Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Reading the press of late, you would think Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss’ move to replace senior staff at Langley is causing an intelligence “riot.” A daily litany of resignations is paraded about in unattributed comments from “former officials” as sure proof that the walls are collapsing and that the nation is facing an intelligence catastrophe.

This is simply not the case. The disappointing cries of former officeholders who forget that government employee lease but do not own their positions of trust — are embarrassing, to the leakers, and a continuing puzzlement to our friends overseas. With this effort to build his own team, Mr. Goss has taken the first steps on the long journey to true intelligence reform.

The sad truth is that American intelligence has been a backwater since the end of the Cold War more than a decade ago. Under the Clinton administration, one-third of the intelligence community’s budget and personnel were cut and no structural reform was undertaken to deal with a new, very different world. The Bush administration, overwhelmed by the day-to-day challenges of September 11, has finally been able to make its first best shot at reform.

Nevertheless, whether Congress succeeds in passing an intelligence reform bill or not, three fundamental challenges must still be met by Mr. Goss in order to create a new, sharper and more effective American intelligence apparatus for the 21st century.

The first challenge is how to handle the large influx of personnel being proposed for the spy world. The president has declared that the United States should add an additional 50 percent more personnel to both the field operatives and the headquarters analysts. This new, fresh blood will be a welcome addition to the fight against terrorism. However, it is crucial that both the operations and analytical sides that receive this comparatively large influx deploy some form of significant workforce planning, a more robust matching of skills development and a sharper view of personnel deployment than in the past. Both directorates must move beyond the days when new staff were treated as their own “best” personnel managers.

Former CIA director George Tenet was correct about one thing — it does take five years to develop a trained intelligence officer who truly understands his or her mission and work. The X-Box generation, however, is not going to tolerate the sloppy personnel practices of the past. New recruits should be encouraged and developed in adroit ways. Over the last decade, the military has been truly successful at developing a “corporate” military whose stunning victories in Afghanistan and Iraq stand witness to this work. The intelligence community should learn from the Pentagon success story.

Second, the X-Box generation should not be stuffed into the same old bureaucratic structure at Langley. Both the operations directorate and the analytical directorate can ill afford to continue the same failed management paradigms that have brought us to this current sorry state. On the operations side, it is crucial that people be placed in the field as soon as possible after training. Moreover, they must be placed under imaginative “non-official” covers that move them away from any apparent connection with the government. If a silly, deluded kid from California can manage to get into Osama Bin Laden’s training camp, a skilled operations officer with a good cover should be able to do the same.

On the analytical side, where so many of the recent intelligence failures have occurred, the entire system needs revamping. This directorate must become a looser organization that allows its analysts to more easily access the outside world. Too often today, the analysts are forced to reinvent the wheel out of a false concern over security. Moreover, analysts should have their material looked at through the looking glass of alternative analyses, where differing views are given more than lip service. Finally, analysts are being overwhelmed by information. It is incumbent to reach out to the private sector and find analytical tools that will help make their jobs easier.

The third challenge for Mr. Goss will be the toughest — improving Langley’s interactions with the new national security world in which it swims. The culture of secrecy runs deep at Langley. So does the culture of bureaucratic protectionism, in which the intelligence community engages in a game of “hide the intelligence ball” with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. While efforts by the president and Congress to restructure roles will have some positive impact, Langley must recognize that it must share information with law enforcement and the military in order to meet the security needs of the nation. The legal and bureaucratic barriers of the pre-September 11 days are for the most part gone. However, the attitude that outsiders cannot be trusted must stop. Perhaps as Mr. Goss’ new leadership steps into place this will change as well.

These basic reforms will not be easy. Mistakes will be made along the way. Mr. Goss is going to be flying the plane and building it at the same time. However, he has the support of a willing president with a mandate from the people to take on reform. Never has intelligence played a more important role, on a daily basis, in protecting the American people from harm. Intelligence reform is not a short hike, but a long, complex journey.

Ron Marks, a former CIA officer, served as intelligence counsel to Sens. Robert Dole and Trent Lott.

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