The panel discussion "Collecting and Understanding US Intelligence on the Middle East" took place at the 59th annual conference in November, 2005.
Adjunct Scholar, Middle East Institute
Let me just thank you for coming and say that this panel on “Collecting and Understanding US Intelligence on the Middle East” is going to be one that I think people will be interested in because there are so many crushing challenges in this area related to what’s happening right now in the region regardless of what you’re covering — whether it’s Iraq, the Arab-Israeli peace process or many other important questions. The panel has decades of experience — probably among the four of us, over a hundred years of experience in Middle East issues and heavily with an intelligence focus.
We’re going to lead off with Frank. Frank Anderson is former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Near East and South Asia Division and ran CIA’s Afghan program during the Soviet invasion.
John Moore retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) back in 2000 after 32 years as an analyst and manager of analysts dealing with the Middle East. Thirty-two years is my number, too, John; that’s interesting. From 1992 to 2000, he was the DIA’s senior Middle East person, called the Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO), for Near East, South Asia and terrorism. Since retiring John has been working as a consultant for the State Department, the intelligence community and private firms in the Washington area.
Rand Beers has been an adjunct lecturer in public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served in the National Security Council (NSC) under President Bush’s father and his son, our current president, and Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. He served as director for counterterrorism and counter-narcotics, director for peacekeeping, and senior director for intelligence programs. From 1998 to 2003 he was assistant secretary of state for intelligence for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, and in 2002-2003 he was a special assistant to the president and senior director for combating terrorism. So you can see the kind of talent that’s on this panel.
Before we dig into some of the issues we’re going to be discussing — in some cases organizational, particularly in wake of the intelligence reform, and hitting other angles as well — let me just tell you about something very briefly in a couple minutes that I noticed during 26 years in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at State which is often unmentioned. That is the volume of material available to the average person working any issue in the intelligence world relating to the Middle East, particularly Iraq and I would say probably also the Arab-Israeli front. Just the sheer volume of information. We constantly were told throughout the last decade that the information revolution was in a sense liberating, but the problem is that it just provided too much. Intelligence collection improved but provided a deluge of information.
To give you an idea, by contrast, when I first took over as analyst for Iraq in 1979, there was on average about 40 to 50 things for me to read in a day. That included translations of foreign radio broadcasts, intelligence reports from various agencies, et cetera. By Gulf War I, it was a thousand a day that my Iraq analyst had to deal with, which meant that people were doing a lot of scanning and not reading.
It’s only gotten worse since then. With the explosion of resources on the Web, that itself has provided hundreds and hundreds of possible data points and other things that you can draw off of in addition to the many hundreds, even thousands of things that come across people’s desks in a day. There is a lot of scanning going on in government. It’s very hard to read things. I can’t tell you how many times somebody came to me and said, “Did you see that very interesting cable from Cairo this morning?” And I said, “Yeah, I saw it, but what was interesting about it?” They said, “Well, if you had read down to paragraph 7, you might have seen that.” It’s scanning, scanning, scanning, title reading, et cetera. That is a very daunting challenge. I just thought I should throw that in to give you a feeling for what it’s like to sit there and have to go through, just on a daily basis in an operational sense, what any analyst throughout the intelligence community is working on today.
With that, I think I’ll pass it off to Frank. I’ll warn you when the ten-minute moment has arrived.
Hard to finish this in ten minutes, but I’m going to take thirty seconds to begin with a disclaimer. Despite the fact that the nametag and the program says Central Intelligence Agency-Retired, I need to emphasize that nothing I say has anything to do with having been approved by the Central Intelligence Agency. I retired from there over ten years ago. My expressions are my own. I’m going to be very careful not to release any classified information. One of the advantages of being retired for as long as I have been is that I don’t remember much classified information.
Oh, come on.
Central Intelligence Agency (ret)
In any audience that I’ve confronted, including one made up of intelligence professionals, I find it useful to start out with the very basics and outline what the missions are. What is it that the — I won’t say CIA or anybody, but what is it that our intelligence, our organs do? What do they do in the foreign field and what do they do in the United States? Then talk about how well they do it and ways they can do it better.
In the foreign field they have three missions: the collection of intelligence; counterintelligence; and what is called in law special activities, and what in regulation in the common parlance is called covert action.
Intelligence collection — we have to have information about the world around us. We need to know the capabilities of our friends and enemies, including secret information. That’s secrets, information that our opponents and even our friends seek to hide from us.
Counterintelligence is we have to keep our enemies and often our friends from gaining access to our secret information.
Covert action is the stuff of conflict. People argue about it. Every time the CIA or other organs of the United States government get in real trouble, it tends to be related to if not solely covert action.
