Neary on where the Office of the Director of National Intelligence went wrong

By Walter Pincus
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Five years after the formation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a senior insider who's been there from the start has described as "flawed" the idea that "the DNI and his new office . . . could drive intelligence reform."

"While the community has improved in response to the call for intelligence reform, it remains fundamentally unreformed," Patrick C. Neary writes in the new issue of the quarterly Studies in Intelligence. A West Point graduate with 30-plus years as an intelligence officer, primarily with the Army staff and the Defense Intelligence Agency, Neary has been principal deputy director and chief strategist for the ODNI since 2005. He soon will transfer to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

No one with Neary's background and experience has laid out so clearly the failures of the DNI experiment. Yet he points out the paradox that "we are safer today than we were before reform was attempted." His reasoning: Intelligence spending has roughly doubled in the past eight years.

In his essay, Neary goes directly to the core issue: In 2004, there was no great desire for major change in the intelligence community inside the Bush White House, the GOP-led Congress, the CIA, the Defense Department or the rest of the intelligence community. The pressure for change came from the 9/11 Commission and the families of the victims of the 2001 attacks, Neary writes. The panel, he says, "clearly favored structural changes toward greater centralization."

Bush "remained concerned that the community must not be broken in an attempt to improve it," Neary notes, while many intelligence professionals "looked at the reform brouhaha with detached bemusement, believing reform would result in no meaningful change."

Neary notes that the executive branch may have appeared ambivalent about reform but that the legislative branch had two viewpoints.

The Senate, which bypassed its Select Committee on Intelligence, gave reform legislation to its Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which pushed for a strong, independent leader, distinct from the CIA director. In the House, lawmakers led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) fought for a measure that would not interfere with the defense secretary's concern for the war fighter.

As a result, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld won an important section in the legislation that preserved the authority of Cabinet secretaries. This "seemingly innocuous" provision created the potential for agencies to stall ODNI initiatives, and they did, Neary writes. CIA lawyers picked up on the legislative language and continued to argue that the CIA was independent, as established by the original 1947 National Security Act. The new law states only that "There is a Central Intelligence Agency," and the DNI is "the head of the intelligence community." The CIA director "shall report to the DNI regarding the activities of the CIA," but the law does not clearly say the DNI is the CIA's boss.

Neary writes of initial false steps that hurt the organization, using an example that only bureaucrats understand. Under the legislation, the ODNI was not to share location with headquarters of any other community element, an effort to make sure it was not at Langley. So the ODNI went to Bolling Air Force Base, to the new building of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The first DNI, John D. Negroponte, wanted CIA people as staff members. But, writes Neary, since CIA types tended to live near Langley, the ODNI lost at least 10 percent of its staff. They didn't want to make the long commute.

At Bolling, many DIA employees living near the air base took jobs originally meant for those CIA staffers. Then, two years later, the ODNI was permanently located in the Virginia suburbs, beyond Langley, and the DIA workers found that they faced a commute longer than the CIA staffers who didn't want to travel to Bolling. "The merry-go-round ensured the staff never found its feet," Neary said.

He also presents a good example of "jointness" failure. Tom Fingar, then deputy DNI for analysis, created "Analysis 101," a month-long course for all new analysts across the community. When Fingar tried to make the course mandatory, "some agencies responded by trying to eliminate it," Neary says. The compromise was to shorten it to two weeks and make it optional. When the DIA was made executive agent of the program, "CIA stopped participating in it."

The change in leadership has been another problem. In its fourth year, the National Intelligence University is on its fourth chancellor and, according to Neary, has been "everything from a 'virtual university,' to a 'state university system,' to a 'bricks-and-mortar facility,' to now a 'force for professionalism.' "

In five years, of course, there also have been three DNIs, each with a slightly different approach. Each has had some positive results. Neary says they go from the mundane -- the single-IC (intelligence community) badge -- to the profound -- the modernization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"Given competing motivations, a hostile environment, and initial missteps, it is unsurprising that intelligence reform appears moribund," Neary writes. But he also says, "If the nation is safer, what difference does it make whether intelligence is reformed?"

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