We are heartened by the action and debate on reforming the intelligence community that have followed the issuance of our report. In the course of that debate so far, two key criticisms of our proposed reorganization have emerged: first, that we are rushing to judgment and, second, that our management structure would stifle competitive analysis and politicize intelligence.
We strongly disagree that the nation is moving too fast to carry out our recommendations on intelligence reform. We debated these issues for nearly two years, interviewing more than 1,200 witnesses, reviewing millions of documents and holding a series of public hearings. We drew on bipartisan recommendations that have been advocated for decades by distinguished panels, starting with a commission chaired by Herbert Hoover 50 years ago and continuing through the work of the Aspin-Brown commission (1996), the Scowcroft panel (2001), the joint congressional inquiry (2002) and others. Congress has held innumerable hearings, most recently -- and admirably -- this past August. The time to act is now.
On the second criticism, let's be clear: The status quo failed us. It does not foster competitive analysis. This is evident in the Sept. 11 story, as well as in the "group-think" prevalent on intelligence assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Competing or dissenting views of various intelligence agencies were not effectively incorporated into national intelligence assessments. Furthermore, before Sept. 11, 2001, bureaucratic rivalries and hindrances to information-sharing prevented analysts from knowing the full set of facts scattered throughout our government. No one had access to the complete picture.
Our proposal institutionalizes information-sharing, thus guaranteeing a competitive airing of views. We don't want dissent quashed by group-think; we want competing analyses to be shared broadly, so that intelligence assessments benefit from the full breadth of knowledge across the government. Intelligence centers such as the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) will not be new "stovepipes" stifling differing views. On the contrary, they will smash stovepipes by ensuring that all our intelligence agencies have a seat at the table, and that all information on a topic is available to all analysts. What good is intelligence if it stays locked up in a home agency? The NCTC and other centers would ensure that this will not be the case.
Competitive analysis is also fostered through creation of an empowered national intelligence director (NID), with the authority and responsibility for creating information-sharing networks and insisting on collaborative work. Under the current system, the director of central intelligence (DCI) has real control only of the CIA; thus, when he wants analysis, he turns to CIA analysts. An NID who is separate from the CIA will have the ability and incentive to draw on the effort of all 15 agencies. It is not sufficient merely to strengthen the office of the DCI. This has been tried several times over many years, and has failed because the DCI still lacks control over money and people. He cannot institute change, and thus focuses his attention on the single agency he does control: the CIA. This status quo means competitive analysis will remain stunted; agencies will be shut out of the process; group-think will remain the norm.
Some raise alarms that we are taking intelligence units out of departments where they serve a vital purpose. Let us be clear: Under our proposal, agencies such as the State, Energy, and Treasury departments and the armed services would retain their intelligence units. The NID would take no action to interfere with the functions they provide to their home agencies or the independence of their analysis. What we recommend is that their work product be shared more widely, so that analysts see everything and policymakers have access to various perspectives.
We also propose further measures to ensure a greater diversity of views. For instance, we propose an open-source intelligence unit to comb the public record for trends and information. And we call for significantly strengthened congressional oversight of intelligence so that assessments are more rigorously challenged.
This brings us to the charge that empowering management encourages politicization of intelligence. This is a false charge. Organizational structures don't politicize intelligence; people do. No organizational chart can diagram the honesty and integrity of a DCI or NID, or determine how consumers of intelligence -- the politicians and policymakers -- seek and use that information. In the end, it is up to policymakers to appoint individuals of high integrity, ask tough questions about the analysis they receive, perform vigorous oversight of intelligence agencies and be accountable for how they present information to the American people.
It has been three years since Sept. 11, and we have already had another intelligence failure -- this time in Iraq. We should not wait until another failure takes place, until another commission has a task as somber as ours. We welcome refinements to our recommendations through the legislative process. But the time has come to act.
Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic representative from Indiana, are chairman and vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.