What is covert action? States engage in a spectrum of activities, one with another, that goes from communication through information programs and diplomacy to the provision of aid, to advice and secret cooperation, and at the other end of the spectrum, the application of violence. In our system, whenever the United States engages anywhere on this spectrum of statecraft and doesn’t acknowledge that it’s doing it, it is covert action. It falls under a special set of rules. It usually gets dumped upon the intelligence services to carry them out.
How do they carry out these missions? They have three missions; they really carry them out in three ways.
They carry them out directly. We’re capable of seeing and hearing by ourselves — sometimes with mechanical assistance. Literature and government parlance is filled with discussion of the “ints” — IMINT, which is imagery intelligence, and SIGINT, which is the collection of communications and sometimes just electronic emanations from which we can gather information. This is done directly. An important part of direct collection is open source. There is press, there’s academic literature, and it’s important that the intelligence community collect that.
A second way they do it is through the recruitment of foreign sources, persuading the other side to cooperate — individuals on the other side. It’s a lot easier to persuade someone who has a document to bring it out of his or her office and give it to you than it is to commit a burglary to go in and get it. In the covert action realm, it’s much easier to persuade a writer or a commentator — in the communications end of this — to make a statement that would advance our interests than it is to write it yourself and get it published. At the other end of that spectrum, it’s much easier to arm and support several hundred thousand Afghans fighting the Red Army than it is for us to take them on at the Fulda Gap. We recruit and operate through agents.
A third and almost denigrated recently but extremely important way is through cooperation with friendly intelligence services — no, let me say this. Cooperation with other intelligence services, usually the friendly ones. Sometimes the cooperation is with those that are not always friendly. This sort of cooperation began in our creation. Our intelligence community was born really during World War II, at a time when it learned its business in liaison — the British taught us. We were engaged with the free nations of the world in defeating National Socialism and the real threats to democracy. We had to do it together, and when we created an intelligence community it was created with a lot of friends around. As we moved into the Third World — and I’m an unabashed anti-Soviet still — we needed to cooperate. We developed relationships with countries that were not on our side or their side in order to advance our interests and, quite frankly, just protect them from what was a real Soviet threat.
In the new world, the post-Cold War world, in a world where terrorism is the issue, these cooperative relationships are absolutely vital. It would be ludicrous to assume that any nation could deploy enough of its citizens openly, let alone covertly, to collect the kinds of intelligence that you need to collect and perform the kinds of actions that you need to perform to counter terrorism with those people. As a practical matter, it is highly unlikely you can get more than a few dozen and in most places fewer than a dozen American intelligence officers deployed in a foreign country. Terrorism and countering terrorism requires the active and effective work of thousands of people in each country. We can’t do that by ourselves. We have to do it in cooperation with other services.
This trends into another role of the intelligence services. Before I go back to this, I’ve been accused — no, I use the term, it’s no longer classified because it got out into the press — of describing a lot of what we do as low-intensity statecraft. The intelligence services of the United States frequently engage in statecraft that would normally be the business of the Department of State or sometimes the Department of Defense. When they do it right, they do it in very close coordination with it. Frequently it’s done by chiefs of stations and ambassadors without the knowledge and consent of their respective bosses. But intelligence officers abroad in their covert action roles and in their cooperation roles with local intelligence services get very deeply involved in the execution of policy beyond the intelligence realm.
When you get back to the United States, what are the jobs that need to be done? The intelligence has to be properly analyzed. It has to be properly disseminated, and then it has to be properly applied.
The failures that we’ve talked about — obviously we could talk for weeks about 9-11, but in a few minutes I think you can nail that down to dissemination failures have been identified more than any other. We knew this was a threat. We were trying to collect against it. It was a bigger threat than we had capability to collect, but the errors — to the extent they were identified — that could have really prevented 9-11 were dissemination errors. One part of the government had information they didn’t get to the other parts.
Analysis — we’ll shift to the latest disputes about the performance of the intelligence community, and that’s on Iraq. Iraq really wasn’t an analysis failure. It was a collection failure, an analysis failure, an application failure. It was across the board: we failed.
When we have failures, we have reforms. The reforms take a number of forms. There is — I’ll call them personnel or personal reforms, which take the form of proposals for punishment. There’s always a reorganization reform. Rightly in most cases there are rehabilitation reforms — let’s find out what was wrong and fix it. Fortunately for the intelligence community, in the last few years there has been a refinancing reform. Got a lot more resources.
How is this different in the Middle East than elsewhere? Right now the issues are all in the Middle East. We’re not getting hammered for failure to understand French or German economics. We’re getting hammered for failure to produce on issues related to Arab-Israeli matters, to Iran, to Iraq and to terrorism.
How have the reforms worked? With less than two minutes to go, let me tell you — I’m not pleased by many of them. In the reorganization reforms, we have created — we’ve removed from the Director of Central Intelligence his close relationship to the President. It may very well be that there is a personal relationship that will go beyond what’s allowed or provided for in the organization, but in fact we’ve taken that away and we have not replaced it. My understanding is that the Director of National Intelligence is going to set up his offices at Bolling Air Force Base. This is not a way to strengthen the role of the intelligence community in providing intelligence collection and in participating in low or high-intensity statecraft.
