Courtesy Reuters

Missing Intelligence

By Richard L. Russell

To the Editor:

Mike McConnell's article ("Overhauling Intelligence," July/August 2007) reflects the common but mistaken notion that the root cause of the United States' intelligence woes lies in the past failure of its numerous intelligence agencies to share raw intelligence and analyses.

The real causes of U.S. intelligence debacles are the persistent failure to get human intelligence to reveal the capabilities and innermost strategic thinking of adversaries and the lack of skilled analysts who can make sense of the vast amount of raw intelligence and public information for policymakers. In the case of the run-up to the war in Iraq, the CIA had no human sources inside the country accurately reporting on Iraq's dilapidated weapons of mass destruction infrastructure. That problem was compounded by the prevalence of analysts who were too easily fooled by fabricated human-source reports on Iraq's biological warfare program and who poorly understood the uranium-enrichment requirements for a nuclear weapons program. But poor human intelligence collection and shoddy analysis do not lend themselves to ready fixes, such as tinkering with bureaucratic diagrams, as the 9/11 Commission recommended in proposing the creation of the post of director of national intelligence.

The centerpiece of McConnell's article is the idea that the intelligence community is making strides in sharing information across agencies. But his analysis is starkly mum on how to make U.S. human intelligence collection better or how to increase the caliber of intelligence analysts. He argues that the newly established Rapid Analytic Support and Expeditionary Response group, made up of new analysts, is a means to shore up the U.S. intelligence community's analytic capabilities. But one of the greatest problems facing the intelligence community is that it has far too many young and inexperienced analysts. Assembling them into response teams is not going to make up for the deficit of analysts who have worked intelligence issues for at least the five to seven years needed to gain competence and seasoning.

McConnell believes that the Goldwater-Nichols military reforms are a good model for the intelligence community. He wants intelligence officers to serve in other intelligence agencies much as joint assignments in the military create "purple-suited" officers. But I cannot think of a better way to erode analytic expertise in the intelligence business. Serious civilian scholar-analysts -- if the CIA were ever to develop and keep them -- are not going to want to take time away from research and writing to work in the bureaucratic bowels of intelligence-collection agencies, most of which are designated as "combat support agencies" for the military.

Contrary to the optimistic tone of McConnell's article, a hard look leads me to conclude that on its current trajectory, the intelligence community will only succeed in better sharing mediocre human intelligence and will not protect U.S. national interests any better than it did before 9/11 or the Iraq war.

Richard L. Russell

Professor of National Security Affairs, National Defense University, and the author of Sharpening Strategic Intelligence: Why the CIA Gets It Wrong and What Needs to Be Done to Get It Right

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