DURING the cold war, most of the United States' intelligence effort
was focused on the Soviet Union and its allies. The collapse of the
Soviet state has led many to question whether America still needs a
large intelligence establishment and if so, what it should do.
This is not a matter of "covert action," much of which has been of
dubious value in advancing US policy. Any new role should focus on
collection and analysis of information from all sources: diplomatic
and government reporting, the press, business analysis, spy
satellites, and yes, spies.
The US was in the intelligence game long before the cold war. The
current structure, with a Central Intelligence Agency supplementing
and drawing together the work of other government agencies, dates,
essentially, from 1947. It was a direct result of the worst
American intelligence disaster of the century: the failure to
prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor when Navy, Army, and other
intelligence existed that should have told policymakers exactly
what Japanese strategists were up to.
In a nuclear era, another Pearl Harbor-type mistake could be
America's last. That's why the intelligence community is so
necessary to national security, even in the absence of a Soviet
Nuclear weapons and materials are still out there - weapons that
could be used by hostile states or terrorist groups to attack or
blackmail the US and its allies. Drug smugglers and terrorists who
are no friends of democracy often compete with national governments
for power. Commercial rivals try to steal patents and technology.
US military forces deployed around the world - near the Balkans,
for example - need up-to-the-minute information about real or
potential hostile moves.
That's not to say the intelligence community doesn't need to
improve and adapt; it does. How it should do so was the focus of
hearings by the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington
recently, at which senior officials of the State, Defense, and
Energy Departments and the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified. …