Legacy Organizations Hinder Intelligence Effectiveness

April 2002
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Cold War constructs are ill-suited for anti-terrorist warfare.

As successful as operation Enduring Freedom has been on the battlefields of Afghanistan, the lack of organizational reform in domestic U.S. agencies threatens the battle on the war’s other front—the United States. Despite increased security measures and the heightened state of alert on the part of the public, the country is still highly vulnerable to further attacks by terrorists.

Among the impediments is the failure to sufficiently empower the new Office of Homeland Security with authority over the organizations tasked with maintaining secure borders. In addition, the structure of the intelligence community, which still follows Cold War lines, inhibits its efficiency and its ability to deal with the new terrorist threat. The result may be another terrorist attack that would take advantage of the same government vulnerabilities that enabled last September’s attacks, according to the co-chairman of a commission that, more than a year ago, predicted terrorist attacks on the United States.

Former U.S. Senator Gary Hart served with former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman as co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, also known as the Hart-Rudman Commission. The commission’s third report, Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change, was released in January 2001—more than eight months before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Now, several months after the attacks and more than a year after the commission issued its report, Hart believes that many of its prescient recommendations remain unfulfilled.

“Months have gone by, and the country is not prepared for another attack,” he charges.

“America divides into two schools right now. One is ‘The worst is over; we can go back to more-or-less business as usual. Be on our guard, but they never will be able to do something like this again.’ The other school, to which I belong, is ‘This is just the beginning—welcome to the 21st century. If it’s not al Qaida, it’s somebody [else]—it may even be domestic.’

“Warfare is being transformed, and the nature of war is changing,” Hart continues. “Our ability to think about it differently is not changing, unfortunately. We’re in a kind of time warp right now. On the one hand, the legacy of the Cold War still hangs on in terms of defense structures and budgets and weapon systems and manners of thinking, while the world around us is changing with lightning speed. We are not capable of keeping up with those transformations, and we will get caught again.”

“Great frustration” was Hart’s first reaction when he learned of the attacks on September 11. “I immediately began to think what more could we have done,” he relates. He laments that the news media did not give the commission’s report more attention and coverage when it was released. “We’ll never know” if changes could have come about in the necessary form and in time to prevent the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, he adds.

Hart notes that the report predicted that the United States would be attacked and large numbers of citizens would lose their lives. That finding led the commission to recommend the creation of a National Homeland Security Agency.

The Office of Homeland Security created by President Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks followed that recommendation. The commission also recommended that the three organizations responsible for enforcing the nation’s borders—the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Border Patrol—be transferred to the new homeland security umbrella organization. Also under its aegis would be the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Commerce Department’s Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection, and government-industry information sharing and analysis centers, or ISACs.

None of these organizations have been shifted to the new homeland security office. Consequently, Hart believes that this office will not be effective under its current limited structure. Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, the office’s director, has stated his desire to consolidate the three uniformed border organizations, which are in three different federal departments. However, Hart contends, this process is taking much too long.

“The more Governor Ridge confronts the difficulty of coordination, rather than reorganization and consolidation, the more he will want [these organizations to be consolidated],” Hart offers.

Hart likens this need for consolidation to the defense reorganization that took place at the beginning of the Cold War. The separate cabinet departments of War and the Navy came under the umbrella of the single cabinet-level Department of Defense in 1947. “All our commission said was ‘let’s do the same thing for homeland security,’” he emphasizes.

Any reluctance to undertaking a broad-based reorganization while fighting a war should not be an issue, Hart maintains. “It’s not two different games. It’s the same game. The way to achieve homeland security is to reorganize,” he declares. “If you’re at war, you do things on an urgent basis.”

Hart expresses concern over four aspects of the U.S. national infrastructure. First is transportation, especially air travel. Second comes communications, while the third element is finance. The fourth item is energy. All of these are vulnerable to attack, particularly to cyberattack, he warns.

