- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 5, 2006

One year after Congress authorized the creation of a czar to oversee and reform intelligence agencies, the CIA, the FBI and other services remain largely the same, bound by ingrained bureaucratic process and culture, intelligence officials say.

Interviews with numerous senior U.S. intelligence and security officials show a system that still lacks qualified personnel and resists new operating methods necessary to confront domestic and foreign security threats.

Key reforms in the past year have included a new national intelligence office to replace the formerly CIA-dominated Office of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center — an interagency coordination group designed to conduct analysis and operations.

At the CIA, the DCI function has been removed from the mission of Director Porter J. Goss and given to John D. Negroponte, a career diplomat who was appointed the first director of national intelligence last February. Mr. Goss was previously both the CIA director and the DCI, and nominally the head of all U.S. intelligence agencies.

According to several high-ranking officials, a major problem since has been opposition to restructuring and reform from bureaucrats within the DNI, CIA and FBI.



Incremental change

The most important intelligence-gathering sections of the CIA and FBI remain largely the same, despite claims by senior intelligence managers who say major changes are under way within those sections of those agencies.

Information sharing among agencies, identified as a key failure that led to the September 11 terror attacks, continues to be impaired by competition among agencies and intelligence centers.

For example, despite the fact that the new National Counterterrorism Center is housed in the same Tysons Corner office building in suburban Virginia as the CIA Counterterrorism Center and the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task Force-Counterterrorism, the centers do not easily share information among themselves, the officials said.

However, in the aftermath of investigations of September 11 and the commission that examined intelligence agencies related to assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, intelligence collection — spying and espionage — has been a major focus of reform efforts.

The WMD commission, headed by former Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, and Appeals Court Judge Laurence H. Silberman, examined U.S. intelligence from top to bottom and found that on Iraq, the failure to adequately assess Iraq’s arms programs was “a major intelligence failure.”

That assessment was unwelcome news to many career intelligence officials who feel there were no failures and thus no need for changing agency structures or procedures.

Between Congress and the commissions, President Bush endorsed more than 90 recommendations for reforming intelligence and security agencies.

Structure lacking

One official said a key reason reform has been difficult is that the revamped 14-agency intelligence system lacks a military-style command-and-control structure.

That structure is needed for clear strategic planning, a directed ordering process that can allow different agencies to work together, and a coordinated system for carrying out operations.

“There is no process today that allows intelligence people to work together as a team,” said the official, a reform advocate who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A year after the DNI system was set up, it remains hindered by the fact that Mr. Negroponte, while a capable and distinguished diplomat, is inexperienced in the world of intelligence affairs.

Also, the DNI office is staffed by several intelligence and diplomatic officials in pivotal positions who either oppose reform, or who have orchestrated cosmetic changes intended to make it appear that real reform has occurred, according to officials with knowledge of the office.

Mr. Negroponte declined to be interviewed for this article.

However, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, said in a December interview that the DNI office is about 90 percent set up. The next phase will be making changes within the system, he said.

“The long-term solutions here are process and cultural,” Gen. Hayden said.

Gen. Hayden said the new office has “set the conditions” for future reform through the creation of an “open source” intelligence center to gather intelligence from public data; the declaration of a national human intelligence (HUMINT) manager to direct human spying; the formation of a National Security Branch inside the FBI; the designation of intelligence “mission managers”; and the creation of a National Counterproliferation Center. The center was set up as an umbrella agency to better coordinate efforts to stop the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile systems. It is made up of intelligence agency personnel and reports to Mr. Negroponte.

“What lies ahead is completing those tasks and then really getting to … those process and cultural issues,” that, once reformed, can “make us more integrated in our effort across the board,” said Gen. Hayden, himself a former director of the National Security Agency.

Other officials said process problems facing intelligence agencies include bureaucratic obstacles that have prevented agencies from conducting effective spy planning and training, thus hampering the agencies from carrying out their missions.

Cultural issues include the inherent resistance to change that is characteristic of entrenched bureaucrats convinced that their current systems and methods are in no need of change.

The CIA

Despite the creation of the National Clandestine Service, the CIA still needs more qualified overseas intelligence officers to conduct the core mission: penetrate foreign targets such as China, Iran, North Korea and Syria and steal secrets, the officials said.

Mr. Goss has focused his reform efforts on the CIA’s espionage branch known as the Directorate of Operations, which was renamed the National Clandestine Service and now includes the Defense HUMINT Service and representatives of the FBI’s new National Security Branch

According to intelligence officials, CIA-reform efforts have been opposed by career officers who regard the changes as political interference. Three CIA Directorate of Operations managers have resigned or retired since November 2004 to protest the changes. The most recent of these was the early exit of Deputy Director of Operations Robert Richer, who opposed redirecting spying efforts on China.

