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Intelligence Funding Lags Growth of Global Menace

December 2000
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Cutbacks in human assets limit understanding of disparate crises on several continents.

The proliferation of new and diverse threats to U.S. interests has the intelligence community scrambling for scarce resources to maintain pace with newly emerging challenges. Traditional menaces such as the spread of weapons of mass destruction and organized terrorist groups have been complicated by emerging geopolitical changes and technologies. Keeping up with this dynamic threat picture has taxed the intelligence community and may require considerable funding increases and a reallocation of resources.

Nuclear proliferation has led to two new members in the nuclear club—Pakistan and India—that have been waging a long-standing border conflict. Other countries, including some rogue nations, may already be secret members. Resilient drug traffickers have grown into geopolitical powers that virtually hold entire countries hostage.

The larger U.S. role in international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations has increased both the visibility and the vulnerability of forces and personnel overseas. More information on vital U.S. targets is available in cyberspace, and hostile groups are working to use that resource to undermine U.S. interests.

Unlike previous intelligence crises that usually resulted from a lack of a single discipline, solving this one may require an increased emphasis on both human assets and technological solutions. Where Cold War intelligence operations were able to focus on key target areas, the new challenges are too diverse and can spring up in unpredictable locations.

“Unquestionably, the world is an evolutionary process,” says Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “There are some sovereign nations or cultures that feel they have a destiny, and they may end up in conflict with each other.”

Rep. Goss believes that the United States is not spending nearly enough on its intelligence community to enable it to deal with diverse crises and threats that are emerging throughout the world.

“We are agitating all the time to get the money to invest in the capabilities to deal with those threats,” the congressman says. “In just our basic agencies today that involve what are known as ‘the horizons’—NIMA [the National Imagery and Mapping Agency], NRO [the National Reconnaissance Office], NSA [the National Security Agency]—we are short of funding.” He continues that some intelligence agencies have to leave material “on the cutting room floor” because they lack sufficient analysts.

Communications among these agencies is another challenge. “We have a breakdown in communications between intelligence agencies because they do not have a secure communications system to talk to each other,” he charges.

The congressman warns that the intelligence community already is showing the strains of meeting increasing demands without commensurate increases in vital resources. “When [the] NSA is down for 72 hours, you have a problem. When you examine the fragility of some of our other means, you understand that you are running out of time,” Rep. Goss says.

The committee chairman believes that one of the greatest needs in the intelligence community is human intelligence, or HUMINT. The United States needs “more eyes and ears” abroad keeping track of the diverse threats that are maturing and emerging. “We need to have people where mischief goes on, even if we have massive overkill in our agent portfolios,” he says. “If an agent only tells us one thing in a lifetime, if it is the one important thing that stops a city or U.S. citizens from being wiped out, then that agent just paid for itself.”

The congressman laments the closing of many overseas intelligence bases in Africa, which has suffered some of the worst brutality of the 1990s. The many crises plaguing that continent go deeper than genocide and tribal warfare into anarchy and loss of sovereignty for many people, he observes. Not having vital ground-based intelligence capabilities has made it difficult to keep track of events as well as to protect U.S. citizens, who twice have been victims of embassy bombings.

Rectifying this shortage requires “developing the eyes and ears in all of the remote corners of world—even if it means rubbing shoulders with some really crummy people, looking under all the rocks and behind all the back alleys,” Rep. Goss maintains. “It involves getting out there and penetrating the troublemaking population so that we understand ahead of time what their plans and attentions might be.”

Increasing the HUMINT capability also will require some support technologies. A larger agent network mandates added technology for communications relays, for example. Information technologies will be called upon to support operations in remote, largely inaccessible areas such as Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.

Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) is another area where Rep. Goss calls for increased emphasis. This discipline involves determining a signal’s characteristics—in effect, taking an electronic fingerprint of it. This new and evolving analytical capability is becoming especially vital as advanced information technologies predominate at every level of society.

“We have gotten away with [these shortcomings] because we are living in affluent ‘blue sky times’ where the quality of life is good, and we can tolerate the occasional terrorist attack,” the congressman declares.

“The world is a more dangerous place today than it was in the early 1990s. What has happened is that things have hardened a bit, and we have discovered that there are mischief-makers out there. Because there is no bipolar standoff creating attention, there is now an opportunity for a lot of people to exert their energies—and not all of those energies are benign.

“We are the world’s dominant power. We are the nation that people look to and look at, and we are also the nation that a lot of people would like to run out from behind a rock and take a kick at, for whatever motivation. We have people out there who are interested in causing difficulty, if not harm, for Americans and American interests at home and abroad,” he warns.

