Rethinking the State Department's Role in Intelligence


Rethinking the State Department's Role in Intelligence

February 11, 1988 12 min read Download Report
Michael G.
Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs

(Archived document, may contain errors)

631 L e I I I February 11, 1988 RETHINKING THE STATE DEPARTMENT'S ROLE. IN INTELLIGENCE INTRoDucIlON The role played by the State Department in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence', is' fiequently .overlooked Yet through its posts around the wor l d, the State Department is well positioned to' collect certain kinds of intelligence information and to ensure that such information is integrated effectively with information available to the U.S. govermiient fiom 'other sources The Department also perfo r ms its own analyses of intelligence issues and participates actively in the preparation of interagency intelligence studies these activities within the State Department is the Bureau of Intelligence and The primary locus of Research (INR INR was recently u pgraded to full bureau status; an assistant secretary was appointed by the President, and confirmed by the Senate. This step. suggests an enhanced role for INR within the State Department, but it was taken without any apparent evaluation of the organizati o n's functions or effectiveness, either by the Department or by Congress Such an evaluation almost surely would have concluded that INR's competence in intelligence analysis is marginal, its contribution to the operations of the intelligence community is o f ten counterproductive or redundant, and its focus has tended to neglect areas where it could play a useful role THE ROLE OF INR When the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was abolished in 1945, a number of OSS employees were brought into the Stat e Department to form INR, a This is the third in a series by the Heritage Foundation State Department Assessment Project.

Upcoming studies will address such lssues as how the State Department manages U.S.-Soviet relations the Department's approach t o Soviet espionage, and an analysis of the role of Foreign Service Officers. -2 new research and analysis unit. From 1945 to 1986, INR was called a bureau but operated under a director appointed by the Secretary of State instead of an assistant secretary a ppointed by the President. Although the National Security Act of 1947 created the Central Intelligence Agency as the focal point of intelligence analysis in the U.S. government, INR continued to function at State, a largely redundant participant in .the . i ntelligence process INR currently is headed by Assistant Secretary of State Morton Abramowitz, a career foreign service officer (FSO The bureau has had five deputy assistant secretaries, but the number was just cut to three as part of the Departments 1987 budget reductions. The bureaus staff includes over 200 professionals, of whom half are FSOs on two- or three-year assignments. 1s primary functions are to represent the State Department in the intelligence community and to provide information from the Dep a rtment to the community and -from the community .to...the senior staff of the State Department High Level Policy. INRs influence within .the Department stems mainly from its daily intelligence summaries and briefings on current and breaking events (called current intelligence) for the Secretary and other senior Department officials. Many senior State Department officials lack an understanding of the character of intelligence information generally as well. as detailed knowledge of specific foreign policy is s ues. For this reason, INRs current intelligence .reports and .briefings can directly affect high-level policy judgments and decisions within I the State Department IO d as well as in the interagency committees I II I. A I I All INR offices cooperate in dr a fting the National Intelligence Estimates (the best known of which is probably the annual survey of Soviet strategic nuclear forces and other special analytic studies, which are prepared under the aegis .of the National Intelligence Council. This is a gro u p of senior government intelligence professionals that works under the Deputy Director of the CIA and reports -to- the Director of Central Intelligence. INR also conducts independent analyses of selected topics of current interest for use within the State Department.l Soft Line. INR sometimes is at odds with other .bureaus and offices within the State Department, when they attempt to influence the interpretation of intelligence in ways favorable to their particular policy outlooks. By the same token, INR c a n be vulnerable to pressure from high levels within State as .to the policy preferences of the Department as an institution. INR thus has tended to mirror the basic institutional and ideological outlook of the State Department on sensitive foreign policy a nd national security issues, especially regarding U.S.-Soviet relations and arms control. In fact, INR positions on such critical arms control issues as verification and compliance have tended to follow a softer line than those of the other State Departme n t bureaus involved in this area, which are consistently more dovish than the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Department of Defense. As the rest of the intelligence community has moved away from many of the assumptions that dominated U.S. intel l igence assessments of Soviet intentions 1. An overview of INR and its activities may be found in Jeffrey T. Richelson, The US. Intelligence Comntunify (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Bahger, 1985 pp. 95-98, 253-254. -3 and capabilities during most of the 1970s , INR has been cobspicuous in its continued willingness to give the Soviet..Union the benefit of the doubt INRANDTHEINTELLIGENCECOAtlMWWW as the intelligence community. The other principal participants are the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intel l igence Agency, the National Security Agency and the intelligence organizations of the military services I I I INR is a member of the group of federal agencies that is known collectively INRs claim to full participation in the intelligence community rests o n the role of the State Department as a collector as well as a user of intelligence INR is the conduit for the political intelligence gleaned from political reporting by ambassadors and State Department personnel around the. world. The trouble is that muc h of the reporting from posts abroad is little more than translations of information appearing in the local press or media-type reporting on current events.

High quality analytical reporting has fallen victim to a system that encourages volume Protecting T urf. In any case, INR has little to do with the processing or dissemination of such reporting within or> outside the Department and therefore contributes little of value to the U.S. intelligence community. The real reason for INR's presence in intelligenc e community deliberations is that the State Department insists on being represented there to protect its institutional- outlook and interests--to defend its bureaucratic "turf."

