David L Boren. Foreign Affairs. Volume 71, Issue 3, Summer 1992.
Nothing is harder to change than our basic idea of the world and our role in it. That is why many American policymakers initially reacted with alarm at the rapidity of change in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Changes were not happening on our timetable. Ironically the instincts of many top government officials actually led them to feel more comfortable with order than with freedom because it was more predictable.
Even today there are those in the intelligence and foreign policy establishment who long for the old days of the Cold War because its challenges were easier to define. In many ways this is the greatest threat to our own national security: the failure to change our thinking to coincide with all of the changes in the world.
History teaches us that the disintegration of multinational empires or the liberation of culturally diverse states often creates a period of instability. In many ways the world of the 1990s resembles more the world of the 1920s than that of the 1980s. It would be foolish to believe that amid the ruins of a major empire and the creation of new nation-states we will not see continuing conflict, at least on a regional basis.
Yet it is clear that to remain a world leader in the next century the United States will require a very different set of assets from those used previously. In the past, military strength was at the heart of our political influence because our allies around the world needed our protection against the Soviet threat. But as our friends feel less threatened militarily, they also will be less willing to follow our lead. Economic and social strengths will in many ways become the primary determinants of world influence.
The implications for America’s intelligence community are clear. The most sweeping changes since the beginning of the Cold War call for the most sweeping changes in the modern intelligence apparatus of the government since the Central Intelligence Agency was erected by the National Security Act of 1947. If the intelligence community fails to make these changes, it will become an expensive and irrelevant dinosaur just when America most needs information and insight into the complex new challenges that it faces.
Some argue that instead of changing the intelligence community we should simply eliminate it. They sing the siren song of “America First” and call for the United States to disengage from the rest of the world and start taking care of Americans alone.
Those who preach this new isolationism mislead the American people with the false notion that there is a conflict between what we need to do at home and what we need to do abroad. These are not competing goals but complementary ones. Shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world will not assure our safety. Rather we must prepare ourselves to live constructively and, when necessary, to compete effectively in the new international environment. Playing the right kind of role in the world will help us rebuild our strength at home.
With our economic well-being so dependent on exports and on the movement of international capital to finance our debt, withdrawal from the international community could so severely damage the economic health of our nation that we might never recover.
Nor can we afford to ignore the economic effects of foreign aid being used by our competitors who give credits instead of cash to areas like eastern Europe. They do so in an effort to put their products into the newly developing infrastructures, creating markets for their goods and services in the future. The United States should do the same. Placing our equipment into the infrastructure of other countries will not only create jobs here at home but also create a future market for our products, spare parts and services.
Those who advocate withdrawal and deny the need for timely intelligence about global developments show a total ignorance of history. America’s withdrawal from Europe after World War I certainly did not enhance world peace and stability or its own national security. Surely a nation that has been spending $300 billion each year on an arms race and diverting capital needed for projects at home must monitor developments in the former Soviet Union. Surely the United States has an interest in keeping from power extreme nationalists who might reignite the arms race.
It is clear that as the world becomes multipolar, more complex and no longer understandable through the prism of Soviet competition, more intelligence—not less—will be needed.
But even among those who concede that there is a continuing need to invest in intelligence collection and analysis, there are those who contend that America no longer needs a separate intelligence community. Some, for example, have suggested abolishing the CIA and placing all intelligence functions under the State Department. Such a move would be unwise for several reasons.
First, it would endanger the arm’s length relationship between those whose job is to provide objective information and those charged with making policy. Certainly intelligence produced by separate agencies sometimes misses the point that policymakers need addressed. However, if the collection and analysis of intelligence is totally dominated and overseen by the policymaker, there will be too great a temptation for intelligence to “serve” or to “sell” policy rather than to “inform” policy.
Second, some intelligence collection methods are inappropriate for diplomatic missions, and therefore for the State Department. Finally, the State Department is not organized to put intelligence into a form useful to the military in time of conflict, a concern even in this new world environment that will produce more than its fair share of low-intensity and regional conflicts.
If the State Department is not equipped to take on the role of lead agency in intelligence, neither is the Pentagon. With nonmilitary factors becoming more important to national security, intelligence created solely from a military perspective would be far less relevant than at the height of the Cold War.
The answer is not to dispense with intelligence or to eliminate a separate intelligence community, but rather to change the existing community, including the CIA. Change must come in two major areas: new priorities and a new structure better suited to those priorities.
