TCS Daily

Don't Reinvent the Intel Wheel

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - September 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Ever since the release of the 9/11 Commission's final report, official Washington has been abuzz with talk about how best to reform the nation's intelligence-gathering capabilities. Most of the talk has centered around the creation of a post for a National Intelligence Director (NID) who would have broad powers to ride herd on the intelligence community. After some uncertainty on the issue, President Bush has embraced the creation of an NID position.

The problem is that this action will only add to the national security bureaucracy while offering the intelligence community nothing positive and helpful in terms of fundamental change that cannot be accomplished in other ways. Additionally, no attention is being paid to one of the most important reforms needed -- a comprehensive reform of the way in which the intelligence community recruits analysts and clandestine agents.

The common justification for an NID is that there should be one primary official who is able to coordinate all intelligence activity, oversight and administration for the United States government. Unfortunately, the creation of an NID would simply mean yet another layer of bureaucracy in the government. An NID would have to have deputies, the deputies would have deputies of their own, and there would need to be a massive support staff of assistant NIDs and other personnel to assist in the functions of a new directorate. Moreover, because the NID would be new to the national security bureaucracy, and because the position would not initially be as well established as other traditional positions in the intelligence community (like the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) or officials in the intelligence sections of the State Department or the Pentagon), there is a significant chance that at least in the short term, the NID would lose significant bureaucratic battles against other officials in the intelligence community. These losses could very well leave the position of NID permanently weakened.

The President and Congress should instead vest the powers of a new NID in the position of the DCI instead. The DCI is firmly established in the intelligence community, so the bureaucracy would not be added to. Additionally, the DCI is in a strong position to hit the ground running and would not be disadvantaged in the bureaucracy wars by a novel status and the lack of an existing power base.

The President and Congress should also discuss how best to reform the recruitment of analysts and clandestine agents. It is well and good for the CIA to recruit from college campuses. But the CIA is ignoring the many established professionals in specialized fields who can also make a significant contribution to analysis and service in the CIA's Directorate of Operations. As Herbert Meyer -- a former special assistant to DCI William Casey and the former Vice Chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Counsel -- pointed out in, Casey himself had a unique talent for bringing in professionals with highly desirable skills to enhance the CIA's ability to gather and distill intelligence, a mission he undertook with the full support of President Reagan:

". . . Casey did something that to this day few people understand. While striving mightily to improve the CIA's collection and analytic divisions, he created virtually overnight within the CIA an OSS -- a small cadre of operators and analysts brought in from the outside, who knew their way around the world and could make things happen, quickly and without a fuss, and who could pull together information into patterns that eluded the CIA's career analysts.

"While the CIA bureaucracy stumbled along as best it could--and, in all fairness, some of the agency's people were first-rate -- this "OSS within the CIA" developed ideas for tripping up the Soviet Union no one else had thought of. And it produced analyses, for instance about the Soviet Union's coming economic implosion, that overrode the CIA's "official" (and dead wrong) judgment that the Soviet economy was growing. All this combined to give President Reagan the edge he needed.

"The good news is that this country is filled with first-class pattern-spotters with the talent and experience to do this again. You can find them in politics, in business, on Wall Street, at leading think tanks, in the high-tech corridors of Silicon Valley and Boston's Route 128, and in academia. Right now the president has an opportunity to reach out and find the kind of CIA director with the brains and horsepower to make the agency razor-sharp and playing offense. And he needs to move fast."

Meyer's words were written nearly three months ago. Unfortunately, as of yet, the Bush Administration has not moved to implement his recommendations. Instead, valuable time has been wasted debating the need for yet another player in the national intelligence community, without any discussion on how to draw more established talent into the intelligence community.

If the Bush Administration and Congress really believe that a central official needs to be able to coordinate the nation's intelligence activities, it need only empower the DCI to do so. But as Meyer points out, that won't be enough to solve the nation's intelligence problems. The CIA cannot succeed if it does not adequately make use of the established talent of a wide variety of professionals. Its predecessor agency, the OSS, built its reputation as a cutting edge intelligence service by drawing on the skills of experienced lawyers, bankers, businessmen and the like. These professionals gave the OSS a sense of vibrancy and made groundbreaking contributions to the nation's intelligence service. For the CIA to succeed in these new and challenging times, it must remember the secrets to the success of its predecessor agency. Failing to do so will only ensure that the CIA is stuck "stumbling along" for years to come -- something America manifestly cannot afford.


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