Intelligence Successes Are Being Overlooked

October 2006
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

It has been said that the two news items published most inside the Beltway are “operational successes” and “intelligence failures.” Nothing would please me more than to be able to list all of the positive developments in real intelligence collection and sharing that have occurred since the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004—but I cannot. However, the intelligence community, in the wake of this restructuring, has provided a greater glimpse than ever before of its goals and effectiveness. Unfortunately, the public seems aware of only those widely publicized intelligence failures.

This is a serious misconception that is counterproductive for both the intelligence community and the public interest. Most people are unaware, for example, that the creation of the positions of director of national intelligence (DNI) and undersecretary of defense for intelligence already has borne fruit in better communication, enhanced efficiency and improved capabilities.

One of the most visible developments is the formation of the joint intelligence operations centers, or JIOCs, which are designed to support combatant commanders around the globe. And here in Washington, D.C., the close relationship between the U.S. Defense Department chief information officer (CIO), John G. Grimes, and the DNI CIO, Dale W. Meyerrose, is another important development arising from the restructuring. This interaction has resulted in improved information sharing and enhanced coordination.

The vast majority of the positive elements cannot be discussed in an open forum, whether the pages of this magazine, the open hearing rooms of the U.S. Congress or the World Wide Web. The very nature of the intelligence field prevents its most important characteristics from being open to public scrutiny—and approval.

It would be good politics, in keeping with the U.S. tradition of government transparency and accountability, to present the general public with a full airing of intelligence community changes and related activities. Aspects of the intelligence reorganization that did not have positive results would be revisited, and successful changes would be properly lauded and supported by the public. It would be good politics but bad operational security—OPSEC—and could cost us dearly.

The establishment of the DNI position was accompanied by considerable fanfare. But since then, its only mention in the public realm has been as the subject of criticism, much of it about organizational aspects. Absent any credit for achievement, the public sees only what it perceives to be negative.

I for one believe that many of the efforts needed to produce quality intelligence are underway and producing results. The public has no idea exactly how many terrorist attacks have been foiled in the covert world of intelligence. Some high-profile cases, such as the joint Anglo-American investigation that broke up a ring seeking to destroy trans-Atlantic airliners, do reach the public eye.

And the intelligence community has been publicizing its plans and goals. As noted in the July 2006 Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission progress report, in its first year the Office of the DNI (ODNI) has issued a National Intelligence Strategy, restructured intelligence community processes for collection management, established the National Security Branch and National Clandestine Service, made the president’s daily briefing more of a community product and instituted changes in information sharing. The report adds that these reform efforts have resulted in critical improvements to the security of the United States.

The ODNI National Intelligence Strategy, issued one year ago, gives the public a glance at the future of U.S. intelligence. This document describes how the intelligence community will strive to achieve three key goals: integrate the domestic and foreign dimensions of U.S. intelligence so that no gaps exist in understanding threats to national security, bring more depth and accuracy to intelligence analysis and ensure that U.S. intelligence resources generate future capabilities as well as permanent results.

Just this past May, the DNI issued a report on the efforts to carry out the 2004 intelligence reform act. It found substantial progress being made in that implementation.

By sharing these goals and progress reports, the intelligence community is demonstrating its accountability to the public. And the public can understand better how intelligence works, including the complicated steps that must be taken to achieve effective information gathering, analysis and dissemination.

There always is a potential danger in publishing plans and road maps, but the nation has grown to expect information from public officials. I am confident that the road map shows the progress being made and that near-term successes are right around the corner.