There is little justification for INR to have co-equal status with the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the military intelligence services in the adjudication of controversial intelligence questions e On many issues of current or long-range intelligence, especially military-related intelligence, INR has little claim to substantive expertise. Yet in the drafting of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs INR has as much right as the CIA or defense intelligence organizations to argue a point or include a dissenting footnote. Indeed, observers claim that in r e cent years INR has been increasingly inclined to add footnotes to National Intelligence Estimates on Soviet military capabilities, Soviet weapons systems, and other areas in which it has little or no recognized competence contentious judgment in a Nationa l Intelligence Estimate concerning Soviet military intentions or behavior typically will find the CIA occupying a middle position, while DIA and INR dissent in separate footnotes for different and conflicting reasons.

The effect is to give an aura of ideol ogical dispute to what may well be an issue of serious technical disagreement between CIA and DIA analysts. In fact, INR dissents in NIEs tend to be entirely predictable, as they reflect purely political judgments based on State Department policy biases r a ther than interpretations of intelligence information by professional intelligence analysts. The perspective of such State Department intelligence analyses or dissents often is not the President's or that of the White House, but the State Department's ins t itutional policy view Predictable Dissents. As many participants in the process observe, a -4 In view of the concerns expressed by many in Congress and elsewhere concerning the potential for politicization of intelligence analyses within the U.S governmen t , it is surprising that INRs role has not been subject to greater scrutiny by the White House or Congress. In this case, politicization is not by the Administration, but by the bureaucracy, and not for political gain, but to support the policy..biases *of an institution and. its- career staft Of course,--the defense intelligence organizations are not completely free of pressure to distort intelligence for policy purposes. Indeed, this was a major reason for the establishment in 1947 of the CIA as an impart i al source of intelligence analysis of military affairs In contrast to INR, however, the military intelligence organizations have unique technical expertise. With respect to political or economic analyses, INR fulfills no functions that could not be carrie d out more impartially and professionally by. other government entities I .I INR DEmcIENcIEs There are good reasons for encouraging diversity in intelligence analyses. This argument cannot be used to defend INRs role, however, because INR is not an intelli g ence organization It is an intelligence coordinating unit that also engages in policy analysis using intelligence information. With only some exceptions, its professional staff members dre not professional intelligence. collectors, analysts, or interprete r s, but foreign service personnel and academic style researchers with little or no background or training in intelligence collection. or analysis Intelligence is a field, moreover, which does notoriously little to advance the careers of foreign service per s onnel. Foreign service officers. are valued as effective operators in foreign societies, as quick and faciledraftsmen of cables or reports, as personable re resentatives of the United States government abroad, and as relatively narrow specialization that m ake effective intelligence analysts are rare among FSOs. Most FSOs, understandably, prefer to be operators influencing events abroad, not analysts studying them in Washington. They do not seek, and in many cases actively avoid, assignment to such duties L a st Resort. Half of INRs staff consists of FSOs on temporary assignment for only two to three years or even less. Often they are assigned to INR as a last resort because more appropriate or desirable positions are not available. Given the State Departments ersonnel practice of sending new officers to different parts of have an extensive substantive background in the area to which they are assigned virtually none has a prior acquaintance with intelligence analysis. This lack of subject or area specialization , or experience or background in intelligence work combined with the shortness of most tours in INR, produces intelligence amateurism negotiators o P international agreements. The qualities of introspective analysis and the world on their E rst three posti n gs, most FSOs detailed to INR are unlikely to -5 A BETIER ROLE FOR hXR INR performs a number of useful and desirable activities. But there are others that could be handled better at the State Department by a suitably reconstituted INR. It could be argued t hat an INR that does not attempt intelligence analyses but manages .effectively the huge volume-of-information -handled by the State Department, while remaining. the primary contact between. State and the intelligence community, would be more useful to th e nations national security decision makers.

There is a legitimate requirement for an organization in the State Department to serve as its contact with the intelligence community. Such an organization is needed to process and disseminate current intelligen ce within the. Department, to convey intelligence information, questions, and requirements to the community, and studies and estimates -of interest to the Department that are being undertaken within the community. to monitor the progress of longer-term in t elligence Preventing a Rush to Judgment. In addition, the bureau should educate policy makers on the nature and limits of intelligence and on the proper uses of intelligence in policy analysis. Where serious disagreements exist within the intelligence com m unity over issues of particular policy relevance for the Department INR should ensure that these disagreements are fully understood at the policy level in the State Department, not rush to.judgment on the merits,of,the issue as .is too often the case at p resent. INR also should be responsible for formulating and coordinating State Department positions on the allocation of intelligence resources and other intelligence policy issues, such as the balance between..human and I I technical intelligence.

