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The Colossal Failure of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence

By Melvin A. Goodman  Posted by Marji Mendelsohn (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Like its counterpart, the office of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has been a colossal failure. Both offices were created in the wake of 9/11 as part of the nervous and unnecessary overreaction to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Hurricane Katrina exposed the futility and feckless nature of the office of Homeland Security. And now the inspector general of DNI has confirmed the ineptitude and mismanagement of the DNI.

The Intelligence Reform Act created the DNI in December 2004 to centralize intelligence production and end CIA's dominance of the intelligence production process within the intelligence community. Centralized intelligence production simply does not work and, in fact, increases the opportunities for politicized intelligence. When CIA director William Casey wanted to politicize intelligence for President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, he appointed Robert Gates to the key positions of deputy director of intelligence and chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

These positions allowed Gates to tailor all CIA intelligence analysis, including the National Intelligence Estimates, the daily briefings for the president, and all current intelligence. This is the only time in the CIA's history that one individual controlled these positions, and it led directly to the politicization of intelligence on the Soviet Union, Central America, and Southwest Asia. Gates's efforts led the CIA to thoroughly miss the decline and fall of the Soviet Union. Centralized intelligence production free of debate and dissent also produced the phony intelligence analysis that supported the decision to go to war against Iraq in 2003.

The first intelligence tsar was a former ambassador, John Negroponte, who covered up sensitive intelligence in Central America in the 1980s and never displayed a willingness to tell truth to power. Since then, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have appointed retired naval admirals to be directors of national intelligence, the so-called intelligence tsar. Naval officers have rarely distinguished themselves in long-term strategic or geopolitical thinking, which are the main problems confronting the CIA and the entire analytic community.

The absence of an independent civilian counter to the power of military intelligence not only threatens civilian control over decisions to use military power, but makes it more likely that intelligence will be tailored to suit the purposes of the Pentagon. The militarization of the intelligence process has almost guaranteed that diversity and competition in the analysis of intelligence will be given short shrift. President Harry Truman created the CIA in 1947 to make sure that no policy department, particularly the Department of Defense, dominated the intelligence process. None of these issues were debated in the congress when retired naval admirals Mike McConnell and Dennis Blair were named as intelligence tsars.

The 9/11 Commission and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) bear major responsibility for the creation of the DNI. They believed the 9/11 intelligence failure was due to organizational and structural problems within the CIA and the intelligence community, and ignored the problems of accountability, bureaucratic cowardice, and individual failure. The Commission concluded that "no one could have anticipated using airplanes as bombs" against targets in New York and Washington.

However, there were at least three unclassified studies in the 1990s that anticipated the weaponizing of commercial aircraft. The first report was prepared in 1993 for the Pentagon to investigate the possibility of airplanes being used as bombs; a year later, a disgruntled Federal Express employee invaded the cockpit of a DC10 with the intention of crashing it into a company building.

The Commission claimed to favor a lean office of national intelligence, with a small but powerful staff. Four years later, we find a DNI sitting atop a huge, lumbering, and bloated bureaucracy that includes five deputy directors, three associate directors, and no fewer than 19 assistant deputy directors. The DNI budget is more than $1 billion and the DNI management staff, for the most part, comes from other intelligence agencies, thus weakening the entire intelligence apparatus. As a result, the intelligence community has had to rely on independent contractors with lucrative contracts, which has helped to drive the overall intelligence budget to record levels.

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The Pentagon actually manages the DNI, the $55 billion intelligence budget, and most intelligence personnel. The DNI has no real authority to reform, let alone realign, the 16 agencies and departments of the intelligence community; moreover, it has made no attempt to create a corporate analytic community. The DNI is powerless to use the intelligence budgets and personnel of the community to create an environment for genuine reform. The undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a retired three-star general, has veto power over the ability of the DNI to transfer personnel within the community, which makes it extremely difficult to integrate the intelligence process.

The DNI has even failed to open up the analytic community to the larger academic and think-tank community outside the intelligence arena. In such areas as ethnic politics and ethnic violence, where the CIA lacks expertise in linguistic and cultural studies, it is essential to gain greater exposure to outside experts. There are more linguists with the New York police department than with the DNI and CIA. The CIA's culture is particularly insular and parochial and, as a result, fails to take full advantage of outside experts.

Both CIA and military cultures are driven by a counterintelligence orientation, which puts too much emphasis on security clearances, polygraph tests, and the need-to-know. No one expects the community to put sources and methods at risk, but there needs to be a freer and more open exchange of information to the people who can offer the most substantive critiques. The CIA community is extremely young and inexperienced, another reason for drawing from the outside community of experts.

Truth is elusive within the intelligence process, and there is rarely a single answer to a controversial question or problem that needs an input from the intelligence community. A centralized system worked for the Bush administration because Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld never wanted tough-minded intelligence analysis to inform foreign policy decision-making. But Obama and Biden are more open-minded and analytical.

All presidents and senior decision-makers deserve a range of alternative analysis so that their own ideas (and their exclusive information that is rarely shared with the intelligence community) can be tested by additional sources and assumptions, particularly the contrarian ones. It is very unlikely that an intelligence tsar, a militarized intelligence community, or a Central Intelligence Agency that has covered-up its recent analytical and operational failures will protect the contrarians.

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Originally published at The Public Record.

Melvin A. Goodman,a regular contributor to The Public Record, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent more than 42 years in the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. His most recent book is "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA."

 

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