- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

With the release today of the executive branch’s Robb-Silberman report, the Bush administration can now say with certainty that it has begun true U.S. intelligence reform. Combined with the recent nomination for director of national intelligence of experienced foreign-policy hand John Negroponte, American intelligence now has the leadership and the template to push ahead to deal with the battles and challenges of the 21st century.

As expected, the Robb-Silberman report has none of the political fireworks or political biases of the September 11 commission report released last year. It was overseen by two old Washington hands, former Sen. Charles Robb and retired federal Judge Laurence Silberman, and an experienced band of seasoned senior intelligence professional staffers interested in solutions — not publicity.

Done with quiet dignity and a good modicum of security, the report looks coolly and concisely at the failures and problems of America’s intelligence pre-September 11— still lost in the post-Cold War era and unable to come to grips with the modern age. The myriad failures reported range from an ungodly set of bureaucratic entanglements among Department of Defense, CIA and FBI to analysis that could at best be described as “shoddy” to human intelligence that was virtually non-existent.

The report, however, does not wallow in the Washington blame game. What it does do for Mr. Negroponte and all serious intelligence reformers is provide a template by which to proceed to produce a functional and effective 21st-century intelligence apparatus for America. The report focuses on four areas of fundamental reform: the managing of U.S. intelligence budget and program; the conduct of analysis; the gathering of human intelligence; and the tricky “separation” of domestic and foreign intelligence issues.

Robb-Silberman does not mince around the mess that is the story of America’s intelligence budget and program. Spread out now over 15 agencies with little centralized control, the report comes down hard, stating that it is time the intelligence director head had as much direction as possible over intelligence budget and program development. No longer can America afford to have the CIA going one way, the FBI going another way and the Department of Defense taking off in a third direction after the same difficult set of threats.

The $40 billion-plus intelligence program should be systematically reviewed by the intelligence director head and judgments made on what works, what is being duplicated and what should be coordinated. The time for bureaucratic excuses, wasted money and turf wars must come to an end. It is far more important to defend Americans at home and abroad than to defend narrow-minded American bureaucrats protecting their prerogatives in Washington.

On the analytical end, Robb-Silberman notes the disgraceful state of affairs now extant in the intelligence community. Concentrating for too long on short-term reporting at the expense of longer-term understanding and analysis, the newspaper-style journalistic writings of the intelligence community must come to an end. The Presidential Daily Brief and other daily publications cannot and should not compete with Fox and CNN. It must provide senior leadership with a deeper understanding of the motives and thoughts of our allies and opponents. Our analysts must be retrained and allowed to dig into the challenges of the modern world; no longer rushed to produce reports and shifted endlessly through different areas of interest. They also must be encouraged and, perhaps even pushed, to expose where there is disagreement so policymakers can make intelligent and fully informed choices.

As for human intelligence, the report provides its most telling commentary. The current system is dead and must be replaced. No longer can we rely on human intelligence done out of the safety of embassies around the world. The job in the era of international terrorism requires more clever “covers” for action and a reluctant and heartfelt acceptance that we are going to have to suffer casualties in this generational war.

However, the report notes that it is crucial that the enlarging human-intelligence effort concentrate not just on numbers of new personnel and different covers — it must also sharpen the skills of those pursuing human intelligence. One of the dirty secrets of intelligence for years is that human-intelligence training was often done in a haphazard, and sometimes less than comprehensive fashion. Both CIA and Department of Defense human spies must sharpen their skills and train for the future against an illusive and adaptable enemy.

Fortunately, Robb-Silberman did not shy away from addressing the “third rail” of spying the separation between domestic and foreign intelligence-gathering. Americans are justifiably worried about who is looking over their shoulder within their borders. The abuses of the 1950s and ‘60s cannot be countenanced again. However, we live in a different world since September 11. Osama bin Laden and his murderous ilk do not have our problem. They cross borders with ease and share information at will.

The Robb-Silberman report notes the abuses of the past, but moves beyond them, noting we cannot bind ourselves to rules that give our enemy advantage. While some progress has been made since September 11, it is imperative that the FBI and CIA work cooperatively and carefully to share the burden of human intelligence-gathering outside and within the United States. Executive and congressional oversight is key to making this work and preventing and ferreting out potential abuses.

With the release of the Robb-Silberman report, a new age of American intelligence has dawned. There will be, no doubt, stumbles and mistakes as we move forward. However, it is clear American intelligence now has the leadership and the template to push ahead to deal with the battles and challenges of the 21st century.

Ronald A. Marks is a 16-year veteran of the CIA and former intelligence counsel to Senate leaders Robert Dole and Trent Lott.

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