Monday, December 27, 2004

: Intelligence Nightmare

Allan Topol
Written by Military.com
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Like a runaway freight train barreling down the tracks, the legislation overhauling the American intelligence structure blasted away anyone trying to block its passage. Relatives of those who perished in the September 11 attacks fought hard for this legislation. In the end, their emotional appeal, sympathetic though it was, forced the President and Congress to overrule sound, reasoned judgment.

Though the supporters of the legislation were well intentioned, the end product will do nothing to prevent another disastrous attack like September 11 from reoccurring. Indeed, it may have precisely the opposite effect.

The most significant provisions of the law create a new national intelligence director. This intelligence czar will be above the CIA Director, the FBI Director and all of the other intelligence agencies under DoD and elsewhere in the government. He will control how a $40 million budget is divided among all these agencies with approximately 200,000 employees.

The theory is that, at long last, a single figure reporting directly to the President will be in charge of intelligence gathering. The proponents of the law are expecting that the intelligence czar will coordinate the activities of agencies with overlapping jurisdiction. In their ideal world, shreds of information gathered in remote places will be quickly shared under the new scheme. They are expecting coordination and cooperation to become the order of the day.

They are sadly mistaken and tremendously naive about how Washington works. Rather than coordination, there will be turf battles between the agencies and the czar. Already the lawyers in each of the intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, are spending hundreds of hours examining each word and punctuation mark in the legislation, intent on preserving as much of their jurisdiction as possible. The law was poorly drafted, as one might expect from a bill rushed through Congress. Jeffrey H. Smith, a former General Counsel of the CIA, said he found "considerable confusion and contradiction" within the intelligence bill. With client agencies resentful of yielding any jurisdiction, the legislation will provide full employment for countless lawyers.

Then there is the lack of real authority in the hands of the czar. He will be operating at a rarefied level far removed from the spies, analysts and other working grunts whose supposed failures have harmed the country. It's hard to see how the czar's presence will help this situation.

Arguably, the September 11 intelligence failure and the Iraqi WMD failure occurred because those in the field were too far removed and had no interaction with their agencies' leadership -- leadership that had the President's ear. With this legislation, that failing will be exacerbated. A new layer of even more remote bureaucracy has been created. This is the last thing our intelligence effort needs right now.



At the end of the day, successful intelligence gathering is dependent on people. To be sure, technology is important, including satellites, sophisticated eavesdropping equipment and the like. However, individuals in the field are still the most critical component. The new intelligence czar will not be able to improve the qualifications or performance of these people. Indeed, their morale may be reduced because the leaders of their own agencies have been effectively demoted.

Also troublesome is the creation of a single powerful figure that will become the one funnel through which all information must be passed to get to the President and his White House advisers. This czar will have his own agendas and biases, which will undoubtedly control what passes through that funnel and how it is presented. It is likely that the czar will have his own ambitions and personal desires for enhanced power that will affect his performance in the role.

All of this makes the new situation markedly worse than the prior one. In the past, different figures, the CIA Director, the FBI Director, the Secretary of Defense and others all had direct access to the President and intelligence matters.

Knowledge is power. Placing so much power in the hands of a single individual, who is not elected by the people, is dangerous. It is a threat to our democracy.

To be sure, there have been serious errors made in intelligence work in recent years. The bath water was dirty. A cleansing was in order. We didn't do that. Instead, we've just tossed out the baby along with it.


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