Overhauling Intelligence

INTELLIGENT REFORM

Before World War II, the United States' defense, intelligence, and foreign policy apparatus were fragmented, as befitted a country with a limited role on the world stage. With U.S. entry into the war, interagency collaboration developed out of crisis-driven necessity. Wartime arrangements, although successful, were ad hoc. And after the war, President Harry Truman and Congress realized that the United States could not meet its new responsibilities without a national security structure that rationalized decision-making and integrated the intelligence and military establishments. It was against this background that on July 26, 1947 -- 60 years ago this summer -- Truman signed the National Security Act, a seminal piece of legislation for the U.S. intelligence community that laid the foundation for a robust peacetime intelligence infrastructure.

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.

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 sta/ng by 22 percent between fiscal years 1989 and 2001. Only now is sta/ng 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.

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