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Intelligence Re-engineers for Homeland Security

November 2002
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

The community grapples with a cultural transformation while simultaneously protecting a  nation at war.

The Central Intelligence Agency is reallocating vital resources to address the urgent and long-term needs of the war on terrorism. In addition to transferring substantial numbers of analysts and increasing overseas operational activities, the agency is establishing new links with nontraditional domestic customers.

Winston P. Wiley is the associate director of central intelligence for homeland security at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), McLean, Virginia. His primary focus is to optimize intelligence support to the homeland security customer base. This base has broadened with the onset of the war on terrorism to include civil government groups such as state, local and tribal organizations. The agency must “minimize the overlaps and the underlaps” as it interacts with them on a classified or an unclassified basis, with the emphasis being on effectiveness rather than efficiency. A committee comprising Wiley’s counterparts in the various agencies maintains constant contact on homeland security activities, he discloses.

“It is not good enough to collect the information. It is not good enough to analyze it properly. It is not good enough to disseminate it,” he declares. “If useful action isn’t being taken, all of the other things at the front end are wasted. We spend a good bit of our time making sure that the whole equation is complete because you can pick away at better collection or analysis but the whole system must work.”

Wiley characterizes his task as more of a marathon than a sprint. “This is an issue that will be with us for the long haul, and we’ll keep fighting it over the long haul. We need to have urgency about what we do at all times, but constantly sprinting is not a sustainable strategy,” he states.

Nonetheless, the agency’s homeland security mission does not allow the luxury of methodical planning against a predictable foe. “It’s the unknown unknowns that probably worry us the most” Wiley offers. “The reality is that the 19 men who captured the airplanes on September 11 last year gave scant indication of their existence and intention.

“One of the things that the director and I, as well as other senior [intelligence community leaders], worry about constantly is what is out there that we don’t see but is still going on. That there is some of it is absolutely clear. The record is full that groups are actively out there plotting.”

Wiley relates that the CIA has, in many ways, “been in the homeland security business for a long time. There is a renewed and somewhat different emphasis on that in the aftermath of September 11.”

Within a week of the terrorist attacks, the agency moved a large number of analysts into its Counter-terrorist Center. The number of new analysts was greater than the total number of personnel in that center just four years earlier, Wiley notes. The operations side also saw a similar surge in personnel.

Wiley continues that any national counterterrorist strategy must comprise both offensive and defensive elements. The CIA principally has been involved in two aspects of the offensive element—penetration and suppression. This encompasses infiltrating groups and collecting intelligence as well as disrupting or pre-empting enemy activities. On the defensive side, the agency is improving its links with law enforcement and performing deeper analytic work. It also is examining how to extend its support to the new broader range of homeland security customers.

One element that has been lacking is a broad-based strategy for the defensive aspect. Wiley notes that, as stated by CIA Director George Tenet, this effort aims to “establish a system of protection for the infrastructure of the United States. More than just countering each threat as it comes up, it is building a coherent system that provides long-term deterrence.” Wiley continues that, while this defines the intelligence community’s role in homeland security, this role cannot exist in a vacuum where an offensive strategy is lacking.

The biggest challenge facing the agency’s homeland security mission is its scope, Wiley offers. “We’re being asked to do a lot more in this area off of a topline that is relatively flat,” he declares. “There are today only so many analysts who know this business. The analysts that we shifted last September are as much engaged in the offensive war as they are on the defensive side.” For example, the CIA dispatched 25 analysts to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help it “kick-start” its analytic effort, Wiley relates. He expects the new Department of Homeland Security to require a significant number of analysts, and the dozens of joint terrorism task forces (JTTFs) located nationwide also will probably draw support from a large number of CIA analysts.

These counterterrorism analysts cannot be simply added to the government’s rolls, but instead they must come from a limited group with extensive and relevant expertise. Similarly, their expertise often is needed in other areas of CIA concern. “The challenge is finding people with the requisite experience and knowledge to do this without stripping ourselves of the ability to do the other work we must do,” he declares.

