April 19, 2004

April 19, 2004 | Commentary on Middle East

Spook Shakeup

The American intelligence community is quickly becoming a dinosaur. It has to transform itself to combat new security challenges, such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and rogue states - now.

Just last week, the 9/11 Commission expressed serious concern about the intelligence community - the IC, as we say in the biz. Members are even thinking about issuing IC-reform recommendations before completing their final report. The commission's early work has raised major doubts about IC leadership, cooperation, communications and information-sharing.

Certainly, improvements have been made post-9/11. But Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told the commission last week that it will take him five years to retool the intelligence community to deal with our new national-security challenges.

Who's got five years? According to Osama bin Laden's latest tape, his terrorist road show is now headed to a theater near you. Intelligence is our first line of defense in the War on Terror - but the intelligence community is badly in need of overhaul. Here's why:

*There are 15 intelligence agencies: The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Departments of Energy and Treasury-and the list goes on and on. The result is a deeply fractured and parochial intelligence community. Turf battles and cross-agency communication problems abound.

Imagine if we were trying to fight the war in Iraq with 15 Pentagons? It's tough enough with just one.

*The director of Central Intelligence (DCI) isn't in charge of the IC. He's got the coolest title in town, but he's actually a bit player in the world of American spy-dom. The real big fish is the secretary of Defense, who owns 80 percent of the intelligence budget and 7 of 15 intel agencies. The DCI runs the CIA and is the president's senior intelligence adviser - that's it.

During the Cold War, it made sense for the secretary of Defense to own the most intelligence assets, because the primary threat to U.S. security was the military might of the Soviet Union. Today, the threat is different: It's al Qaeda, biological weapons, dirty bombs, North Korea and Iran- not a Soviet tank.

As The Donald would say: It's time for a little corporate reshuffling. Here's what needs to be done:

Establish a Director of National Intelligence: The intelligence community needs a single leader - not the several it has now. The president should appoint a cabinet-level DNI with real authority over all IC priorities, policies, budgets and personnel. It only makes sense to have one person in charge and accountable for the performance of the intelligence community. (The DCI should be left to run the CIA.)

Push Jointness: The intelligence community needs to work together more effectively and efficiently. The military term for such interservice teamwork is "jointness." It means that the services work together as a team, not as separate fighting forces.

The Pentagon achieved this in the 1980s under the landmark 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reform Act - the Defense Department's most sweeping makeover since it was established in 1947. We learned from some of our less stellar military operations in the early 1980s, such as the Iranian hostage rescue mission and the Grenada invasion, that the different military services weren't operating well together. Sometimes, different services couldn't even talk to one another because of incompatible communications gear. This was costing lives.

The services kicked and screamed over the push toward jointness, but Congress rightfully demanded change and, today, the military is more effective and efficient than ever. We need the same in the intelligence community.

Consolidate: To ensure unity of effort -and fewer seams in intelligence collection and analysis - we need fewer intelligence agencies, not (as some have suggested) more. We still need the capabilities of today's 15 agencies; we just don't need them sheathed in 15 bloated bureaucracies.

For instance, the CIA should be expanded to include the eavesdropping National Security Agency and the satellite-spying National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Along with its human-espionage capability, the CIA would be become a true "central intelligence agency."

Changing the intelligence community's structure won't be easy. But the president and Congress need to take strong action - and soon. Our intelligence community can do better. It must do better - if we're to prevent another 9/11.

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Peter Brookes spent some of his days at the CIA working on Central Asian issues. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org .

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in New York Post