated national intelligence resources, both manpower and budget, for decades. The CIA director has putative responsibility for all foreign intelligence, but only the CIA reports directly to him. In recent years, the Pentagon has further enhanced its control over strategic intelligence at the expense of the CIA.

In the early 1990s, then-CIA Director Robert Gates turned over the responsibility for sensitive order of battle analysis to the Pentagon. In 1996, then-CIA chief John Deutch, expecting to become defense secretary in the second Clinton administration, supported creation of the National Imaging and Mapping Agency (NIMA) under the control of the Pentagon, abolishing the CIA role in this arena.

This step enabled the Pentagon to be the sole judge of sensitive imagery intelligence, which is used to calibrate the defense budget, gauge the likelihood of military conflict and verify arms control agreements.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently proposed a new high-level post (undersecretary of defense for intelligence) to consolidate his already extensive domination over the key levers of intelligence. Congressional approval of this request will preserve the status quo and close the narrow window of opportunity for other, more extensive, reform proposals currently under consideration.

What needs to be done?

Intelligence on terrorism must supplant military intelligence as the top national priority. Our intelligence agencies need to be reorganized to counter this new threat more effectively. The arbitrary split between foreign and domestic intelligence cannot continue.

Rather, foreign and domestic intelligence should be combined under a single authority, the CIA director. At the same time, Congress needs to endorse the 2001 Scowcroft Commission's proposal to give the CIA chief direct control over three key national intelligence agencies: the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and NIMA. This proposal conflicts with the Rumsfeld plan to cement his existing power, which will ignite a political battle in Congress between the armed services and intelligence committees.

Our national security needs should be the vital concern in the war against terrorism. Accurate and timely intelligence is critical, and the current intelligence structure has been unable to satisfy this requirement.

The proposed Department of Homeland Security is an amalgam of our transportation and border authorities for the most part. It does nothing about the intelligence failure of Sept. 11. Pouring in more money merely reinforces the status quo on intelligence.

Reorganization of key foreign and domestic intelligence agencies under a single person provides the best hope for the needed improvement in performance.

Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a former senior analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.

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