Rep. Goss explains that the threat of nuclear annihilation has been reduced, but threats of a different nature have emerged. Transnational terrorist groups can cause “a nasty surprise tragedy” that can be parlayed into behavioral change and other instruments of manipulation.

The worst problem facing the United States involves weapons of mass destruction, the congressman offers. “It is the one that we have struggled with the hardest behind the scenes, and the one where the greatest cheating is going on by rogue nations and other states.” He continues that this cheating includes “so-called U.S. partnership states” such as Russia and China.

The United States has had some success in curbing nuclear proliferation, but it has not been as diligent as it should have in the post-Cold-War era, the congressman charges. “We could have done a lot better,” he says, adding that the United States “has winked and nodded” a few times at violations in proliferation agreements.

Rep. Goss cites the Russia/Iran relationship (SIGNAL, April 1999, page 20) and the China/Pakistan partnership as two examples of flouting of nonproliferation guidelines. Progress in the China/Pakistan nuclear program probably caused the Indian government to go ahead with its series of tests in 1998, the congressman suggests. Indian officials believed that the then-existing nuclear powers were not doing a good job policing the nuclear neighborhood and that they had no choice but to test their own weapons in the face of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon developments.

The Cold War nuclear balance of terror has been replaced by an uneasiness about many existing nuclear weapons. While both the United States and Russia agreed to de-target their missiles, Rep. Goss notes that Russian nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles can be re-targeted in a matter of moments. Maintaining that the missiles are not aimed at the United States creates a false sense of security among the U.S. public, he charges.

More significantly, China has not de-targeted its missiles aimed at the United States. The Asian power does have “city busters” mounted atop intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at U.S. cities, he states. Their accuracy may not be as good as that of Russian missiles, but that is little consolation to those who could be on the receiving end of one of these missiles.

While the United States offers the potential for inflicting widespread damage with its massive retaliatory capabilities, this does not ensure a measure of safety. According to the congressman, one Chinese official said “If you can do without Los Angeles, we can do without some of our territory too.”

“I know of no U.S. city that wants to volunteer to be the incoming target for a nuclear weapon so that we can launch the massive retaliation,” Rep. Goss maintains.

Other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons are “virtually impossible to protect against 100 percent,” the congressman allows. He offers that the best way to deal with these two hazards is through good intelligence that helps prevent incidents. From a policy perspective, instituting nationwide vaccination programs in response to a limited biological attack would play right to the terrorists’ goals of altering the lives of an entire population. It would be far better to identify potential bioterrorists and deter their activities.

Narcotics traffickers are another threat that is increasing in influence worldwide. Columbia, with its democratic government, is in the throes of a civil war spurred by an advancing alliance between leftist guerrillas and cash-rich drug lords. Rep. Goss states that these Marxist-type guerrillas are motivated primarily by the money they are making by assisting the drug traffickers. Haiti is another country that is rapidly becoming “in bondage” to narcotics trafficking, he adds.

These traffickers threaten U.S. interests beyond their geopolitical yearnings, the congressman continues. The congressman points out that the drug lords are responsible for the deaths of roughly 14,000 U.S. youths every year. “That to me is a horrible statistic,” he says.

International racketeering also has reached new proportions because of “technology and tolerance,” according to the congressman. He adds that several kleptocracies already exist in the world today, including Russia and some countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The congressman describes information warfare as the great unknown. “It’s realistic to expect that a determined enemy can go beyond just hacking into Pentagon activities or State Department computers,” he says. “It is virtually impossible in this world today, with technology spreading information so rapidly, to guarantee that all that information is going to be used with good judgment. In fact, it is virtually possible to say that it will not all be used with good judgment,” he adds.

The flip side of information warfare encompasses information assurance. Rep. Goss warns that the greater reliance on information in national security matters requires the user to be confident about the validity of essential data. “You have to be sure that you can trust and believe the communication that you receive,” he says. “That will be the area of greatest mischief.”

Part of the problem is that almost all users of information technologies are suffering from information overload. The congressman states that the line between reality and fiction is blurred, and many users lack the collective judgment to discern the difference. Even with screens and filters that increase user confidence, the necessary judgment to handle the pace and the depth of the available data may be lacking.

Space is another arena that the congressman sees as increasing in importance and vulnerability. “What are the rules for space? Who enforces rules for space? The people who make the rules for space are the people who get there, and that is competitive. Different people have different interests,” he declares. “We are behind the ball in dealing with new technology.”