The intelligence community was built primarily to target the “closed” societies of the Cold War world, which accounted for as much as a third of the world’s landmass. Today that target has shrunk considerably. To be sure, the intelligence community must continue to acquire information that is not available publicly about threats to U.S. security and well-being. Its geographical focus on closed societies, however, has shifted to topical areas of concern—such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and counterterrorism—wherever they may occur. The community’s methods of operation also must change.
A major priority of the new intelligence community will be its emphasis on human source intelligence. With a smaller American military force positioned around the world, earlier warnings of the hostile intentions of potential adversaries will be essential. While satellite photographs and other technical data can reveal military movements before an attack, they cannot provide early warning of an enemy’s intentions. They are probably even less useful in the unpredictable Third World than against the former Soviet Union, where troop movements and technology redeployments occured on a larger and more detectable scale.
Moreover the warning provided by military movements often comes too late to give meaningful options to policymakers. Had President Bush known the intentions of Saddam Hussein, months before instead of only days before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he might have had the opportunity to consider other options that might have prevented the war altogether.
Human sources are also the most effective intelligence collectors in other areas of collection. While signals intelligence is a great aid to human source collection, human sources are critically important to the penetration of terrorist organizations and drug rings. A satellite photograph cannot detect the actions of a terrorist making explosive devices in an abandoned building. Nor can technical systems provide the insight necessary to understand and cope with foreign efforts to gain economic or commercial advantage over the United States.
Not only will we need better human source intelligence, our intelligence officers will need different skills. With perhaps half our intelligence resources previously targeted on the Soviet military threat, we urgently need to shift priorities toward people who understand public opinion and mass movements in those areas of the world where power has become much more decentralized. We will need more economists and business school graduates who understand commercial competition and fewer experts on military technology or the Soviet order of battle.
In addition to improving the collection of human source intelligence, we must also improve the analytical functions of the intelligence community. Analysis must make better use of open sources and must be more interdisciplinary, with more use made of reports from commercial and political officers overseas.
The community must also stop trying to reach overly cautious, caveated and consensus-oriented intelligence estimates, which General Norman Schwarzkopf described as “unhelpful mush.” Concise, usable majority views should be presented without precluding a full and spirited presentation of minority views. Instead of trying to accept minority views by watering down the majority report, it would make much more sense to provide a candid majority report with actionable conclusions. A separate minority report could then be attached, much like dissenting views in a Supreme Court decision, that would give the minority a chance to fully outline its point of view. Spending billions of dollars on intelligence collection is useless if the analysis of the information is not both clear and objective. It must also be the product of the best minds in the country in the relevant fields, both inside and outside government.
To this end it is important to implement the National Security Education Act, passed last year, as soon as possible. The act will help provide the new talent pool needed for the U.S. intelligence community and American society as a whole to function in the new international environment. It sets up an endowment fund of $150 million that will encourage the next generation to think internationally by providing much greater opportunities for undergraduate study abroad and language and area studies programs in American colleges and universities. The act also provides new graduate fellowships in fields where there is a shortage of expertise, not just in the intelligence area but in diplomacy, commerce and education as well.
Stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction must also be a top priority for American intelligence. These weapons are even more dangerous in the hands of unpredictable governments facing internal economic and political upheaval than they were in the hands of superpowers in the past, where at least each side appreciated the consequences of its actions and its failure to impose prudent, fail-safe controls.
CIA Director Robert Gates has indicated in public testimony that more than 20 nations now have or are developing the capacity to create nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. In most instances effective action to stop proliferation must be multinational. NATO and the United Nations have yet to realize their potential as institutions effectively involved in this effort.
Areas such as weapons proliferation, international terrorism and worldwide environmental problems require that the intelligence community serve not only U.S. national needs but the needs of multinational organizations as well. Effectively sharing information with the United Nations, for example, will become more important as it undertakes the enforcement of arms compliance agreements similar to the one imposed upon Iraq. It is possible that the United Nations will eventually become the truly international force that President Truman envisioned at the inception of the world organization. A structure must be put in place to share intelligence with others without compromising America’s own national security.
As world leadership comes to depend more and more on economic strength, serving the economic interests of the United States will become an increasingly important priority for intelligence. Defining the appropriate limits of economic intelligence will not be an easy task. Some priorities, however, are already clear.
