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The Flaws in Intelligence Reform

By Davis, Charles N. | National Catholic Reporter, December 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Flaws in Intelligence Reform


Davis, Charles N., National Catholic Reporter


The Intelligence Reform Bill that Congress recently passed makes significant improvements in intelligence sharing among federal agencies and it cements into law the already created National Counterterrorism Center. It charters a new office of director of national intelligence to be occupied by someone yet to be nominated.

But such coordination and centralized authority may come at significant costs in other areas of intelligence gathering.

While the restructuring answers one of the major concerns of the Sept. 11 Commission--that no one is in charge of American intelligence--the readjustment is certain to provide a jolt to the intelligence gathering community. As Douglas Jehl wrote in the Dec. 8 New York Times: "In some ways, the new intelligence overseer will exercise more authority than predecessors did, particularly in controlling how a $40 billion budget is divided among 15 rivalrous agencies and 200,000 employees."

Exactly what kind of authority that director would have is still uncertain.

As Dana Priest and Walter Pincus pointed out in The Washington Post, "The new chief would not be directly in charge of any operations--not covert actions, the CIA station chiefs around the world, the army of analysts whose job is to connect the dots, or the operators of high-tech collection systems that contribute so much these days to finding and disrupting terrorist plans."

They also note that the new director would not have total control over some military intelligence operations and, finally, that the new director of national intelligence would have competition for the president's ear from the director of a new national counterterrorism center, also provided for in the new bill, who will report directly to the president.

ANALYSIS

While I believe the bill will improve coordination among agencies, there is nothing to protect against "groupthink"--the belief that one view is the only correct one--that led, for example, to the unquestioned conviction that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Some of the improvements may actually weaken our capability for independent intelligence analysis. Even if all the intelligence forwarded to the white House from here on in were 100 percent correct, this administration's ideological biases could easily skew that intelligence.

The decentralized intelligence gathering of old had an upside as far as independent analysis is concerned.

The intelligence analyses that receive the greatest respect in the government are National Intelligence Estimates, which bring together representatives mainly from the State Department, CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the military services to analyze a problem and come to judgments. Any agency could dissent from the judgments and these were recorded in either "alternative views" or footnotes.

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