Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Intelligence Design: Congress is set to pass a bill that will bring our many intelligence agencies under one czar who will oversee their personnel and finance. This will possibly bring about greater coordination among our intelligence agencies, but I wouldn't expect any dramatic improvements to spring up from this piece of legislation.

Although it has taken three years since the 9/11 attacks to revamp our intelligence network, I still get the feeling that this was a quick fix that was rushed through the system. The 9/11 Commission made the recommendation that one guy needed to control all of our intelligence gathering, and politicians on both sides of the aisle latched onto the suggestion wholesale without much regard to what actual benefit would come of it. We didn't have hardly any substantive discussion during the election. And now a lame-duck Congress is trying to hurry this bill through before both houses adjourn.

The 9/11 attacks and the Iraqi WMD "slam dunk" were two of the biggest intelligence lapses in American history. Part of the problem was that our agencies latched on to certain assumptions early on and didn't adequately question their own beliefs. We needed more voices, a diversity of opinions, new perspectives, and different interpretations of the evidence. How is making all our intelligence gathering the responsibility of one guy going to accomplish that?

Everybody agrees that we need to overhaul our intelligence agencies and that the CIA needs a good house cleaning. Some people wanted an immediate overhaul. I can see, during the uncertainty right after 9/11, that we didn't want to make any panicked decisions. It's better to contemplate real change than to rush something for the sake of doing anything.

Now more than enough time has passed, but nothing real is being done. Despite the failures, only one major figure, George Tenet, has lost his job (and nobody knows for certain whether he was really forced out or he just got bored and left). And even though Bush's new CIA appointee is cleaning house, some opponents are crying foul -- although there are some legitimate questions as to whether Bush is stacking the agency with loyal worker bees.

Bureaucratic shifts may look good to the public, but I don't expect any substantive results from the reorganization. The only way we can safeguard against future failures and catastrophic attacks is to improve the intelligence gathering on the ground. We need more spies inside the terrorist groups and among the hostile regimes. Doing so will take years to do. And I hope that such actions are quietly underway.


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