US intelligence gathering falls behind needs, study finds

Will United States policymakers receive the right kind of intelligence to meet the challenges of world trouble spots and rivals' military developments in the years ahead? Will US secrets be protected in the next decade?

A new study - ``Intelligence requirements for the 1990s'' - argues that current US intelligence is insufficient to meet those needs.

Without major reforms, the gap will grow between policymakers' demands and the information and analysis that the US intelligence community can provide, this study concludes.

The wide range of scholars, intelligence officials, and other specialists who contributed to the study also contend that plugging the damaging leaks of strategic secrets to our international rivals will require major improvements in the way the US coordinates its counterintelligence operations.

Nor do the authors dodge covert action. They argue that it is a legitimate foreign policy tool for the United States. But it cannot be a substitute for policy or a way to solve a problem which the government is otherwise refusing to take on, they say.

Other studies have focused on questions of civil liberties and intelligence, of intelligence failures, and of executive vs. legislative oversight and control. But this one, sponsored by the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, a private research organization, tries to look at the missions of the US intelligence community and ask if they are being fulfilled.

Roy Godsen, editor of the study, intelligence expert, and a professor of government at Georgetown University, says that for the first time since the 1940s, a consensus exists in government, academia, and elsewhere that the American intelligence structure is inadequate to meet the needs of the next decade.

Kenneth deGraffenreid, the top intelligence official on the National Security Council from 1981 to 1987, adds that for the first time intelligence is now being examined as a national security element in itself.

``In the past it was on the back burner, gaining attention only when there was a scandal,'' says Mr. deGraffenreid, a contributor to the new study.

Intelligence analysis. DeGraffenreid says that top policymakers in the Reagan and Carter administrations consistently complained that the intelligence they received was not ``interesting''; it lacked ``a quality of realism'' to help them make decisions.

Professor Godsen says analysis must go beyond the traditional description of trends and developments to ``opportunity-oriented analysis'' - pointing out what factors in a situation can be changed and where others parties are vulnerable.

US analysts have to avoid putting their own cultural biases into analyses, Godsen says. They need to be more aware that other governments are out to deceive. This, he and deGraffenreid say, was one of the primary intelligence lessons of the Iran-contra affair, where the United States was deceived by Iran and Israel.

Part of the solution is to hire more culturally diverse analysts and to give analysts more ``reality training'' in the countries they follow, the study says. Some of these changes are under way, deGraffenreid says, but they go against bureaucratic momentum and may atrophy unless supported.

Intelligence collection. Requests for intelligence information are already exceeding capacities, and the gap will grow with expanding demands in the 1990s, the study says. Part of the problem is technological. New US spy technology costs more, but it gives less useful information in return. While earlier it was enough to count missiles, for example, now missiles are mobile and a lot depends on the quality of their technology, which cannot be sensed as easily, Godsen says.

This means top-level policymakers - not just specialists - must get involved in deciding what kind of intelligence-gathering technology the US develops and in setting priorities on what information is most needed.

These technological limits put even more burdens on intelligence agents, Godsen says. The study urges that more US agents be placed outside of official embassy ``cover'' positions and that the US use more specialists in other fields to set priorities and to help collect needed information.

Counterintelligence. If the United States is to avoid additional spectacular successes by hostile governments, deGraffenreid says, the US has to establish a high-level group that can establish counterintelligence priorities on what secrets to protect, and assign the resources to do the job.

Currently, competing US counterintelligence agencies cooperate on an ad hoc basis, he says, and are overwhelmed by the millions of targets they are trying to protect.

``This is not just spy vs. spy stuff from Mad Magazine,'' deGraffenreid adds. ``Real strategic advantage can be gained by our adversaries.''

Covert action. The controversy stirred by the Iran-contra affair highlights the need to rebuild a consensus on the uses of covert action, the authors argue.

The United States tried to make covert action ``larger than life, but it can't support that burden,'' deGraffenried says. ``You can't expect it to pull your chestnuts out of the fire at the last moment.''

With the proper oversight, the study argues, covert action remains a valuable adjunct to broader policy. But it must be consistent with an overt policy that has broad public support.

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