2005: Intelligence Reform – More Needs to Be Done

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Commentary & Reply

From Parameters,  Summer 2005, pp. 135-40.

Intelligence Reform: More Needs to Be Done

To the Editor:

There are no simple answers when it comes to intelligence reform. The debate on this issue has suffered from decades of policy manipulation, congressional neglect, media ignorance, public inattention, and professional laziness. Senator Saxby Chambliss’s Parameters article, “We Have Not Correctly Framed the Debate on Intelligence Reform” (Spring 2005), merits consideration and a complex response.

Senator Chambliss focuses on one personal objective, that of creating a military intelligence subcommittee within the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and three organizational objectives: creating a Director of Military Intelligence, much as Lieutenant General James Clapper (USAF ret.) sought to do in the 1990s; improving intelligence sharing across disciplinary stove-pipes and at all times, not just at the finished product level; and revitalizing clandestine human intelligence collection (HUMINT). I agree with all of these objectives, but more is required.

The new Director of Central Intelligence, who by his own admission spends five hours a day preparing for a 30- to 60-minute meeting with the President, might be described as the last of the industrial-era intelligence managers, who are characterized by 1950s mindsets, 1970s technologies, and 1990s priorities. This mindset, and the culture within which that mindset prevails, has not been altered by the recent legislation. If anything, we are now weaker than we were before because all of the money that Congress has thrown at the problem has caused both a proliferation of waste and an incestuous robbing of Peter to pay Paul—contractors out-bid one another to uproot perfectly functional intelligence professionals who are then placed in positions where they are less effective, but the contractors make an extra buck. The same problem exists in Special Operations. To describe this legislation as “sweeping” is to demean the term.

A few observations:

  • Intelligence has been “flawed by design” from 1947 onward, and both Congress and the White House have persistently refused to attend to the recommendations of every commission since the two Hoover Commissions in the 1940s through to the Schlesinger review in the 1970s and on to the Aspin-Brown Commission in 1996, which one Senator personally scuttled for fear that his state would lose jobs. Intelligence reform requires a draconian elimination of military-industrial fraud, waste, and abuse; and members of Congress should be held accountable for refusing to bite the hand that feeds their political action committees. Only Bin Laden—and the widows and orphans Bin Laden produced—have altered the political dynamic. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) is part of the problem. Instead of trying to preserve its largely symbolic role (the Senate Armed Services Committee has all the power), the SSCI should be sponsoring intelligence subcommittees within every jurisdiction, helping all of Congress to come to grips with the importance of intelligence across every jurisdiction, not only within the secret world.
  • Intelligence is less than 20 percent—some would say less than 10 percent— of the information that is relevant to diplomatic, information, military, and economic interagency campaign planning, and at least 60 percent—some would say 80 percent—of all relevant intelligence is not secret, not in English, not online, and not known to anyone in the National Capital Area, much less down in the trenches. Special Operations leaders understand this, and have taken steps to move interagency collaboration and information-sharing out beyond the narrow domain of secret intelligence, and toward a more holistic environment where operational messages, logistics information, public affairs, civil affairs, military police—every element of information—can be shared. The Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI) is finally getting a grip on both the need for theater interagency collaboration centers and the need for a Defense Open Source Agency, both independent of secret intelligence management manipulation and constraint, and this is good. USDI—and its refusal to let the Defense Intelligence Agency screw up any more new initiatives—is a bright shining light in the DOD transformation endeavor.
  • Intelligence without communications is irrelevant; communications without intelligence is noise. Marine Corps General Alfred M. Gray said this to Congress in the 1990s, and it is still true today. However, in today’s environment, neither intelligence nor communications can be effective without all-source processing, and this remains the sucking chest wound in the Department of Defense Global Information Grid and the rest of the US government, both within the US intelligence community and within the other agencies representing the varied instruments of national power—diplomatic, commercial, etc. The current obsession with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is an example of repeating the same mistake that continues to occur with our multi-billion-dollar remote technical collection programs—hundreds of billions spent on gold-plated collection systems, but relatively nothing on Tasking, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TPED) systems with which to make sense of all the sources, all the time, at all levels (strategic, operational, tactical, technical).
  • HUMINT is assuredly broken. A series of incapable DCIs and self-promoting Deputy Directors for Operations have converted what was once a stellar service into a cadre of messenger boys begging for scraps from foreign liaison. This problem began long ago with Admiral Stansfield Turner, who was enamored of technology and dismissive of ethnic case officers whose “mustang” qualities produced results in the field. However, to suggest that Bin Laden succeeded because HUMINT was broken is disingenuous at best. Everything we needed to know to prevent 9/11 was either known to the US government but not shared, or published in foreign open sources but not noticed.
  • Strategic Communications and Stabilization & Reconstruction (S&R) Operations, both very capably studied by the Defense Science Board in 2004, are the two tracks that must guide our emerging redirection of DOD information and intelligence capabilities. In both instances, not only is most information needed to support these two mission areas not secret, but it must be shared with nongovernmental orga nizations and ad hoc coalition partners, including local law enforcement agencies, that cannot be supported under the current DOD Global Information Grid.

I support Senator Chambliss’s limited objectives. There is, however, more that needs to be done.

Robert David Steele
CEO, OSS.Net, Inc.
Oakton, Virginia

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