Among the many issues U.S. President Barack Obama is grappling with early in his first term are some thorny intelligence problems. His director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, and his CIA director, Leon Panetta, have clashed over their respective roles, the politically charged investigation of the CIA's involvement in the "enhanced" interrogation of terror suspects continues to generate controversy.
Although Obama could clearly use some independent advice on these and other intelligence issues, he should be forgiven if he did not initially think of asking the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB). The board, one of the smallest and most obscure parts of the U.S. intelligence system, has not always, especially in recent years, distinguished itself in providing independent counsel to presidents on the larger issues affecting the organization of the intelligence community and some of the core technologies on which it depends. It has developed a reputation among the intelligence cognoscenti as either a cushy "do-nothing" panel or as a highly politicized cabal that meddles in the affairs of the professional intelligence community.
Although there is some truth behind both views, the board is far from useless: over the decades, it has helped streamline the U.S. intelligence community and has pushed it to develop the technology crucial to the acquisition, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence. Likewise, it would be a mistake to ignore it today.
President Dwight Eisenhower established the board in 1956 as a bipartisan body that could serve as an independent source of advice on intelligence affairs. During the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations, the board fit that ideal. Its eight to ten members were prominent individuals with experience in the U.S. government and had the managerial or technical skills relevant to intelligence matters. These early panels, reflecting the intensifying technological race between the United States and the Soviet Union as well as the growing sophistication of intelligence collection, tended to focus on the role of science and technology in intelligence.
From its inception
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