It never quite worked as intended. With few exceptions, the alphabet soup of sixteen U.S. government agencies charged with the collection of intelligence -- CIA, NSA, DIA, NRO, INR, FBI, DOE, DHS, DEA, ATF, TFI, US Army, USN, USMC, USAF, USCG -- never danced to the beat of the DCI. The vicious terrorist attack of Sept. 11 proved how inadequate this bureaucracy was in collecting information and disseminating intelligence to those responsible for protecting the American people. All this was supposed to change when John Negroponte became the Director of National Intelligence on April 22, 2005. Now, a year later, it appears this reorganization hasn't worked either.
As politicians with the attention span of fruit flies rush to the microphones for "face time" on the NSA debate and the color of the suit that the new CIA director will wear, essential repairs to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTP) and to the CIA's mission and methods are being swept aside. In the midst of a war, it's a distraction we can ill afford. A few examples:
The IRTP was so imperfectly written that vital organizations like the CIA's National Counter-terrorism Center must go hat-in-hand to various collection agencies to beg for information on terrorist cells, leaders and locations. The Defense Department has responded to this problem by creating whole new organizations within the Joint Special Operations Command for the collection of "actionable" human intelligence -- leaving the CIA "out of the loop."
The CIA desperately needs a leader who can re-focus the Agency's personnel, energy and attention at the Langley headquarters and globally on the collection of human intelligence.
The office of the DNI needs to have the authority to centralize "all source" intelligence collection -- but should be directed to leave the analysis of information distributed throughout the government. There is, as one senior national security official told me, "no such thing as ‘absolute intelligence.' We need ‘competitive analysis' and perspective so that the decision maker isn't presented with the lowest common denominator of what's disseminated."
These three "fixes" won't solve all the problems we have in our collection and use of intelligence -- but they will help. Those who think that we can afford to dither and dawdle need to see the recent film, "United 93."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.