The air transportation infrastructure is vulnerable to more than just suicide hijackers. A cyberattack on its information systems could have devastating consequences. “If someone shuts down the air traffic control system on the East Coast at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday, you will have a lot of dead people, a lot of terror and a lot of chaos,” Hart declares. The same threat holds true for the energy grid, the public telecommunications network and the banking system.

Hart relates that the commission placed a good deal of emphasis for cybersecurity on the private sector. “The response to this threat is so dispersed that there is no single national government program to protect these assets,” he continues. The government must coordinate the private sector’s efforts—communications companies, energy providers, airlines and banks—in hardening their systems.

The commission did not recommend a broad reorganization of the intelligence community. Concluding that “the basic structure of the intelligence community does not require change,” the commission nonetheless recommended that the community emphasize “the recruitment of human intelligence (HUMINT) sources on terrorism as one of the intelligence community’s highest priorities.”

Hart does, however, believe that the intelligence community should examine its structure with an eye toward more efficiency. To that end, he calls for the president to create a panel of six experts to study the intelligence community for six months and generate a proposal for reorganizing intelligence. This panel’s approach should be to design the ideal 21st century intelligence community from scratch.

“These are legacy systems,” he emphasizes. “The FBI is left over from the days of prohibition, and the CIA is left over from the Cold War. You do have those cultural problems where people have embedded positions based on what they did for 15 or 20 years, and it can be awfully hard to shake those positions.”

Hart explains that, properly tasked and organized, the existing structure of a director of central intelligence (DCI) heading the community’s agencies and organizations could work well to ensure homeland security. The problem was that the community as a whole had forsaken HUMINT in favor of high-technology methods of collection. Re-emphasizing HUMINT, which is being advocated by many leaders of the community, including DCI George J. Tenet (SIGNAL, October 2001, page 17), would not require a major upheaval in the intelligence community structure.

Developing HUMINT assets will take some effort, Hart points out. It is a high-risk endeavor that occasionally results in loss of life when agents are uncovered. In addition, many of the people who would be serving as agents would be unsavory types. “You would pay them a lot of money; they may be doing some things on the side that you don’t like, but you have to get the information,” Hart concedes.

The commission also recommended that the intelligence community place new emphasis on collection and analysis of economic and science/technology security concerns and incorporate more open-source intelligence into analytical products. This will require increased funding, especially for the National Foreign Intelligence Program budget for collection and analysis, without a major overhaul of the intelligence community.

However, this is not to say that methodologies could not be changed. Hart returns to the theme of restructuring intelligence activities to acknowledge the end of the Cold War.

Moving vital information more smoothly among different organizations will require a change of cultures, Hart allows. It also will require that officials understand the public’s sensitivities about spying on citizens. The need for both internal and external espionage agencies to detect and track foreign nationals who may be moving in and out of the country is a related public issue.

This can, and should, be done without sacrificing civil liberties, Hart maintains. Existing judicial review mechanisms may need to be heightened, but these mechanisms can ensure that domestic safeguards are followed. If necessary, a judicial review system can be built into domestic security activities to ensure both the preservation of civil liberties and the ability to act quickly to track down and apprehend terrorists in the United States.

“I don’t think you set aside civil liberties in wartime,” Hart says. “I think the protection of those [civil liberties] becomes even more important because they are more easily eroded out of expediency.”

Electronic surveillance is not a shocking concept to most U.S. citizens, Hart continues. Most who travel abroad expect that their conversations may be monitored at any time, especially when using wireless technologies such as cellular telephones. An exchange of information among different intelligence and law enforcement organizations would not be as much of a problem as would the CIA actually inserting agents into society to place citizens under surveillance.

Hart does caution against the potential for individuals to exceed legal limitations while acting on behalf of the country. In some cases, people may believe that a high-level request for action or results is a de facto endorsement for any activity that achieves the desired goal. Leadership from the top down must ensure that their instructions are clear and unambiguous, especially with regard to legal behavior.

 

Additional information on the Hart-Rudman Commission is available on the World Wide Web at www.nssg.gov.