View Full Version : Don't Leave Intelligence Reform to Politicians

08-02-04, 05:54 AM
Joe Galloway: Don't Leave Intelligence Reform to Politicians

Rush to Repair

WASHINGTON - The rush to judgment is over. Now comes the rush to repair.

The 9/11 Commission, in keeping with the rules of bipartisan no-fault government, found no one president or administration responsible for the failures that led to a terrorist attacks on America and the deaths of 3,000 innocent human beings.

The failures, you see, are institutional and bureaucratic. The Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the score of other intelligence collection agencies that together cost the taxpayers $40 billion each year didn't have much information on al-Qaeda and the very real threat it posed. What little information they had they didn't share with each other out of bureaucratic competition, bureaucratic inertia or bureaucratic incompetence.

The solution, the commission says, is to create one more level of bureaucracy atop the whole pile: a Cabinet-level national czar for intelligence.

Congress and the Bush administration at first seemed quite happy to wait till after the November election to take up repairing the problem. Now they are talking about an extraordinary session of Congress in August, and the White House is signaling that it doesn't intend to wait for Congress. There are things the executive branch can do by fiat, without Congress.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, were unquestionably a call to arms for the United States, just as the events of Dec. 7, 1941, were for that generation of Americans. That older generation of leaders mobilized a nation, built a military force of 15 million in uniform, fought and won a World War in four years, and then got on with business.

The present generation of leaders has, in the three years since 9/11, sought safety and security in the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security from half a dozen dysfunctional smaller bureaucracies; the passage of national emergency laws that whittle away at individual rights and protections; and now the recommended creation of still another super-bureaucracy, a National Director of Intelligence.

As we have written before, there is no question that our intelligence system is broken. It has been broken for a long time. There are plenty of reasons it is broken. The Church Committee is one. Adm. Stansfield Turner is another, with his abandonment of human intelligence (humint) collection and wholesale dismissal or retirement of those who knew how to do that dirty job. A congressional oversight system that does too much leaking and too little overseeing is yet another. An outdated and unproductive Cold War focus on "national technical means" of intelligence collection - spy satellites that see the world and electronic eavesdropping that hears the world - is perhaps the biggest reason of all.

Down at the bottom of the heap of reasons for failure is the lowly intelligence analyst - overworked, underpaid, over-pressured and, some say, too inexperienced in the real world they analyze. They sit in cubicles at CIA and DIA and the other agencies in a world spinning ever faster and are expected to produce an accurate picture 24/7 of that world, and the tigers that reside in it, with a degree or two and a foreign language or two.

Even when the analysts get it right what they produce is run through a blender and passed by their bosses to their political bosses, currying favor and patronage by telling them more of what they want to hear and less of what they need to know.

Yes, our intelligence system is broken and needs fixing. Yes, for $40 billion a year we are entitled to intelligence estimates that get at least some of what is happening or about to happen in the world right, for a change.

But the solution can hardly be another level of bureaucracy, and the solution cannot be crafted by Congress, or the Bush administration, in the three months remaining before the November election.

It took a long time to break intelligence. It will take a long time, and careful study and even more careful reform, to fix it.

If war is much too important to be left to the generals then surely the intelligence system that gives our decision-makers the tools they need to make good decisions is much too important to be left to the politicians to fix in an election year.