Other reforms, the refinancing — they’re getting more bright young people into the intelligence community than ever in its history. They’re still applying the same training and the same psychometrics to measure them so we get the same kinds of kids that we’ve always had. I believe the likelihood is that over time, irrespective of the organizations built around them, this generation is going to perform very well. It will matter less if they’re not led by someone who is close to and listened to by the president.
Defense Intelligence Agency
Before I talk about the Middle East, I’d like to offer some general points — four of them.
Like Frank, the first is really a disclaimer. As was stated, I retired from DIA in late 2000. As Wayne said, I’ve done some consulting work for the intelligence community since then. I’ve closely watched how the intelligence community was graded either by external commissions like the 9-11 and WMD Commissions, or how it rated its own performance. The remarks I make are my own views on collecting and analyzing intelligence on the Middle East. I’ll emphasize not only those very public failures but also try to detail some of the successes which have occurred with considerably less publicity.
Second, while I spent my 32-year government career at the Defense Intelligence Agency, I’m going to expand my scope and claim responsibility for the entire defense intelligence community because of its importance and dominance of the US intelligence community. How dominant is defense intelligence? Well, fully 80 percent of the collection resources of the US intelligence community are resident in defense. The directors of the National Security Agency, which conducts signals intelligence; the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which manages the fleet of US intelligence-gathering satellites; the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGAI), which analyzes the NRO product; and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which collects human intelligence — all report to the Secretary of Defense. When you add in the intelligence capability of the US military services — tactical units and the military commands like Central Command — you find that at least 80 percent of the people in the community belong to defense. Thus, you see how important Department of Defense (DOD) is to the US intelligence effort.
These budget, collection and personnel factors are why Secretary Rumsfeld and his right-hand man for intelligence, Undersecretary Steven Cambone, are at least equal in the intelligence business to the just-appointed Director of National Intelligence, Ambassador Negroponte.
Third, almost all the technical collection systems resident within the defense agencies are legacy systems from the Cold War. These national systems though have had clear utility in the Middle East, as you’ve seen in targeting in the various Gulf wars. About the only new collection system that has come online since the fall of the Soviet Union are the now widely used unmanned aerial vehicles. Most of them belong to defense.
The fourth major fact is the intelligence community has undergone a massive increase in size, as Frank alluded to, since 9-11. Across the board, whether in budget or personnel, this increase has averaged between 50 and 100 percent.
But most importantly, as Frank also mentioned, there’s been a tremendous recruiting effort to find people different from Frank and myself — Anglo-Saxon, Irish types — and people who’ve got a different ethnic background and understanding, who have a language skill and come with some regional experience.
But a lot still depends on the people who manage them. These folks were hired during the boom years of the Reagan Administration or the bust years of the Clinton Administration, when the US intelligence community was downsized by at least 25, closer to 35 percent, because we won the Cold War.
Now let me turn to defense intelligence in the Middle East. I’m going to concentrate on several countries — Iraq, Iran, and Syria and Lebanon — with emphasis on military intelligence and weapons of mass destruction.
Regarding Iraq, the most successful tactic used by both the foreign terrorists there and Iraqi insurgents against US forces and Iraqis is the improvised explosive device (IED). Like any other previous war, whether it was World War II — radar development and things like that — developing new capabilities and the means to defeat them are one of the key elements in winning the war. In this war, IEDs are the key technical battle right now. Judging from the effort and the amount of casualties — both US forces and to the Iraqis themselves — you’d have to say the other side is winning it right now. Maybe US commanders would say maybe it’s closer to a draw or we’re slightly winning, but it certainly doesn’t appear when you look at the casualty figures.
There has been, I think, one notable military intelligence success, both collection and analysis, that occurred. It was the capture of Saddam Hussein. It was essentially an effort — collection and analytical effort — done by military intelligence folks, using something that the intelligence community borrowed from law enforcement called link analysis, where in going after the Mafia they developed a way of linking the family and the people involved in the family, and they basically linked the people who guarded Saddam Hussein and narrowed the circle until they actually got into that little hole they pulled him out of. So that was a success.
The intelligence community was clearly correct — both defense, CIA and all the other elements in it — in refusing to draw any clear link between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda before we invaded in March 2003, despite strong pressure from some policymakers to do just that. Subsequently, like the global war against al Qaeda, we seem to be making some progress, some steady progress, against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s terrorist group. But like against al Qaeda, we have not captured the leadership — yet.
Nevertheless, it must be clearly pointed out, as several have pointed out — as Ambassador Turki Al-Faisal pointed out this morning — Iraq has become the principal operational training ground for Islamic terrorists and their leaders — future leaders.
