Courtesy Reuters

The failure to prevent the attacks of September 11, 2001, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, and the proliferation of official investigations trying to figure out what went wrong in both cases have combined to put intelligence issues in a very unusual position this year: at the center of a closely contested presidential campaign.

All the attention creates both an opportunity and a danger. The opportunity stems from the consensus that major reforms are necessary. Previous controversies over the quality of intelligence have generally been inside-the-Beltway debates leading to only minor reforms at best. That will probably be true this time as well. But if there were ever a moment when public demand might overcome the entrenched institutional interests that block radical change, this should be it.

The danger stems from the gap between the urge to do something and the uncertainty about just what that something

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  • Richard K. Betts is Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University and Co-editor of Paradoxes of Strategic Intelligence. He previously served on the staff of the Senate's Church Committee investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies and as a consultant in the intelligence community.
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