- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

Whatever led to Porter Goss’ departure from the CIA, he had inherited a swarming nest of imbedded political operatives and world-class leakers — bent on embarrassing the Bush administration and threatening important relationships worldwide.

Assuming Mike Hayden is confirmed as the new director, basic CIA “housecleaning” should continue — happening at the same time will be significant budgetary shifts from high-tech “remote-sensing” intelligence operations, to human-intelligence collection, the traditional CIA mission. Because the entrenched CIA senior bureaucracy remains resistant to change, it’s also fair to ask if the CIA can improve its human-intelligence collection even if we spend a lot more money on it.

The answer in the shorter term — three to 10 years — is probably “no,” and whether we can do it for the longer term is not at all clear yet.

Why such a negative assessment?

Looking at how we have done in the past with human intelligence provides at least an indicator of our probable success:

Our archenemy for 50 years, the Soviet Union, proved very hard to collect against using human sources. And, for most of the Cold War we seemed oblivious to this: Many sources we used were double agents and “played us like an organ,” as the expression goes.

A primary way to get human intelligence — pay for it — can too often become the only way, because it is simply easier. And, we have probably paid a lot of money over the years for bad information — much of it planted with us by double agents.

Traditionally, we have been unable to develop long-term, well-placed sources in other countries. The reason is that the time required — sometimes 20 years — seems beyond our comprehension and the ability of our government to fund and keep secret for sustained periods. Too often, our idea of “cover” for our agents was something your mother — let alone the KGB — could have figured out in about 30 seconds.

We have the wrong kind of people doing the work: Despite being the most culturally diverse free nation in the world, we seem to send blond-haired, blue-eyed people to do intelligence field work. They simply can’t do the mission in today’s world — however, they seem to rise to leadership positions without difficulty. What should we do?

(1) We have to take a very critical look at ourselves. This cannot be done objectively by the CIA and the other agencies because their primary focus is on the very short term — getting more money to spend.

The president — consulting with the Intelligence Committees in Congress — should call together a group of experts, including counterintelligence experts, and chart out a long-term HUMINT collection strategy. We should get their guidance, Congress should fund it and the president carry it out.

(2) It isn’t written in stone that the traditional HUMINT roles, missions and collection authorities of the various intelligence agencies should stay the same. In fact, everything should be on the table and no agency should expect its traditional HUMINT mission will remain intact. On paper at least, the new director of national intelligence (DNI) would seem empowered to direct this kind of reallocation of mission.

(3) Too often, our intelligence collections overseas are based on second- and third-hand reports, and often obtained from host or other nations’ intelligence services. As these reports are analyzed and similarities are seen and written about, it’s easy to see how we can be misled by “group speak” reporting, mostly controlled by sources we have no way of assessing. Spying is spying: We should do more of it on our own throughout the world and get our own, firsthand information.

(4) Most HUMINT collections should be controlled centrally: Local authorities overseas — including the U.S. ambassador in the country concerned and the regional military commander — should not, ordinarily, be “in the loop” for such activities.

(5) There has been way too much emphasis on “open source” reporting, and it’s become a crutch for a number of agencies. Many so-called “open sources” are manipulated by those opposed to us, whether we consider them our “friends” or not. And, way too often, “open source” reporting just means someone reading a foreign newspaper — then writing an “intelligence” report on it.

Will these recommendations work? We don’t have any choice: We are simply not getting the critical information we need to be responsive to the ever-broadening spectrum of threats from terrorism. And, unless we can penetrate terrorist organizations, including their planning and financing, we’ll simply be unable to prevent more terrorist attacks against us around the world and at home.

Nevertheless, even if we do all these things — and do them right — we may be 15 or 20 years away from developing a true “world class” HUMINT collection capability: as good, for example as some of our key adversaries have had against us for years.

But let’s make sure we stay on task and do it right — not just fling our money in a different direction for a few years.

Daniel Gallington is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute For Policy Studies in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security and intelligence policy positions, and as general counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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