Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Sixty Years of Stove-Pipe

Mike McConnell, US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), calls for a dramatic overhaul of the US Intelligence Community (IC) in the July/August edition of Foreign Affairs.

On July 26, 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act.

The DNI explains what that allowed:

With the proper tools and public support and the help of allies, the United States built the world's premier intelligence establishment. It put spy planes in the sky, satellites into space, and listening posts in strategic locations around the world. It also invested in its people, developing a professional cadre of analysts, case officers, linguists, technicians, and program managers and trained them in foreign languages, the sciences, and area studies.

The DNI explains what went wrong since:

But by the time the Cold War ended, the intelligence establishment that had served Washington so well in the second half of the twentieth century was sorely in need of change. The post-Cold War "peace dividend" led to a reduction of intelligence staffing by 22 percent between fiscal years 1989 and 2001. Only now is staffing getting back to pre-Cold War levels. The National Security Act mandated that information be shared up the chain of command but not horizontally with other agencies. At the time of the act's passing, little thought was given to the need for a national-level intelligence apparatus in Washington that could synthesize information from across the government to inform policymakers and help support real-time tactical decisions. That reality, coupled with practices that led to a "stovepiping" of intelligence, arrested the growth of information sharing, collaboration, and integration -- patterns that still linger.

Few Americans seem to have paid attention to ongoing efforts to reform, improve, and redirect the efforts of the US IC, as reflected most recently by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA), which itself created the post of director of national intelligence (DNI), currently inhabited by McConnell. However much change has already been implemented, McConnell advocates for much more.

McConnell asserts that the National Security Act unified military and foreign intelligence efforts, but what’s needed now is an integration of intelligence and law enforcement processes and practitioners.

McConnell suggests a prescription for what ails the IC, which his Office of the DNI (ODNI) evidently already implements in its ongoing transformation:

To capture the benefits of collaboration, a new culture must be created for the entire intelligence community without destroying unique perspectives and capabilities.

The way to do so would be to follow the model provided by the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the military in the late 1980s. The Goldwater-Nichols Act created a unified military establishment and, among other things, laid the foundations for a "joint" military.

It created incentives for interservice collaboration (such as requiring joint service to achieve flag rank) and promoted joint training and development. What Goldwater-Nichols did for the military, IRTPA should provide the means to do for the U.S. intelligence community.

As McConnell presents it here, ODNI is going way beyond the techniques of the recent past, and embracing new collaborative tools like Wiki, blogs, and other new media capabilities:

Interagency collaboration needs to be established at two levels: intelligence collection and intelligence analysis. To this end, the Office of the DNI is in the process of developing virtual communities of analysts who can securely exchange ideas and expertise across organizational boundaries and harness cutting-edge technology to find, access, and share information and analytic judgments. Analysts are increasingly using interactive online journals, such as classified blogs and wikis, to this end. Such tools enable experts adept at different disciplines to pool their knowledge, form virtual teams, and quickly make complete intelligence assessments.

As head of 16 Federal Agencies, McConnell’s stressing joint operations:

Interagency joint-duty programs are also being implemented so that personnel from any agency can benefit from the knowledge of the entire intelligence community. An example of progress thus far is the newly created Rapid Analytic Support and Expeditionary Response, or RASER, team, a group of relatively new analysts drawn from all the intelligence agencies who undertake special training so that they can react rapidly to crises, drive intelligence- collection efforts, and work as catalysts for increased integration. Starting this summer, this elite "special forces" analytic team will be ready to be deployed against some of the United States' hardest intelligence targets.

Intelligence professionals in the 80s and 90s grew accustomed to policies, security, and access procedures governed by the concept of need to know. Compartmentalized intelligence was, in fact, placed in “compartments” precisely to limit those who could be granted access to the compartment’s information. Those who could not demonstrate an immediate and clear need for information were kept out “of the know,” even if they otherwise possessed valid and sufficient security credentials.