While this problem will improve over time, it constitutes a short-term dilemma, Wiley continues. The agency is drawing on some of its former employees where possible, although Wiley notes that “we are not going to conscript people who have left.” Recruitment over the past few years has been hugely successful at bringing in new employees for both operations and analysis, with “significant accomplishments” beginning to emerge from people hired about five years ago, he says.

Wiley relates that he worked extensively with the staff of Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, as well as with Congress, in drafting the legislation to create the new Department of Homeland Security. He observes that CIA Director Tenet believes that the new department best can bring together threat information, both foreign and domestic, “with sophisticated, technologically knowledgeable, in-depth vulnerability assessments on a sector-by-sector, region-by-region, city-by-city basis.” Risk is deduced by combining threat with vulnerability, and this will help the department take action to minimize, or even eliminate, risk.

Wiley continues that the intelligence community can provide threat information, but vulnerability assessments have not been the staple of the community. “Frankly, vulnerability assessments depend on a knowledge of the U.S. domestic infrastructure that has not been part of our background. It is worth thinking about whether that is something you would want to have in the intelligence community, rather than in a homeland security department,” he adds. Rather, he views the intelligence community as “one part of a three-legged stool.”

The intelligence community needs no major reorganization to serve homeland security needs, Wiley affirms. Major collection and analytic production agencies have a clear understanding of their requirements and how to meet them, and they face no organizational impediments. Some cultural issues remain to be overcome, but this will occur over time, he adds.

Collecting vital data from each of the intelligence disciplines, or -INTs, will require collective efforts to ensure that both the means and the motivation to share information are prevalent. Each of the -INTs has its own aspect to contribute to homeland security, Wiley maintains, adding that it is the synergy between them that has the most to offer. He states that he resists using a scorecard approach to quantifying the importance of an -INT by its contribution to the intelligence product. Decrying these percentages as “nonsense metrics,” he instead values intelligence by its impact. Different -INTs may combine effectively under specific circumstances, for example.

Wiley notes that all-source production is ongoing in several components in the agency. The CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis, which is in the analytic component of the Counterterrorist Center, was built up with the transfer of analysts following September 11. This all-source environment, which principally is staffed with analysts from the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, performs tasks ranging from providing tactical and operational support to producing broad strategic products aimed at providing insight into adversarial groups.

Delivery of this intelligence product takes place using a pyramid approach to the customer. The top of the pyramid, which comprises the president and leading counterterrorist principals in the Cabinet, features information delivered personally by a briefer. At the next level down in the pyramid, the intelligence product becomes increasingly electronic. Media such as CT Link reach out to a broad range of customers within compartmentalization limits. At the secret level, the product is delivered to its customers via the secure Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) and Intelink (SIGNAL, October 2000, page 27).

The third pyramid level features unclassified intelligence information, and Wiley explains that this delivery is still a work in progress. The community is still wrestling with how to fashion relationships with state and local authorities. The challenge lies in providing information that is rich in content while not compromising sources or ethics. It would not be classified in a national security perspective, but it would be controlled according to law enforcement guidelines. JTTFs will play a significant role in this arena, Wiley adds.

One area that increasingly needs improvement is information management, including information processing and analytic tools. Wiley remarks that the agency is always looking to improve performance in this area, and it seeks input from industry. “If you have an idea on how we can collect, process or disseminate information in a way that is more effective than we currently are doing, [then] we are certainly open to considering it,” he emphasizes. This task encompasses dealing with large volumes of data, especially “large volumes of disorganized, chaotic, conflicting and partial information,” he continues. Considerable good work has been performed dealing with structured data, and this has proved helpful. However, much remains to be accomplished with unstructured data.

Machine-translation language support is another area that can provide benefits to the intelligence community. While it never can substitute for having both operators and analysts who speak foreign languages, Wiley notes, it can be a valuable asset to the agency.

Yet even this technical capability, however important, runs second to human expertise. “How can you understand a Saudi, an Indian, a Chinese or a Japanese if you don’t have a sense of their language?” he asks. “Even if industry tomorrow gave us an instantaneous electronic Rosetta Stone, it would be no substitute for people learning foreign languages.”