The act addresses analysis and integration of intelligence through its creation of the NCTC, but it does not make similar structural changes to the collection process. It simply directs the DNI to establish objectives, priorities, and requirements for the timely collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of national intelligence.
That's a serious omission, says Arther Hulnick, associate professor of international relations at Boston University. According to Hulnick, the current intelligence gathering system is rooted in the Cold War paradigm, which is "based on the notion that we could target certain individuals who had secret information that we needed, and we could recruit them to cooperate with us."
The problem is that, "Now we're facing a new kind of enemy," he says. "They're not recruitable in the same way that state actors and officials used to be. Terrorist cells are very hard to penetrate."
Woolsey concurs. "It's much harder to penetrate terrorist groups than a large bureaucratic institution like the Soviet military and Soviet intelligence," he says, noting, "Terrorists don't come to embassy receptions."
Developing agents under nonofficial cover (undercover agents) requires extensive training, including language skills and developing of a cover story, which will allow them to blend in with their host country, says Woolsey. Thus, these type of agents can take many years to develop.
While not structurally changing the collection paradigm, the National Intelligence Reform Act did make some changes to the law that will make it easier to spy on potential terrorists, says Turner. He cites an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as an example.
Originally passed in 1978, FISA provides a framework for the use of electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence gathering. Subsequent legislation expanded federal laws dealing with this type of foreign intelligence gathering to address physical searches, pen registers and trap-and-trace devices, and access to certain business records. The statute has been expanded several times since 9-11.
The latest change grants the government broader authority to surveil anyone who is a noncitizen and suspected of being a threat even if they are not tied to a terrorist group. This gets at the so-called lone-wolf terrorist who is perhaps inspired by, but not associated with, a group such as al Qaeda. (The power does not extend to surveillance of U.S. citizens, however.)
Civil liberty advocates have raised concerns about the expanded FISA authority. Turner notes that the FISA provisions have a sunset clause. Once the time limit is up, the legislation can either be renewed or left to expire. "If it shows that nothing was particularly gained, then we ought to let those clauses lapse. But if they produce some helpful intelligence on terrorism, then we probably will want to tolerate them."
Open source and outsource. The act calls on the intelligence agencies to recognize the value of open-source information. In this connection, Rothkopf suggests that the government take advantage of existing expertise in the private sector through outsourcing.
"If you're looking for information, for instance, on oil fields, the best analyst works at an oil company because he's getting paid twice as much as he could get paid in the government. Wouldn't it be better if the government could go and draw on that skill set?" he asks.
Rothkopf notes that the information the analyst would be providing in that case would not be proprietary or secret. It would be from open sources but useful because it was collected by an expert who knew what to look for. "The U.S. government should move as quickly as possible to take advantage of the fact that 95 percent of the intelligence that they gather is available in the open source and this could be gathered by outsourcing," he advises.
The intelligence bill has several provisions aimed at improving analysis. The most significant is the already mentioned NCTC, which will build on the work of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), created by the Homeland Security Act and headed by the CIA. The NCTC will be the primary organization charged with analyzing and integrating intelligence. It will also serve as the knowledge bank of known and suspected terrorists and groups (including information on goals, strategies, capabilities, and networks of contacts and support).
Another component of better analysis is better sharing of information. The act calls for improved information-sharing technology and protocols. It calls for "common information technology standards," but gives no time frame within which a truly integrated information-sharing system would have to be in place.
It also calls for the intelligence community to "ensure that sufficient relationships are established between intelligence collectors and analysts," and to "ensure that analysis is based upon all sources available." How these objectives will be met is left to the DNI.
In a section on the CIA, the bill does set a timeline of not later than 180 days after enactment for the director of the CIA to submit to the DNI and Congress a report on how the CIA will improve analysis and human intelligence- collection capabilities, including "a plan for recruitment, training, equipping, and deployment of such personnel."
