DURHAM, N.C., AND WASHINGTON — Accurate and timely intelligence is the critical first line of defense against terrorism, America's major national security threat in the 21st century. The contentious debate over the proposed new Department of Homeland Security merely masks the far greater need to reform the intelligence community.
That community's performance in the past quarter century has been unacceptable. It failed to warn of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and overstated Soviet military and economic power. The first Indian nuclear test in 1974 came as a surprise. When the CIA missed Indian underground testing in 1998, Director George Tenet stated: "We didn't have a clue."
Intelligence misses over many decades in the Mideast are too numerous to list. Before the failure of Sept. 11, the CIA and FBI provided no warning of terrorist attacks in the 1990s, including those on the World Trade Center in 1993, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the USS Cole in 2000.
How do we explain this miserable performance? After all, the United States spends well over $30 billion annually on 13 intelligence agencies, with a director of central intelligence (DCI) responsible for foreign intelligence and an FBI responsible for domestic intelligence.
Unfortunately, the DCI has direct control over the CIA but not over key agencies staffed by, and reporting to, the Pentagon. The priorities of the DCI and those of the Pentagon are quite different. Turf wars and information hoarding are endemic to all intelligence bureaucracies. The protection of "sources and methods" has long been an obstacle to information sharing, with the CIA and the FBI having a long history of poor communication.
The CIA and FBI both suffer from organizational overload. The CIA has operational missions to collect human intelligence and conduct covert action. It is also responsible for the analysis and publication of national intelligence estimates. The agency cannot perform both missions well.
The FBI also suffers from a bipolar mission. Its traditional law-enforcement mission involves reacting to crimes that have already occurred. Its counterterrorism mission, by contrast, requires a proactive role ferreting out incipient threats to national security. Reorganization is required in both agencies, and is central to changing the culture of motivation of the CIA and FBI.
The current structure for foreign intelligence must change, but the power of entrenched bureaucracies at the Pentagon, CIA, and FBI and their close allies in Congress has thwarted all efforts to correct flaws.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa says, "Everyone's in awe of them [intelligence agencies]. Everyone just melts in their presence, and so they have always gotten a long leash." Rep. David Obey (D) of Wisconsin agrees, adding that congressional oversight has been "miserable."
Intelligence needs to be reshaped to combat terrorism. Intelligence on counterterrorism must supplant military intelligence as America's top priority. Foreign and domestic intelligence efforts should be combined to fight this threat, with the creation of a new post director of national intelligence to coordinate foreign and domestic agencies in combating terrorism.
The Pentagon must have ample military intelligence, but we cannot allow the military to dominate strategic intelligence and such collection and analysis agencies as the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Our proposals introduce radical reforms needed to combat terrorism against the US and its allies:
Establish a new director of national intelligence charged with the analysis and publication of all intelligence estimates. This director would be responsible for coordinating all foreign and domestic intelligence and would report findings on terrorism to the Department of Homeland Security. Limit the CIA to its operational mission only.
Split the FBI into two agencies, creating a Domestic Counterterrorism Service reporting to the DCI.
Give the DCI operational and tasking authority over the National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The roles and responsibilities of the DCI must be spelled out in a statute making him or her the designated principal intelligence adviser to the president.
Reinvigorate the diminished role of the State Department's Foreign Service in collecting and evaluating intelligence.
One more change is needed: In keeping with the adage "A new broom sweeps clean," George Tenet DCI since 1997 must be replaced.
Richard A. Stubbing is professor emeritus of public policy at Duke University. He formerly handled the US intelligence budget for the Office of Management and Budget. Melvin A. Goodman, former senior Soviet analyst at the CIA, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy.