Is the intelligence community out of control?

Topic A
Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Post asked lawmakers, former officials and others whether the intelligence community, as depicted in the recent Post series Top Secret America, was out of control. Below, responses from John Farmer Jr., Michael V. Hayden, Jane Harman, Reuel Marc Gerecht, John McLaughlin, John D. Negroponte and Janine Wedel.


Dean of Rutgers School of Law in Newark; author of "The Ground Truth"; senior counsel to the Sept. 11 Commission

A major reason the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were not prevented was that, as the 9/11 Commission put it, "the intelligence community's confederated structure left open the question of who really was in charge of the entire U.S. intelligence effort." Astonishingly, despite -- or perhaps because of -- the expenditure of billions of dollars since 9/11, The Post's series Top Secret America makes clear that this diffusion of accountability remains the case.

No one can question the government's commitment to fighting and winning the war against transnational terrorism. A sea change in resources has been allocated to this struggle since 9/11. Yet none of the intelligence suggesting that eventual Fort Hood terrorist Nidal Hasan was dangerous reached the organization charged with counterintelligence within the military. Similarly, after the Christmas Day attempted bombing, officials lamented that "everyone had the dots to connect" but it wasn't "clear who had primary responsibility."

What's changed since 9/11? In terms of capacity and commitment, a lot. Despite augmented resources and new departments and offices, however, what hasn't changed is bureaucratic culture: Overlapping missions and unclear lines of authority and accountability still plague the intelligence mission.

The same culture that led the Pentagon, prior to 9/11, to invest in the latest high-tech weaponry while neglecting the telephones in the National Military Command Center and consigning America's air sovereignty mission to the Air National Guard, is evident in an intelligence community that spends billions on high-tech intelligence solutions and enhanced capacity while leaving unclear who bears responsibility for ensuring that the dots are connected.

Transforming that culture remains our greatest challenge. Reposing all budgetary authority in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is a necessary first step. Until we pay as much attention to how intelligence is analyzed and disseminated as to how it is gathered, the intelligence community will run out of control.


Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009

This Post series "proved" what most of us in the intelligence community already knew: We rely on contractors for a lot of our success, and we need to manage them more efficiently. That's a far cry from a community "out of control." The sometimes-breathless tone of the series may simply reflect the complex position that intelligence agencies occupy in American political culture. In a society that seems to demand more and more transparency from practically every aspect of life, the intelligence community must still rely on secrecy for much of its success. In a government that seems to reflexively call for congressional hearings at every crisis, the intelligence community must still sometimes operate on the outer edges of executive prerogative. And in a media cycle that seems to walk every story about the intelligence community to the darkest corner of the room, the community must often decline to defend itself for fear of making America less safe by revealing even more secrets.


Chair of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence

Those of us who fought to create the position of director of national intelligence intended to establish a joint command across 16 agencies, presided over by a civilian leader who used budget authorities to leverage the strengths of the intelligence community into one command; to instill the concept of "jointness" into the workforce; and to change an antiquated culture based on the concept of "need to know" into a "need to share" environment. No one thought this would be easy -- and six years and four DNIs later, it remains a work in progress.

The intelligence community is not out of control. There have been notable successes, such as the recent arrests of Najibullah Zazi, David Headley and Faisal Shahzad. The community is also learning from failures such as the shootings at Fort Hood and the horrific suicide bombing at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan.

But Congress is still not a full partner. The challenge for James Clapper, a retired Air Force general, as director of national intelligence will be to take off the uniform and hit the "reset" button. The Office of the DNI and the contractor industrial base are too large. Cutting them back will require a scalpel, not a sledgehammer -- and providing full information to Congress, which needs to conduct more oversight and smartly appropriate funds, must be a renewed priority in that process.


Senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; former Middle East specialist at the CIA

Is there anything new here? Contractors have been a major component of our national security mix since the Clinton administration, when Vice President Al Gore started to reinvent government. Since bureaucracies always bear fruit if you fertilize them, it was inevitable that the Sept. 11 shock and the American reflex to throw money at problems would cause an explosion in the growth of the intelligence bureaucracies and their contractors.

