Halt the Pentagon's intelligence takeover

January 16, 2007|By Melvin A. Goodman

The expected confirmation of retired Navy Adm. Mike McConnell as director of national intelligence will complete the Pentagon's takeover of the intelligence community and end any pretense of civilian influence, let alone control, of that community. Flag officers are in control of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center as well as the key position of undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The militarization of intelligence is a reversal of the kind of community that President Harry Truman began to create 60 years ago and will complicate efforts to rebuild the nation's strategic intelligence capabilities.

Over the past 10 years, the Department of Defense has gradually become the chief operating officer of the $45 billion intelligence industry. The Pentagon controls more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget as well as more than 85 percent of all intelligence personnel. Most collection requirements flow from the Pentagon, and the deference within the policy community and the congressional intelligence communities for the "warfighter" has meant that tactical military considerations have overwhelmed collection for strategic geopolitical considerations.

There are major risks in the military domination of the important field of satellite imagery, which is used to justify the defense budget, to gauge the likelihood of military conflict, and to verify and monitor arms control agreements. Gen. Colin L. Powell's memoir, An American Journey, details the military's willingness to suppress sensitive imagery intelligence. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf said that a smart bomb had destroyed four Iraqi Scud missile launchers. Intelligence imagery demonstrated that it had actually destroyed four Jordanian fuel tanks. General Schwarzkopf's intelligence officers would not tell him he was wrong, nor would General Powell, who concluded that preserving General Schwarzkopf's "equanimity" was more important than the truth.

An excellent example of the Pentagon's lack of interest in strategic intelligence, particularly dealing with arms control and disarmament, took place in 1998, when the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency failed to monitor five Indian nuclear tests. This intelligence failure led CIA Director George J. Tenet to tell Congress that the CIA could not monitor the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; as a result, the Senate failed to ratify the treaty. In piecing together the reasons for the intelligence failure, it was obvious that the Pentagon had placed a low priority on satellite collection against India because the military was insufficiently concerned with threats from South Asia and was certainly not interested in arms control issues.

It is essential that the major technical collection agencies, the National Security Agency (which intercepts signals and communications and is critical to strategic warning), the National Reconnaissance Office (which designs and launches spy satellites) and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (which interprets satellite imagery) be taken from the Pentagon's control and transferred to an office dominated by civilian leadership. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee must agree to abolish or at least weaken the position of undersecretary of defense for intelligence, which was created by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to solidify the Pentagon's control over the intelligence community. The Pentagon played a major role in the politicization of intelligence that was used to justify the war against Iraq.

Over the past 10 years, the intelligence community has gotten away from strategic and long-term intelligence and placed too much emphasis and resources on short-term, tactical intelligence and "operational intelligence." The CIA dropped its historical staff and its estimates staff, which did long-term analysis on strategic issues central to American national security. As the first director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte made no attempt to create a corporate analytical community and to foster an elite analytical cadre. The intelligence community also must be opened up to the larger academic and think-tank community outside the intelligence arena. It is unlikely that the general officers who run the key institutions of the intelligence community will do any of these things.

The absence of an independent civilian counter to the power of military intelligence threatens civilian control of the decision to use military power and makes it more likely that intelligence will be tailored to suit the purposes of the Pentagon. The confirmation process for Mr. McConnell as director of national intelligence will be an important opportunity to debate these key issues.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, was an analyst at the CIA from 1966 to 1990. His e-mail is goody789@comcast.net.

Trudy Rubin's column will return next week. Clarence Page's column will return Friday.

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