Counterintelligence efforts to deter the theft of private American commercial and industrial secrets by other nations must be intensified. Current laws need to be reviewed since most penalties apply only to the theft of government military secrets. When foreign intelligence services penetrate governments and companies in other nations that may be potential customers for U.S. goods and services in order to give a competitive bidding advantage to their own national firms, the United States must be prepared to cope with these tactics.
We also need to take a closer look at the economic negotiating strategies of our competitors. Just as it is important to fully understand the military strategies and goals of opponents, we need to know at least as much about the game plans of competing countries in the economic arena as they know about ours. We must also better understand the collusion between foreign governments and their indigenous firms that results in improved competitive positions. In short, American intelligence assets should be used to level the playing field and give American companies an equal chance to compete.
Theft is not the only way we lose technology to foreign competitors. We need the ability to identify those exclusively American technologies that should not be allowed to fall into foreign hands through the purchase of our companies on the open market. While the president has the power to delay such acquisitions, that authority is rarely used and there is no effective system to alert the president to such imprudent transactions.
To be sure, caution must be used in the area of collecting economic intelligence. Spying on foreign companies to give a commercial advantage to a particular American company would clearly compromise U.S. values and the free market system. Nations with highly nationalized, monopolistic industries do not face as acute a dilemma: if a country has a single computer producer, for example, there is no doubt to whom spy-acquired computer technology will go. In the United States, however, it would not be appropriate to favor one company like Apple, IBM or Hewlett-Packard over the others by making it the beneficiary of such secrets. It is important for policymakers to delineate the boundaries of economic intelligence activities. The intelligence community to date has received very little guidance in this sensitive area.
To implement new priorities as well as to cut costs, it will be necessary to change the structure of the intelligence community. Just as many private companies have had to restructure and downsize to become more productive and competitive, so must the intelligence community. In short, the community will be required to produce better intelligence at lower cost.
While the final details of an appropriate structure are still being debated and negotiated, several common themes have emerged in both the findings of the Executive Branch Task Forces empaneled by Director Gates and the proposals made in the Intelligence Reorganization Act of 1992, which I introduced along with Representative David McCurdy (D-Okla.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. The high level of general agreement, thus far, is encouraging.
As expected there are differences between the two branches as to the amount of legislation required to bring about the necessary changes. The executive branch prefers to make all changes through executive orders and directives without any legislation. The two committees generally support more statutory reforms to assure that change will actually take place and will survive successive administrations. It should be possible to find a middle ground where legislation is passed that is broad enough to allow the president to make mid-course adjustments in the plan when experience demands them.
One emerging element of the new structure will be a closer relationship between civilian and military intelligence. Financially the nation can no longer afford two costly and competing empires that often find it difficult to work together in times of crisis. To bring about closer integration, it is necessary to give one person the power to coordinate and set priorities for the entire intelligence community—whether that person is called the director of the CIA or the director of national intelligence. The leader of the community must be able to set budgetary and programmatic priorities for the entire community. The director must be able to reprogram funds and rechannel them from one area or agency of intelligence to another, whether the agency is in the defense or civilian area, authority that he does not have today. This means that the present intelligence community staff must be revitalized and restructured to allow the director to serve a function for intelligence not unlike the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Without the ability to set the budget for the entire community, the director will not be able to shift priorities in a meaningful way.
More personnel should be interchanged between the two sectors. A good example of this is the recent move to place uniformed personnel in the positions of deputy director of the CIA and deputy director for operations. Another example is the joint exercises that will be held in the future involving military commanders and civilian intelligence leaders. In this way military leaders will become more aware of civilian intelligence assets available to them and the civilian agencies will become more sensitive to the form in which intelligence is most useful to the military commander.
In addition the new structure must allow the director to have a role in the appointment of the heads of military intelligence agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. While the director of the CIA can task these agencies regarding intelligence collection missions, their top officials owe their appointments solely to the secretary of defense. Lacking the ability to hire or at least veto selections for these positions, the CIA director cannot expect to have their full cooperation.
To assure greater efficiency and accountability, there should be one coordinating point for each of the three major areas of intelligence collection—signals intelligence, imaging collection and human intelligence. Currently only signals intelligence is structured to achieve a high level of coordination through the National Security Agency.
