Why Intelligence Reform Has Failed

By Matthew Harwood

Patrick Neary, a senior official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has laid out the many failures of his agency's attempt to reform the U.S. intelligence community in an academic article, reports Walter Pincus in The Washington Post.

In the quarterly journal Studies in Intelligence, published by the CIA, ODNI's Neary argues that the U.S. intelligence community remains "unreformed" after 9-11 and the establishment of the ODNI in 2004. Of the many failures Neary writes about, Pincus highlights two. First, the CIA would not submit to the ODNI's authority and argued that it remained an independent agency that only had to report its activities to the ODNI under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. In other words, a turf battle ensued.

The second reason had to do with where the ODNI would be headquartered. Under the legislation, the ODNI could not be co-located with any other intelligence community member's headquarters. This stipulation ensured that the ODNI could not be housed at CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. Instead the ODNI was established at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC.  This, however, produced more problems. The first Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John D. Negroponte wanted CIA agents in the ODNI, but the mundane concern with traffic won out over the mission. Neary explains:

In Washington, life revolves around traffic. Job satisfaction, titles, pay, and promotion are all aspects of selecting where you work, but the commute dominates. Long-time CIA employees serving rotational assignments with the CMS (and now ODNI) were not going to commute to Bolling, situated across two bridges in an isolated part of the District. As ODNI was just starting, it suddenly lost at least 10 percent of its staff, disrupting routine operations.

In this month's "Editor's Note," Sherry Harowitz also addresses failures of intelligence reform and the inability of the intelligence community to see past their parochial interests for the greater good of protecting the country from new attacks. If some aspects of  intelligence fails, that may be unavoidable. In fact, failure must be an option, she argues, but only when failure occurs from a genuine effort to accomplish the task at hand. This did not happen inside the U.S. intelligence community. 

[W]hile we can’t expect intelligence collection or analysis to be flawless, we should demand that the intelligence community at least work collaboratively in formulating and executing a national counterterrorism strategy. It’s a bit discouraging, therefore, that nearly nine years after 9-11, that still isn’t happening.

According to a new congressionally mandated study of the National Counterterrorism Center and its Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (DSOP), “although DSOP was given a robust mandate to integrate counterterrorism activities...there is evidence that DSOP has been forced to develop national plans without the expertise of some of the most important players [such as the CIA and the State Department].” The problem is that each group remains concerned with its own departmental mission, and when “faced with competing priorities, there is currently little positive incentive to choose strategic operational planning responsibilities over daily departmental responsibilities.”

Translation: Turf wars still trump the real war. That’s not an excusable failure.

Nevertheless, Neary says the DNI's attempt to reform intelligence did help keep the United States safer. How could that be? According to Pincus, Neary's reasoning is simple: "Intelligence spending has roughly doubled in the past eight years."

But the absence of an attack shouldn't lull Americans into a false sense of security, he writes. "The American people should know that the quiet they sense is not the peace of security assured by the best intelligence, but the deadly silence of the graveyard we are collectively whistling by."

♦ Seal of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence by ODNI/WikiMediaCommons


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