Five years later, a stronger intelligence community

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By Thomas Fingar and Mary Margaret Graham
Friday, April 30, 2010

Commentators noting the fifth anniversary, this month, of the launch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have largely paid more attention to shortcomings than to what has been achieved and why the achievements are important. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not least because it is disheartening to the analysts, collectors and others who know that progress is real -- and fragile. The intelligence community operates very differently today than it used to. It still has far to go but is moving in the right direction faster than would have been possible without DNI authorities and leadership. Those who argue otherwise are ill-informed or disingenuous.

Collaboration among analysts and collectors is more extensive and more fruitful now than it was at any time in the nearly four decades that we both worked in intelligence. More collection products -- and information about the provenance of those products -- are shared more widely. More important, the information that collectors go after is far more responsive to input from analysts than in the past, and analysts now share information and insights more readily and effectively with one another and with collectors. "Analysis driving collection" used to be an unrealized goal or empty slogan; now it is an accurate description of the way the intelligence community works. This fundamental change has enabled collectors to focus on providing information that analysts say will provide crucial insights. Collectors by and large welcome the more specific guidance they now receive from analysts to close long-standing intelligence gaps.

Institutional barriers remain, but analysts across the agencies that make up the intelligence community now know more about the capabilities of their collection colleagues and analysts working in other areas, why they frame questions certain ways and how to enlist their help. Greater attention to analytic tradecraft and greater transparency with respect to information used, alternative hypotheses considered and assumptions used to close intelligence gaps have increased understanding of and respect for one another's work. This has facilitated divisions of labor, reduced duplication of effort and enhanced collaboration within and across agencies. These are fundamental changes in both analysis and collection.

Technology has helped. Five years ago, Intellipedia -- a classified collaborative tool similar to Wikipedia but used by analysts and collectors -- was a timid and limited experiment in a single agency. No one had yet imagined A-Space, a cutting-edge collaborative electronic workspace in which analysts have access to data from all components of the intelligence community, social networking software that identifies others working on similar problems and data manipulation tools that were previously available to a select few. Time magazine called A-Space one of the 50 best inventions of 2008. The Library of National Intelligence, a groundbreaking distributed repository of all disseminated intelligence reports that enable intelligence professionals to discover what we already know and how obtained information has been used, was not even a gleam in anyone's eye. Today, all are proven and widely used tools that enable analysts (and, increasingly, collectors) to work together responsibly in cyberspace.

New technologies were a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite for building communities of analysts and collectors. The sorts of collaboration that are routine today were impossible until DNI-led efforts changed policies that had prevented analysts with the same clearances from seeing or sharing large volumes of information. Such changes required finding ways to ensure the protection of sources and methods, giving appropriate attention to counterintelligence concerns, solving meta-data incompatibility problems and overcoming cultural impediments to collaboration. The intelligence community is transforming from a confederation of feudal baronies into networks of analysts, collectors and other skilled professionals who increasingly think of themselves as members of an integrated enterprise with a common purpose.

Creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was not a panacea. But it facilitated the implementation of measures that have markedly improved the intelligence products delivered to policymakers and others. Much has been achieved in the past five years, and our nation is safer as a result. Yet to ensure our future security, more must be accomplished, especially with regard to the sharing and integration of information across all departments and levels of government. The best way to achieve still-needed improvements is to stick with the DNI-led structure and build on what has been achieved.

Thomas Fingar, the first deputy director of national intelligence for analysis (2005-2008), is a distinguished fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Mary Margaret Graham, the first deputy director of national intelligence for collection (2005-2008), chairs the Defense Intelligence Agency's advisory board and is one of the National Geospatial Agency's independent advisers.


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