In the very costly area of imagery, which includes photography and other sensing techniques, there are too many different groups involved in collection. Overlap and confusion of authority between users, designers and processors of systems have led to inefficiencies, intelligence failures, delays and large cost overruns. With authority so dispersed it is difficult to fix responsibility for shortcomings. After-action studies of Operation Desert Storm recently made public point to intelligence failures in this area, including the inability of the systems to produce common data that can be used and understood by both civilian and military leaders. Reforming the imagery bureaucracy will be complicated by resistance from well-entrenched interests in the defense establishment; it is imperative, however, that a new imagery agency be established to coordinate and synchronize this critical activity.
The third major collection area, human intelligence, also demands more coordination and different assets in this new era. Intelligence gathering needs to be evaluated in one place so that region-by-region decisions can be made to ascertain the best and cheapest approach. For example, it may no longer be necessary in newly opened societies to have large clandestine collection efforts led by CIA officers. Perhaps a military attache, a commercial officer or a foreign service political officer at an embassy could collect the needed information with less risk of national embarrassment and at less cost. Director Gates has proposed making the deputy director for operations at the CIA the human intelligence (Humint) manager for the entire intelligence community. Wherever the function is ultimately located, there must be a Humint manager with enough political influence and backing from the director and the president to reach out across departmental lines in order to best allocate human intelligence missions.
The last major area requiring restructuring is intelligence analysis. Again, huge expenditures on intelligence collection will be of little benefit unless there is an objective and high-quality analysis of the information presented in a timely and usable form to policymakers. In a rapidly changing world it is important that analysis be farsighted in its perspectives. National security can no longer be considered solely from the point of view of military motivation or political maneuvering. Economic, cultural, educational and many other developments can have a major influence on national security. This means that the structure established for analysis must be as broad and as open as possible, drawing together all of the resources from every segment of government and the private sector. It should not be a process dominated by one agency such as the CIA or the Department of Defense.
In essence the policymakers charting a new course for the nation in the next century should be served by the best “think tank” in the world. This world-class think tank should be able to utilize the best talent available in America to focus upon issues important to policymakers.
To ensure that the process is not dominated by the CIA, especially by the operational division that might be tempted to influence analysis to justify its current operations, the Intelligence Reorganization Act is designed to separate analysis from the CIA. Several experts with long experience have suggested such a move may be too extreme. They point to the necessity of cross-fertilization between analysts and operators, which is beneficial to both. For example, the best analyst is often one with field experience. There are also advantages to having the encyclopedic function of intelligence analysis for the entire government housed in a separate agency like the CIA, which does not have a policymaking function.
While it may not be wise to divorce the analytical function from the CIA, there clearly must be changes made in the current structure of the National Intelligence Council. In theory it brings together analytical assets from all agencies to prepare major intelligence estimates, but it is in fact largely dominated by the CIA. The council is even housed with the CIA at Langley, Virginia; its administrative functions are provided by the CIA and it is largely staffed by CIA personnel.
To become an interdisciplinary think tank the council must have a separate and distinct existence from the CIA. It must be housed and administered separately. It must have a core support staff much like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made up of those assigned from other departments who temporarily put on the “purple” uniform of a joint assignee to serve the entire community. It is imperative that other agencies—including the State Department and the Commerce Department assign the best possible advocates of their own perspectives to represent them in preparing intelligence estimates.
Finally, the newly constituted National Intelligence Council should be open and flexible enough to attract the good minds on college and university faculties and in the private sector for short-term assignments on specific issues. It should be given the recognition, prestige and independence sufficient to attract outside experts who might have been hesitant to be openly associated with the CIA in the past.
It is clear that the expertise needed to meet future challenges no longer solely resides in the government. To attract the very best we should reevaluate the overly intricate security clearance process that deters some of our most creative minds from any kind of affiliation with the intelligence community. Director Gates has wisely supported a proposal that the deputy director of the council should be from outside the government, but more needs to be done.
There is no time to waste. The decisions that we make now may well define our nation’s place in the world for decades to come. It is a turning point we cannot avoid. History will hold us accountable. But this is not a moment to be dreaded—it is an opportunity to be seized. Those who were present when the current intelligence community was formed in the aftermath of the Second World War still recall the excitement and vitality of that time. In many ways our task is even more meaningful. They created an intelligence apparatus designed to contain communism, fight the Cold War and maintain a stabilizing balance of power. Our opportunity is to create an intelligence capability that can help America play a role in leading the world to a far better future.