The need for a strategy in national intelligence

IN its editorial of Nov. 13, the Monitor urged Congress to investigate the performance of the intelligence community in producing political and military analysis, coordinating its activities with agencies such as the FBI, conducting covert action, and a number of other fields. In his now famous letter to me of Nov. 14, CIA head William Casey said: ``One of the reasons I have supported your request for a national intelligence strategy is that I want to codify for the committee the long-range planning papers from which we now work and have for years. I hope this will focus the oversight committees on the substantive and longer-range challenges posed to the intelligence community rather than events in the current day headlines. This process has, of course, been briefed to the co mmittee piecemeal over the years and maybe there is not a full understanding of it.''

As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I agree with the Monitor's concern and I don't agree with Casey that oversight is ``long-range . . . rather than events in the current day headlines.'' We need both. But current events cannot be assessed in a vacuum. They must be measured against what our policy intended. So what the Congress needs is a strategy, a plan from the director of central intelligence describing precisely what the missions of the i ntelligence community are and how he plans to carry them out.

In establishing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Congress reaffirmed its constitutional prerogative (indeed, its obligation) to oversee the intelligence community. Yet, up to now, the Congress has never had a systematic statement of the intelligence community's program.

This lack has caused several problems.

First, members of both oversight committees have complained that although they see what the intelligence community is doing, they do not see where it is going; the intelligence community is usually quite forthcoming with information concerning its activities, but Congress has not been given an explanation of how the many pieces of the National Foreign Intelligence Program fit together, or how they support United States foreign policy.

Second, the lack of an explicit, comprehensive statement explaining the overall goals of the intelligence community and the program required to meet those goals has made defending the National Foreign Intelligence Program more difficult on Capitol Hill (and elsewhere in Washington).

And, third, the lack of a strategy reflects an unfortunate situation within the intelligence community itself. When the intelligence community has not taken the steps to compare, say, improvements in its satellite reconnaissance program with, say, improvements in its human intelligence program side-by-side, how can we be sure that the United States is getting the most from its intelligence dollar?

The oversight committees will continue to scrutinize specific programs when the situation warrants. However, if Congress does not focus its attention on the broader questions of whether investment decisions made by the intelligence community truly meet the country's intelligence needs, we run the risk of becoming bogged down in ineffective micromanagement -- in effect, neglecting our oversight responsibilities by becoming preoccupied with minutiae.

For these reasons, the Senate and House Intelligence Committees included in their conference report for the fiscal year 1987 intelligence authorization bill a requirement for the director of central intelligence to present a ``national intelligence strategy'' with his budget proposals in company with such a plan.

We on the select committee believe that the development of a national intelligence strategy may be the most significant change in the intelligence community since the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, the foundation of the modern American intelligence system. Though likely to require several years to mature as a process, such a strategy could not come too soon. For the challenges facing the intelligence community are now more difficult than any encountered in the postwar era.

Simply put, today's intelligence missions are tougher than ever before. The amount and variety of information the intelligence community must collect and analyze explodes exponentially. The number of intelligence consumers has also grown, as has the range of issues on which they must be kept current. Collection systems grow more complicated and more expensive. Other countries become more adept at denying us information.

And on top of all these difficulties, national economic conditions tighten the constraints on the federal budget. Intelligence, like other government activities, is bound to feel the pinch.

A thorough, comprehensive strategy is essential.

Sen. David Durenberger (R) of Minnesota is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.