Overhaul of U.S. intelligence system may take 10 years, analysts say

White House announced its plans last week

July 03, 2005|By Siobhan Gorman | Siobhan Gorman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Though the White House announced its intelligence overhaul Wednesday with promises that it would make the country safer, the changes it outlined could take a decade to complete, according to longtime intelligence analysts, including a member of the presidential commission that proposed the reforms.

"The whole process will take five to 10 years," said Adm. William O. Studeman, a member of the commission that investigated the intelligence failures that led the administration to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Studeman characterized that time frame as an optimistic estimate - one assuming that every part of the intelligence community endorses the changes.

The White House said it embraced 70 of 74 recommendations of the commission, led by U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles S. Robb of Virginia. The most significant reform would be creation of a domestic intelligence service within the FBI.

Other changes are aimed at slowing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, improving the quality of human intelligence and integrating the efforts of all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies.

But the future of the reforms is in doubt, as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III have begun maneuvering to regain control over the design of the FBI's intelligence service, said an intelligence veteran responsible for helping the White House implement the plan.

The president set a 60-day deadline for having a detailed outline of the new domestic intelligence service. The Justice Department is arguing that the planning should begin immediately, while White House aides want to wait until the head of the service is appointed, the intelligence veteran said.

If the deadline is suspended until the White House appoints a chief of the domestic intelligence service, the FBI will lose considerable control over that service's shape.

This early battle for control is symptomatic of the kinds of cultural and turf battles National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte will continually contend with.

President Bush also set a 60-day deadline for the Justice Department to develop a plan for consolidating its three anti-terrorism divisions into one. Negroponte has 30 days to produce plans for his human intelligence management office housed at the CIA.

Once the plans are drafted, the organizations should be up and running within six months, "if people are not dragging their feet," said John MacGaffin, who spent 31 years at the CIA and six at the FBI. He testified before the presidential commission and the 9/11 commission, which investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

MacGaffin said that the full impact of the reforms would not be felt for "a long time." He said that progress would be "incremental" but that some changes could occur immediately.

He pointed to a large number of intelligence reports on terrorism that the FBI did not pass along to policy-makers on a timely basis because they weren't familiar with intelligence reporting. Instead of seeking assistance from the CIA, he said, "the FBI took refuge in bureaucratic ownership of the information and declined to let the CIA distribute the reports on their behalf."

The greater the direct authority given to Negroponte and others responsible for instituting the president's plans, the faster the changes will take hold, said John Gannon, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council. "Consensus in the intelligence community means status quo."

Skeptics, though, predict that any positive results are much more than 10 years away.

Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general of the Homeland Security Department, likened the intelligence agencies to the military services circa 1945. He said it took 40 years for the branches to learn - or be forced - to work together. The intelligence agencies are embarking on a similarly long road to reform, he said.

Ervin pointed to the State Department's negotiations with the FBI to gain full access to terrorist watch lists. "It was shocking to learn that as a matter of course, the State Department does not have access to that information," said Ervin, who was the inspector general at the State Department before he moved to Homeland Security.

Ervin also worries that the continual organizational changes could prove self-defeating: Policy-makers have been unwilling to wait to see the effects of one new organization before they start another with a similar mission.

"You've got to have a score card, but the intelligence community has never really had one," MacGaffin said. "The problem is that scorekeeping in intelligence does not lend itself to more traditional metrics. ... If the DNI [Negroponte] can't establish such a system, we'll never know whether we are successful or not."

In the first months, the success of the latest reforms can best be gauged by whom the president appoints to the myriad positions that Bush's plan creates, says former 9/11 commission member John Lehman, who was secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration. The intelligence agencies need new blood to force a change of culture that is largely wedded to Cold War-era rules and processes, he said.

"The administration seems to have an almost childlike faith in the career bureaucracy," he said of Bush's appointments in the office of the director of national intelligence.

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