Part of the challenge as the new NCTC gears up will be finding enough qualified people to fill the new positions. But it does not necessarily take years before an analyst is good at the job, says Turner. "You don't always have to be a total expert to see that there's something shallow about an analysis; you need a good analytic mind."
Another concern is finding "officers with integrity who will fight against partisan agendas distorting intelligence," says Michael Smith, professor of intelligence studies at American Military University.
Another key in intelligence analysis is the way management approaches the information. "We don't want to have only one interpretation of intelligence data that comes in. We always want to be sure the person with the minority view at least gets to voice it," says Turner.
Whether the new structure, with a strong DNI at the top of the intelligence community, will make it more or less likely that minority views are heard depends on whom you ask.
The position was created in part to ensure that the CIA was not the dominant voice. For example, says Turner, George Tenet, who was both head of the CIA and head of all intelligence agencies before 9-11, relied overly on the CIA interpretation of weapons of mass destruction and "didn't listen to the State Department," for instance. He adds, "In short, when the bossman runs one agency, he tends to rely heavily on it."
But I.M. "Mac" Destler, director of the University of Maryland's Program on International Security and Economic Policy, sees a potential problem with intelligence analysis that could emerge from the centralized role of the DNI. "There's a tension between a central control and getting good analysis," he says, adding that there is the risk that the DNI "will want the analysis to lead to certain conclusions that may or may not be justified."
The bill does attempt to prevent that from happening. To that end, it says that the DNI should "ensure that differences in analytic judgment are fully considered and brought to the attention of policymakers."
The act further establishes a National Intelligence Council made up of "senior analysts within the intelligence community and substantive experts from the public and private sector." The council is directed to produce national intelligence estimates "including alternative views held by elements of the intelligence community."
But the problem is not just at the top. It extends far down into the bureaucracy, where, according to Hulnick, "analysts are still oversupervised. Analysts in most of the agencies don't have a chance to put their individual evaluations on a product without having to go through several layers of review."
Although that process is designed to ensure that "the CIA product speaks for the CIA and not for just some individual analyst," it "tends to stifle the type of imaginative thinking that people are saying we need in the new environment," he says.
Another key resource failure troubling Rothkopf and others is the lack of trained translators available in the intelligence community. According to Smith, "we know there are simply not enough linguists around to translate what we're getting today, much less what we'll probably be collecting in five years time." Smith blames an insufficient budget because "the people in the community did not foresee...a need for increase across the board, including those with the Middle East."
Woolsey says the translation issue is a problem that he and others have been trying to overcome for some time. "I made a request over a decade ago to substantially enhance Arabic and Farsi language training and it was turned down by the Senate Intelligence Committee," he says. According to Woolsey many members of the committee didn't believe the reforms were necessary.
Rothkopf again favors outsourcing the problem. "If the U.S. government wants to solve the problem quicker, outsourcing is a vital tool," he says.
Smith agrees and says, "I don't think the federal government has to personally own the linguists."
Whether the work is in-house or outsourced, another issue is whether the linguist is also an analyst, says Turner. The problem he says, is that "at some point, you've got to have the language and the regional expertise in the same person. You can't really be a good expert in Pakistani politics, for example, unless you can understand Urdu."
After information is collected and analyzed, the next issue is whether it is appropriately disseminated. To that end, the Intelligence Reform Act creates an Information Sharing Council and directs the President to establish what it calls an information-sharing environment (ISE) that "allows users to share information among agencies, between levels of government, and, as appropriate, with the private sector." The Department of Homeland Security retains the responsibility of disseminating information about threats to state and local government officials and private sector entities.
Whatever improvements to collection and analysis that result from this intelligence reform, policymakers and the executive branch need to understand that intelligence is not perfect and that mistakes will always be made, says Rothkopf.
"The closest thing to an ideal intelligence community," Smith says, "is one that is flexible enough to address issues that its not ideally structured to deal with."
In the end, however, "It's not a given that you'll somehow know the time and date" of any attack, says Turner. That is one fact that no amount of reform is likely to change.
Marta Roberts is staff editor at Security Management.