August 31, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Consider Other Priorities

You can pin blame for 9/11 and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq on many things. But the lack of a central budget authority over the various intelligence agencies isn't one of them.

True: Giving the head of U.S. intelligence real authority over the $40 billion spent annually on intelligence is a step in the right direction. But the notion that centralizing control over the budget is a silver bullet for preventing a future 9/11 is pure fantasy.

Many factors contributed to the 9/11- and Iraq-intelligence failures, including unimaginative intelligence analysts and policy-makers, the prevalence of groupthink, communications problems among agencies, the fact that we had too few agents infiltrating terrorist groups or on the ground in Iraq, and shortcomings in the intelligence community's leadership over a number of years.

Budget authority is the smallest problem.

Fortunately, the 9/11 Commission recently moved the debate over the intelligence community in the right direction by proposing the establishment of a national intelligence director to oversee all intelligence efforts. This post would replace the director of central intelligence, who serves as both the nominal chief of the U.S. intelligence community and the head of the CIA at its headquarters in Langley, Va.

The problem with the CIA post is that it has all of the responsibility for the intelligence community's conduct, but virtually no authority to guarantee its performance. The national intelligence director would gain greater authority to handle budgets. But more important, he would have the clout to break up such problems as groupthink and poor communication.

This would be a significant improvement over the current position, whose authorities were established under the 1947 National Security Act during the Cold War.

So, yes, improving the budgetary authority of the intelligence community's head is a good start. But it's going to take more than that to ensure that intelligence remains our first line of defense.

Peter Brookes, a former CIA and naval intelligence officer, is senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

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

First appeared in the USA Today