Now, McConnell is among those heralding (and implementing) a new paradigm: that of a responsibility to provide. When missed warnings and indicators of imminent threats can fail to prevent mass casualty results, stringent compartmentalization can have a catastrophic consequence.

McConnell explains the need to convince “data owners” to become “data providers”:

Most important, the long-standing policy of only allowing officials access to intelligence on a "need to know" basis should be abandoned. The U.S. intelligence community needs to adopt a mindset guided by a "responsibility to provide" intelligence to policymakers, war fighters, and analysts while still reasonably protecting sources and methods. Significant progress has been made since 9/11, but policy and cultural impediments remain. The challenge now is to convince collectors that they are not data owners so much as data providers.

The way to do so would be to share threat information with state and local officials as well as members of the private sector. The unique contribution made by men and women on the ground is vital to U.S. national security. In 2000, for example, a county sheriff's investigation into a local cigarette smuggling case in Charlotte, North Carolina, uncovered a multistate terrorist cell supporting Hezbollah. In 2005, a local police detective investigating a gas station robbery in Torrance, California, uncovered a homegrown jihadist cell planning a series of attacks in Illinois. State and local partners should no longer be treated as only first responders; they are also the first lines of prevention. Changing mentalities in this way is the responsibility of the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, which was created by the IRTPA and exists to foster a partnership between all levels of government and both the private sector and foreign partners in order to share terrorist threat information.

McConnell makes some standard assertions that recent organizational and procedural changes will help the IC acquire and deploy advanced technology tools and capabilities. He mentions the tendency to overburden research and development processes with excessive requirements, but by way of solution makes reference only to the organizational elevation of the acquisition function to the “the level of a deputy director of national intelligence (there are four deputy directors).”

Unmentioned in the McConnell’s paean to IC reform is another massive Federal bureaucratic “reform” of critical National Security interest, that of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Unfortunately, too many of the reforms of the IC (and National Security for that matter) undertaken since 9/11, reflect a bureaucratic mindset to solving intractable problems, including: data overload, doctrinal ignorance, civil service and other bargaining unit impediments, organizational barriers, inadequate analytic tools, technology backwaters, system and data incompatibilities, political interference, legislative over-regulation and misdirected oversight. These I would suggest may be beyond the power of bureaucracy to confront and overcome, as they are more the cause than the source of any potential solution.

Several of the Old Bureaucracies played central and domineering roles in creating these problems: the CIA, the FBI, Department of State, DoD. Reorganizing those same organs within an even larger and more moribund bureaucracy hardly seems prescriptive to make those same problems go away.

In the end, the issue surely is all about breaking down walls between sources of information and those organizations charged with acting upon that information. Overcoming barriers to data exchange among intelligence agencies, and between the US IC and Federal, state and local law enforcement.

Yet, the latest IC reforms leave plenty of organizational walls in place, however much they’ve now gathered these “16 intelligence agencies” under the ODNI roof. ODNI, after all, was built over and above bureaucracies already in place. And as any builder will tell you, to build a roof, you’re going to need to build some walls.

Nevertheless, reforms are welcome, and plans for more reform are even more welcome. Having spent the better part of three years building a new bureaucracy, it yet remains possible that the ODNI may now implement the kinds of strategic and tactical improvements that will generate real results that go beyond line and block chart initiatives. The National Security of the US, our very future, will critically depend on those results.

I conclude, as DNI McConnell concludes:

If the efforts to improve the intelligence community are to endure, they will need sustained support from the executive branch, Congress, and the American people. It will take years to fully clarify and coordinate the DNI's responsibilities and powers, transform the collection and analysis of intelligence, accelerate information sharing, change institutional cultures, build high-tech capabilities, and boost the acquisition of new technologies. And it will take the patience of the American people and their willingness to lend their talent and expertise to the intelligence community.

(My thanks to some new friends at Mercyhurst College and the International Association of Intelligence Educators (IAFIE), who tipped me off to the DNI article in Foreign Affairs.)

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