Americans, of course, have a penchant for "bigger is better," and that's just as true of the intelligence community. When the 1947 National Security Act created the Central Intelligence Agency, the organization's theme song became "bigger than State by '48." Long ago the intelligence community lost control of the classification process -- the routine "secret" classification would be better labeled "toss." Bang-vs.-buck calculations in the intelligence community have been surreal for years.

But money really isn't the issue; even in the age of Barack Obama we can afford billions for satellites, electronic eavesdropping and contracted security firms that often do much better work than their government counterparts. The principal problem is learning how to discriminate between the good, the bad and the hopelessly mediocre. That means avoiding the pernicious bureaucratic rule: First-class people choose first class, second choose third, and down we go. That's difficult in open bureaucracies; it's a nightmare in really big, closed ones.


Senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; deputy director of central intelligence from 2000 to 2004

The intelligence community is not out of control. To those who have never had to orchestrate its myriad parts in pursuit of a specific objective, its sheer complexity doubtless makes it seem that way. The community has in fact absorbed the lessons of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Iraq intelligence errors, and it has worked hard to overcome the bureaucratic tendency to protect turf. It has succeeded in most cases. When it fails, it takes corrective action. This does not occur easily or automatically; it must be achieved in an environment full of impediments. These range from the limited authorities of the director of national intelligence to the budgetary complexities resulting from congressional failure four years in a row to pass a coherent budget authorization law.

The community's size and the growing role of contractors result from three trends: (a) the especially labor-intensive nature of counterterrorism; (b) a global technology revolution that forces the community to reach out for specialized skills and capabilities; and (c) a young and inexperienced workforce that is the demographic inheritance of deep cuts throughout the 1990s. Smart pruning may now be in order, but it must avoid the dramatic pendulum swings in policy that account for much of what has gone wrong in recent decades.


Director of national intelligence from 2005 to 2007

Our intelligence community makes invaluable contributions to the nation's safety. Our collection and analysis, much improved and better integrated since Sept. 11, is also an international public good, providing critical information to allies and friends around the world. Public discussion of intelligence matters usually concerns known "failures," with the successes kept from public view. One publicly known example of the extraordinary progress made in the timely integration of human, geospatial and signals intelligence was the demise in 2006 of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who had been wreaking havoc in that country. Perhaps most important, and in response to shortcomings that led to the 2001 attacks and the 2002 WMD fiasco, we have strengthened analytic capabilities community-wide through intensified recruitment and training and improved analytic techniques, including alternative analysis and a certain amount of deliberate redundancy.

As director of national intelligence, I oversaw the creation of a national security branch at the FBI, bolstered the National Counterterrorism Center and brought the key agencies of the community (CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency) together on a regular basis. Contractors played an important support function in much of this, particularly when it came to building and operating various types of classified equipment. But to dwell so much on that issue distracts from the overall benefit our country derives from our second-to-none intelligence establishment. It also trivializes the fine work of our contractors themselves. I'd leave oversight of intelligence to the committees established by Congress for that purpose.


Professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University; director of the New America Foundation's Outsourcing National Security Initiative; author of "Shadow Elite: How the World's Next Power "Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government and the Free Market."

To the extent that the intelligence community is spinning out of control, as the Post series illustrates, a key reason is the growing dependence on contractors to carry out mission-critical government functions. The massive contracting out of these functions as a cornerstone of the national security architecture potentially leaves Americans less secure and government compromised in its ability to pursue the "national" in national interest. The public knows the excesses of Blackwater (renamed Xe), but what about private companies that routinely are government surrogates? Many decisions are driven by companies beholden to shareholders -- not government officials sworn to uphold the Constitution -- sometimes with officials merely rubber-stamping the plans. Investigations by the Government Accountability Office and other agencies' inspectors general have asked whether government has the personnel, information and expertise to manage contractors.

And who really sets policy -- government or contractors? The GAO warned, for example, about the Department of Homeland Security's loss of decision-making control, with "the risk that government decisions may be influenced by, rather than independent from, contractor judgments." In its report "Industrial Security: DOD Cannot Ensure Its Oversight of Contractors Under Foreign Influence Is Sufficient," the GAO warned of the risk of foreign, unauthorized access to classified information.

Contractors integrally involved in intelligence, homeland security and defense policy are positioned to influence those policies to their liking on even the most sensitive government functions. The result is that our security can be jeopardized and our nation's sovereignty eroded.

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