None of this is to suggest that the State Departmentshould not do independent policy analyses based on current intelligence. But this is already being done within the substantive bureaus by the career FSOs who are experts in the geographical area or subject matte r for which the bureau is responsible and who usually are the best available officers in that area or subject If more detachment from current policy is considered desirable for certain reports, they should be written by the Policy Planning Staff, where kno w ledgeable and talented officers often are underemployed Worst Offenders: An area in which a reconstituted INR. could, play. a. needed and important role is in reviewing the huge volume of classified documents produced by the State Department and in develo p ing general guidelines and specific recommendations for their declassification and use for policy purposes. Th,e State Department appears to be the worst Executive Branch offender in its casual handling and deliberate disclosure of classified and other se nsitive information.

Leaking information to promote the Departments agenda is a way of life at State.

Indeed, this casual handling of classified information accounts in part for Secretary of State George Shultzs strong objections to the use of polygraphs in the investigation of leaks of classified or sensitive information from the State Department.

Yet in some cases there are legitimate reasons for an Administration to release certain kinds of sensitive information, provided damage to intelligence -6 sour ces and methods can be prevented. In recent years, INR has taken the lead in reviewing, revealing, and opposing Soviet "active measures overt and covert propaganda and political influence operations, including disinformation An INR officer chairs an inter a gency working group that monitors Soviet active measures and declassifies and disseminates information about them; and the bureau recently created a staff. to support. this. work. This .is an-important task But INR could do activities that 'might be usefu l in promoting national policy goals provisions of arms control agreements often is kept confidential, as are the records of U.S.-Soviet discussions of compliance issues. A continuing program to review such information and consider possible advantages to t h e U.S. of selectively and release in the appropriate interagency forums, would be in the national interest The careful, judicious release of information on Soviet behavior could help provide better insight into Soviet activities and intentions, leading to a more realistic public understanding of the prospect for successful agreements with the USSR with intelligence. Much remains to be done to make the immense volume of diplomatic cable traffic readilyl accessible% and usable throughout .the, State c Depart m ent and in other agencies as well. More generally there is a need for the integration of diplomatic, intelligence, and other information in data bases that, are adapted to the needs of the users of foreign service reports, including ,the,:.national securi t y bureaucracy as a who1e:Many valuable cables and analyses by experts now languish in bureau or office files, while potential users are .unaware of their existence. I managing State Department infoimation generally. The case for such a separate bureau at State, responsible, for information management is a strong one.2 A restructured INR could become a modern information management staff, while remaining the most appropriate locus for State's necessary intelligence functions.

Such a bureau could be the vehi cle for a revitalization of political reporting within the Department. With greater assurance that significant analytical reporting from the field would not be lost in the welter of routine cable traffic, ambassadors and foreign service officers would hav e an added incentive to report more systematically and thoughtfully than they do currently frequency as a measure of a post's or an officer's effectiveness. While the Department always has encouraged quality reporting in theory, many individual officers an d supervisors have put a high premium on reporting everything in exhaustive detail. An effective information management bureau should improve that situation much more to encourage and accelerate the public release of information on Soviet Hushing Up Soviet Cheating. For example, evidence of Soviet violations of declassifying and making some of it public, and coordinating such declassification Perhaps the most important function the INR;.could perform has little to do Restructured INR INR's role could be red e fined to. give .it responsibility I for It is to be hoped that; reporting. quality would begin to replace quantity or 2. John Krizay Making the State Department Work Better, Heritage Foundation Instihilioia Analysis No. 29, July 27, 1984 3. John Krizay Br e aking the Logjam in State Department Reports from Overseas Heritage Foundation Buckgrounder No. 61Sj November 9, 1987. -7 CONCLUSION It is time for a fundamental reexamination of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. INR performs an i mportant role in coordinating the transfer of intelligence information to and from the intelligence community and in handling it within-State; -With regard twintel~ligence--analysis;--however INR performs largely redundant functions that it is poorly equi pped to carry out. More important, its analyses are often institutionally biased and provide flawed guidance to the nation's national security policy makers.

Executive action could correct this situation. The President could Issue a directive confining the State Department's participation in the intelligence community to the dissemination of information and analysis on matters for which the Department has responsibility and expertise intelligence activities of the State Department to determine what INR doe s that is unique and not done better elsewhere and to recommend ways of improving the quality, availability, and usefulness of the Department's .reports to the intelligence community and other users Direct the Secretary of State to convert the Bureau; of- I ntelligence and Research into an information management bureau with responsibility for all of the Task his Foreign Intelligence .Advisory. Board to review the current 0.r e I I information resources and requirements of the.,mDepartmentr.ofn State i b The Secretary of State could Issue an instruction that independent policy analyses based1 on current intelligence will be conducted not by INR but by the. substantive bureaus.. or the.

Policy Planning staff.

Congress could Monitor the conversion of INR to an information management staff and act on this matter if the President does not do so Prepared for The Heritage Foundation by Carnes Lord Director of International Studies National Institute for Public Policy All Heritage Foundation papers are now available electronically to subscribers to the "NEXIS" on-line data rehieval service. The Heritage Foundation's Reports (HFRPTS) can be found in the OMNI, CURRNT N?K!.TM, and GVT pup fires of the NEXlS libmy and in the GOVT and OMNI pup fires of the GOVNWS libmy.


Michael G.

Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs