The 20th and 21st centuries have witnessed the emergence of intelligence as one of the most costly and controversial activities undertaken by the modern nation state. Yet intelligence-gathering agencies throughout the world conduct their affairs in a shadow landscape, hidden from public scrutiny, accountable, in many cases, chiefly to themselves. Because so much has been concealed, even about events that occurred more than seventy years ago. Almost everything kept from the public is overclassified (or at least misclassified).
As a longtime academic researcher and former member of the so-called U.S. Intelligence Community, I recommend that Vice-President Elect Biden be given the portfolio to oversee the National Security Council, of which he will be an automatic member. Why? Because Mr. Biden has the requisite foreign policy and intelligence experience as a longtime Senatorial member of important committees and subcommittees in these two interrelated areas. Mr. Biden must work in tandem with the National Security Advisor and the Secretaries of State to do (and don't) do the following:
1. In dealing with the fractured and fractious U.S. Intelligence apparatus, whatever you do, Don't reorganize yet again! The problem with U.S. Intelligence is not organization; it is cooperation. Therefore,
2. Insist that the relevant agencies cooperate! This is by far the most important thing the Obama administration can do to improve U.S. Intelligence. The intelligence community agencies have never cooperated; they have been supremely selfish in defending their own turf. This must stop. To achieve cooperation that has never been achieved before is a truly daunting challenge. But it must be done if the U.S. is not perpetually to be led down the primrose path of false, misleading, or incomplete intelligence.
3. Remember that you (not the Intelligence people) make policy. Do not allow any intelligence agency to make policy! That is not and should not be their job.
4. Build up your human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities! Technical intelligence-gathering is fine and we are very good at it. But best, technical intelligence can only provide a partial piece of a complex puzzle. Human Intelligence, which we are exceptionally bad at, must be shaped to at least a minimum level of competence.
5. Improve Language and Cultural Skills at ALL Levels! It is a scandal that the U.S. has so few competent speakers of Arabic, Farsi, Uzbek, etc. as well as so few people who have any background in understanding the manifold complexities of the Muslim world. This must change. I recommend that an all out effort be made, initially through the existing Defense Language Institute (of which I am a proud graduate) and the Naval Postgraduate School – both in Monterey, CA – to provide intensive crash courses in Muslim languages and cultures.
These are all achievable goals but they will prove to be immensely frustrating and exhausting. But they must be accomplished. And you must not give up!