The other two departing officers were Stephen R. Kappes, the top operations officer, and Associate Deputy Director of Operations Michael Sulick.

Mr. Goss declined to be interviewed and CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Dyck would not comment on the situation. However, she said Mr. Goss has recognized that CIA spying has been “too bureaucratic” and that there have been too many case officers at headquarters and not enough posted around the world.

Other officials said the CIA’s espionage branch continues to be hobbled by too few trained and experienced case officers.

The total number of deployed intelligence officers, those working in the field as spies and spy handlers, is fewer than 1,000. During the 1980s, the CIA had as many as 8,000 case officers around the world. That number declined sharply during the 1990s because of budget cutbacks and disillusioned agency officers who left, citing restrictions and difficulties in carrying out their missions.

Also, of the deployed officers, some 200 of them have been working in Iraq for the past year or more to set up an Iraqi intelligence service, although critics of the effort said that it isn’t clear that Iraq needs the service, or one modeled on the CIA.

“Iraq needs a security service, not an intelligence service,” one official said.

The shortage of overseas case officers has created an overreliance on setting up liaison ties to foreign services, and in many nations, including those in South America, the CIA station is limited to one officer who relies on information from foreign intelligence. Often that information cannot be verified, thereby making its use limited.

The FBI

As the lead agency in charge of domestic security against terrorists and foreign spies, the FBI actually opposed the creation of its own National Security Branch (NSB), which combined the counterterrorism, counterintelligence and intelligence-analysis sections.

Both FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales fought against the creation of the service during interagency discussions.

Mr. Bush, however, overruled the opposition and ordered the FBI to set up the service, which was created in September.

Gary W. Bald, who directs the FBI’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence programs, said the creation of the branch “was not something that was an original thought within the bureau.”

However, he said FBI agents have accepted other mission changes through the years, although the new NSB is the latest and most significant.

“We have embraced this mission,” Mr. Bald said. “But I can tell you, in any large organization, you aren’t going to have every single person … happy about it. You are going to have the folks [who] have spent 20 years working drug investigations who are experts in their field, they understand how to do their job, and now they’re told, ‘I know you’ve only got a year or two until you retire, but now you’ve got to learn something from scratch all over again.’ They don’t like it. It doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. It doesn’t mean that they don’t think we’re doing the right thing, it’s just that they’re out of their comfort zone.”

Mr. Bald, who heads the new NSB, said there are no immediate plans to change the attorney general’s guidelines in place since the 1970s that limit intelligence activities by the FBI, although the Justice Department is planning some changes.

“The mission that we are pursuing is the same from an operational standpoint,” he said. “Our agents are only collectors, and they are still responsible for developing human sources and conducting the full range of investigative techniques that we have at our disposal. That has not changed.”

Agents will be “doing what intelligence-service people do, consistent with what the United States Constitution and civil liberties permit us to do,” said Mr. Bald, a career criminal investigator with little intelligence experience.

The new NSB is working on a comprehensive intelligence-training program and has changed its method of training agents as generalists, instead making two types: specialists devoted to national security work and those who will do criminal investigative work, Mr. Bald said. The training will include three levels: orientation, basic and advanced national security.

The military

At the Pentagon, where technical spying agencies such as the National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency are directed, some reforms have been made. Those efforts include the recent approval of a plan for future satellite systems, and bigger budgets for research and development of new technical intelligence-gathering systems.

But within the military, intelligence-gathering and counterintelligence have been frustrated by legal restrictions and conflicting missions.

For example, the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity, created in 2000 to better coordinate counterspying efforts against foreign spies who target the Pentagon, still lacks the authority to take a direct role in the activities of the military counterintelligence units. There are proposals to give the CIFA, as the activity is called, a more active role.

Louis Andre, chief of staff for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), said the agency has made “fundamental” changes that have improved its collection and analysis in major ways.

“We are not even close to being the same agency we were,” Mr. Andre said in an interview.

The DIA is focused more on process changes, which include improving information-sharing and analysis, and less on changing the structure.

The DIA was singled out for criticism by the WMD commission for its handling of an Iraqi informant known as “Curveball,” who provided bogus information to U.S. intelligence agencies that ended up reaching the highest levels of the government.

Since then, the agency has improved the system of checking the validity of sources, but continues to believe that collectors should provide as much information as possible to analysts and other intelligence officials, he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide