Tough Intelligence Choices

October 2004
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

Many of us who live inside the Washington, D.C., beltway are considering the ramifications of the 9/11 Commission Report. Foremost among the commission’s recommendations is the establishment of a director of national intelligence, or DNI. Experts are split on whether this new position would help eliminate intelligence shortcomings and increase efficiency, or whether it would impart lasting damage on the intelligence community when our nation is faced with a deadly menace.

Several learned people have expressed thoughtful opinions on the DNI concept. Dr. John Hamre, former deputy secretary of defense, has called for centralized planning and decentralized analysis. He seeks to facilitate the integration of data collection while spurring competition for ideas in the intelligence assessment world.

On the other hand, Dr. Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state and national security adviser, warned that a new layer of bureaucracy atop the intelligence community would sap existing personnel resources and would deny the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, direct access to the president. It also could lead to a monolithic assessment process that counters the development of real options.

Others have presented a strong argument in favor of creating an umbrella position for the intelligence community similar to the approach taken with the U.S. Defense Department in the post-World-War-II reorganization that placed all of the services equally under the control of a secretary of defense. The uniformed side of the department saw a similar change with the Reagan-era Goldwater-Nichols Act that strengthened the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These changes treated the elements of the defense community as organizational equals.

In contrast, the intelligence community opted to dual-hat the director of central intelligence, or DCI, as the director of the CIA. This organizational structure created an imbalance that may have led to an increased amount of attention being paid to the CIA over the other intelligence agencies—for better or worse.

This is not a matter of the agency receiving unfair preferential treatment so much as it is human nature for individuals to pay more attention to aspects about which they know the most. The DCI is more heavily influenced in day-to-day operations by the requirements of the CIA versus the requirements of other intelligence community organizations.

If the intelligence community has a DNI that oversees the underlying organizations all from the same perspective, greater efficiencies might be realized. It seems to work for the Defense Department. This DNI would have a balanced view of the intelligence community and would be able to allocate resources accordingly. Unnecessary duplicative efforts would stand out to a far greater degree. And, challenges such as horizontal integration would have an advocate able to track its progress across the breadth of the community.

Amid all of this debate, there may be a guideline against which to evaluate the DNI concept. After becoming secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld created the position of undersecretary of defense for intelligence, or USD(I). This position, most ably filled by Dr. Stephen Cambone, is analogous within the military intelligence arena to the DNI post in the national intelligence arena.

The telling point about the USD(I) would be if it demonstrates any metrics that actually define an increased intelligence capability for the Defense Department. Issues such as whether the service intelligence communities are regulated better, whether horizontal integration is improving within the department and whether measurable benefits can be assigned to this major organizational change may help demonstrate the utility of the DNI concept.

On the other hand, the lack of any positive metrics could be a cautionary sign that planners should take a measured approach to a change this significant. I believe that the DNI concept is a good one. However, a rush to reorganize could quickly run afoul of the law of unintended consequences. This would be especially damaging in this time of war, so process must be outcome-oriented and not just change-oriented.

While we are focused on the national intelligence organizational structure, another vital intelligence issue may be slipping in under the radar. Are we losing sight of the importance of overseas force withdrawals on the military intelligence community? The president has called for 70,000 troops to return to bases in the United States, and this will have a significant effect on military intelligence.

This effect should not be overlooked. Our intelligence gathering capability and our offshore analysis capability undoubtedly will decrease as forces return home from Europe and the Pacific rim. The withdrawal should have implications for satellites, spies and smart rocks, just to name a few.

Playing inside-the-beltway organizational power-brokering should takea back seat to providing intelligence support for our engaged forces. I hope that, somewhere in the corridors of the intelligence community, a group of people are actively and aggressively developing plans and organizational structure to ensure only a minimal loss of intelligence gathering and analysis capability as we restructure in Europe and in the Pacific.

It has been said that Washington, D.C., celebrates operational successes and intelligence failures. Whether that is a failing of human nature is irrelevant. The best way to stop the negative form of celebration is to give no failures to celebrate. The time may be right for a DNI to lead that charge.