Monday, August 16, 2004

Now that the president has nominated a new director of central intelligence, the political games have begun. No doubt, in less politically charged moments than an election year, the selection of the well-qualified House Intelligence Committee chairman, Porter Goss, would go off without a hitch. In this year of extreme partisan acrimony, the hearing for Mr. Goss will no doubt be a review of the September 11 commission report and be replete with partisan sniping. It is a shame al Qaeda is not plagued by these distractions in their intelligence efforts. They are at war with us and plan to inflict great harm. We need to keep our eye on the intelligence “ball.”

No matter who is leader of American intelligence, there are three long-term, fundamental issues any DCI must address immediately. First, we must gain some kind of sense-making control over an expansive $40 billion intelligence program and budget. Second, we must quickly turn around what has become slipshod intelligence analysis. And, third, we must modernize and strengthen our human intelligence efforts.

In the first case, the argument over a national intelligence director “czar” or a more powerful DCI is an important one — but should not be confused with the main issue at hand. The U.S. government spends $40 billion plus in its intelligence budget over which there is no central budgetary or programmatic control. At the very least, someone has to oversee a process that covers everything from satellites to human spies. A certain amount of duplication among the 15 separate spy agencies is inevitable. However, the amount of duplication and lack of communication over fundamental issues of satellite systems development and other costly technical issues is wasteful and weakens our position. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was wise to create a position in DOD to oversee Defense intelligence programs. Steven Cambone, undersecretary for intelligence, has proven an effective “one stop shop” for the secretary to go to for all his intelligence information. The president of the United States deserves the same.

In the second case, a new DCI must immediately take on a system of analysis in the intelligence community that is deeply troubled. The sad litany of failures from the Pakistan nuclear test to the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq indicate that changes must be made now — before another failure completely undermines U.S. credibility with its allies and the American people. Analysts must be freed from the current layered bureaucracy that stifles opinions and belabors their writing.

Moreover, a new DCI must insist analysts go back to the wise advice of the famous “first” analyst Sherman Kent: Analysts need to know their policy-maker clients, and they need to tell their clients what they know and what they do not know. In the cold, gray world of intelligence, there are no “slam dunks.” But, analysts who cloud their judgments in delphic phrases do the policy-makers no good. Policy-makers need facts and need to understand how far the knowledge goes. Beyond that, it is a policy-maker’s job to decide what the policy should be. That is their job alone.

The third tough issue facing the new DCI is at the core of most intelligence problems since biblical times — we need better human intelligence. While the problem is not new, the circumstances in which human intelligence is collected are evolving constantly. The directorate of operations at CIA remains the centerpiece of most U.S. human intelligence operations. It is an institution that is in turmoil, caught in a Cold War bureaucracy, and must be led to a fundamental shift in its direction. The primary structure remains wedded to a Cold War approach that bases a fair portion of its personnel in a static staff and line bureaucracy. A good idea when you are working against Russian diplomats from a turgid, nation-state. Not so good when you are working against the loosely knit street thugs and bandits of al Qaeda. A massive shift to more loosely organized, so-called “non-official” cover officers is necessary and needed. If John Walker Lindt could infiltrate al Qaeda — U.S. intelligence needs the ability to do so as well.

A new DCI also has to help a reluctant DO to face an awful truth — this is going to be a bloody war. Casualties will occur, and good people are going to die. But, the operations directorate is the first line of defense in our war against terrorism, and their record in the past suggests they are always ready for a good challenge, if well-directed, and lead with courage.

Issues like budget and program control, better analysis and better human intelligence don’t make great headlines. But as the current political storm goes on, they are the fundamental issues that must be addressed by the new DCI. If we choose to concentrate on the superficial, Washington will have failed in its basic duty to keep all Americans safe and secure.

Ron Marks is a former CIA officer and was intelligence counsel to Sens. Robert Dole and Trent Lott.

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