- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 13, 2006

In a courtyard of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., is a statue of Nathan Hale, the first American ever executed for spying.

In the days before satellites, cell phones and electronic surveillance, young Nathan Hale volunteered to go into enemy territory and acquire the “human intelligence” Gen. George Washington needed to make future war plans. Regrettably, Hale had neither the tools nor the training necessary to allow him to escape back to friendly lines. Captured by the British, legend has it that as Hale stood on the gallows from which he would be hanged, his last words were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

The sculpture of Nathan Hale should be moved to the front entrance of CIA headquarters. That would remind those who pass through the portals how important human intelligence was — and continues to be — to our nation in an era when we are threatened by radical Islamic terror and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Unfortunately, last week’s new leak of classified information about how the National Security Agency collects signals intelligence is likely to jeopardize a very necessary reorganization of the Central Intelligence Agency. The current firestorm was created by a hyperventilated USA Today article Thursday, which claims the NSA “has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans.”

Despite the president’s assurances the NSA is “not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,” and that “the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,” politicians already are using the most recent allegations as a reason to oppose the appointment of Gen. Michael Hayden as the new CIA chief. The NSA debate obscures an urgent reality: The CIA desperately needs new leadership and direction.

Nearly 60 years ago, the National Security Act of 1947 created not only a Central Intelligence Agency but a director of central intelligence (DCI). The job of the DCI was threefold: to oversee the entire U.S. intelligence community, head the CIA and act as the principal adviser to the president for intelligence matters.

It never quite worked as intended. With few exceptions, the alphabet soup of 16 U.S. government agencies charged with collecting intelligence — CIA, NSA, DIA, NRO, INR, FBI, DOE, DHS, DEA, ATF, TFI, US Army, USN, USMC, USAF, USCG — never danced to the beat of the DCI. The vicious terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, proved how inadequate this bureaucracy was in collecting information and disseminating intelligence to those responsible for protecting the American people. All this was supposed to change when John Negroponte became the director of national intelligence on April 22, 2005. A year later, it appears this reorganization hasn’t worked either.

As politicians with the attention span of fruit flies rush to the microphones for “face time” on the NSA debate and the color of the suit the new CIA director will wear, essential repairs to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTP) and to the CIA’s mission and methods are being swept aside. In the midst of a war, it’s a distraction we can ill afford. A few examples:

The IRTP was so imperfectly written that vital organizations like the CIA’s National Counter-terrorism Center must go hat-in-hand to various agencies to beg for information on terrorist cells, leaders and locations. The Defense Department responded by creating new organizations within the Joint Special Operations Command for collecting “actionable” human intelligence, leaving the CIA “out of the loop.”

The CIA desperately needs a leader who can refocus the agency’s personnel, energy and attention at the Langley headquarters and globally on the collection of human intelligence.

The office of the DNI needs the authority to centralize “all source” intelligence collection — but should be directed to let analysis of information remain distributed throughout the government. There is, as one senior national security official told me, “no such thing as ‘absolute intelligence.’ We need ‘competitive analysis’ and perspective so that the decisionmaker isn’t presented with the lowest common denominator of what’s disseminated.”

These three “fixes” won’t solve all the problems in our collection and use of intelligence — but they will help. Those who think that we can afford to dither and dawdle need to see the recent film, “United 93.”

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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