U.S. Intelligence Community Reaches Crossroads: CIA Official Says Agency Is Implementing Reforms to Address New Threats. (Analysis)

By Stanton, John J. | National Defense, December 2001 | Go to article overview

U.S. Intelligence Community Reaches Crossroads: CIA Official Says Agency Is Implementing Reforms to Address New Threats. (Analysis)


Stanton, John J., National Defense


Unless the U.S. intelligence community makes rapid changes in the way it collects and processes information, the United States and its allies may not be able to prevent future terrorist attacks of the massive scale seen on September 11, experts said.

According to several experts interviewed for this article, U.S. officials currently planning a global campaign against the Al Qaeda terrorist network are relying on the same flawed intelligence that failed to anticipate the violent acts that ultimately would kill more than 5,000 people in New York and Washington, D.C.

The most widely voiced criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies is its over-reliance on high-tech surveillance, at the expense of human spying, known as Humint. Some critics observed that key U.S. intelligence agencies are organized under Cold War-era bureaucracies that no longer are suited to manage an asymmetric war against a worldwide network of nimble enemies.

Among the harshest critics of U.S. government intelligence operations is Steve Pieczenik, chief executive officer of Strategic Intelligence Associates, a consulting firm. He describes the U.S. intelligence community as "atavistic and rusty" and goes as far as to advocate that intelligence work should be outsourced to private industry. Retired intelligence officers currently working for political campaigns, investment banks and corporations could provide valuable assistance, Pieczenik said.

"The events of September 11, 2001 were the ultimate damnation and clear statement of intelligence services failure and the self delusion it has had for the past 20 to 25 years," Pieczenik said. He parcels out blame equally to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Defense Department.

Since 1970, Humint capabilities have deteriorated steadily, he said. He estimated that nearly 50 percent of the Humint resources during that time have been reallocated to electronic signals collection methods, known as Elint and Sigint.

During recent weeks, officials from the former Clinton administration and Bill Clinton himself defended the current intelligence collection methods and even catalogued instances of terrorist attacks that were prevented, because they were able to gather good intelligence. "They will tell you about all the attacks they allegedly stopped," Pieczenik said. "But make no mistake, the intelligence community is completely ossified and out of sync with reality."

Citing an old cliche, he added, "There's no thinking out of the box here, because there is no box when it comes to intelligence".

Pieczenik gained notoriety during his government career in the State Department as a hostage negotiation and anti-terrorist expert. He teamed up with the best-selling author of military high-tech thrillers, Tom Clancy, to create the Op-Center and Net Force series.

"The private sector is 10 years ahead of government in gathering intelligence," Pieczenik said. "Humint definitely needs to be outsourced."

To fix the current problems in collecting intelligence, Pieczenik argued, the intelligence community has to refocus on the cognitive sciences or the psychological domain of warfare. "The very essence of war is psychology," he said.

Pieczenik added that the Defense Department leadership often fails to take psychology into account. "The Pentagon views the most important aspect of intelligence gathering, psychology, as a soft science, so they want nothing to do with it when, in fact, it was our use of Humint ... that was the sine qua non of what made this country great."

The so-called OSS model (Office of Special Services) was based on the notion that effective intelligence gathering and the ability to gain useful knowledge of the enemy require a potpourri of individuals with both conventional and unconventional skills who came from different backgrounds. Today, says Pieczenik, "our intelligence community is not creative any more. …

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