The March 2005 Presidential Commission Report on Weapons of Mass Destruction was scathing in its criticism of the IC’s (Intelligence Community) collection and analysis effort against all of Iraq’s weapons capabilities. The IC flat got it wrong, and I quote the report: “After ten years of effort, the IC still had no good intelligence on the status of Iraq’s weapons programs.”
In the collection area, my old agency, DIA, was roundly criticized for its failure to properly vet the key source on Iraq’s biological program, nicknamed Curveball. As you recall, this source and his reporting was used extensively by Secretary of State Powell in his February 2003 address to the UN Security Council. The source was a fabricator.
Regarding Iraq, I think the President’s Commission also hinted at some of the problems regarding our understanding of Iran’s nuclear programs when it stated, “The IC knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world’s most dangerous actors. In some cases it knows less now than it did five or ten years ago.” This past summer there were press reports indicating that the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran forecast an indigenous nuclear weapon capability within five to ten years. Yet press reports in the mid-1990s stated that US intelligence believed Iran could have such a capability in five to seven years. So it’s not a very comforting and encouraging picture about our understanding, especially with Iran in danger of being brought before the Security Council for failure to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Turning to Lebanon and Syria, I believe there was a key role for the defense intelligence collection — mainly US military attachés — in monitoring Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon earlier this year, as well as Damascus’ limited efforts to improve its border capabilities along the long, mostly unpopulated frontier with Iraq. These Army officers, trained in Arabic with years of study and assignments in the region, are some of the best observers of Arab military forces the United States has. This Army program certainly needs to be expanded and particularly the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps should wholeheartedly embrace such a program.
I’ve tried to give you some snapshots of defense intelligence collection and production in the Middle East, using unclassified sources. The record is mixed, with some successes and quite public failures. To conclude, I need to reiterate some points I made previously as well as talk about operational tempo and the need for agencies to once again take responsibility for their failures.
First, if Islamic extremism that leads to terrorism against the US and its friends and allies is the principal threat to the United States, along with WMD, then the IC needs a major effort similar to that which was launched against the Soviet Union over sixty years ago. We have a long, long way to go before we get there.
Second, the intelligence community is going through organizational turmoil with the creation of the DNI (Director of National Intelligence). It remains to be seen if the community can right itself under the DNI. Or will the bad old habits the IC has, which has been infamous for decades, of ignoring all outside efforts to reform it and going its own way? The bureaucratic battles between the DNI and the Secretary of Defense over the coming years may give you an indication as to whether real reform is going to occur or not.
Third, as Frank mentioned, these are boom times in intelligence. The budget’s increasing exponentially and massive growth in numbers of personnel. But the IC has seen these boom and bust cycles for its entire history. So what are we going to do? Can we successfully deal with terrorism and WMD as well as spot opportunities for democratic reform, as the DNI’s just-released National Intelligence Strategy talks about?
Fourth, the fighting in Afghanistan is now into its fifth year. We are in the third year of the Iraq war. These operations not only demand a tremendous toll from our military forces but also from our intelligence personnel, who do six-month or one-year tours out in these regions. Many of the human collectors are on their second or third combat tour, with no relief in sight. These demands can drive many of these folks out of the intelligence business, as family becomes more important than job or personal interest.
Finally, I’d like to see the intelligence community once again take responsibility for its actions and failures. When I was a junior analyst in DIA in 1973, I saw people removed from their jobs for the failures about that war. It wasn’t just privates and sergeants from the Reserves, as we’ve seen in the Abu Ghraib scandal, but back then an Army colonel, a Navy captain and a senior DIA civilian analyst were removed from their jobs. Even the director of DIA, a Navy vice-admiral, was encouraged to retire less than a full year into his three-year tour as the director of DIA.
I’ve not heard of similar actions in CIA or DIA or any of the intelligence communities after the 9-11 failures or the WMD Commission foul-up. I think the community needs to stand up and accept — and the people in the community need to accept some personal responsibility.
There are many more areas I could cover but fortunately my text ran out. Wayne gave me the ten-minute notice so I’m happy to stop now and turn it back to Wayne.
Thanks, John. I agree strongly with what you said about accountability. But there is one thing that should be said, if you’ll permit me, Rand, just before I turn it over to you. Inherent in virtually every decision made — or I should say, analysis made — either collectively or on the part of a team or an individual in the intelligence community, is intelligence failure. I can’t think of perhaps a single instance in which I wasn’t in the situation or my colleagues were of trying to build a wall requiring a thousand intelligence bricks with 48 bricks, or 328 bricks or 840 bricks. But we never had them all. You’re filling in the gaps with intelligence cement, intelligence analytic cement. Some people have made brilliant calls with only 20 bricks on that thousand-brick wall. But usually there was always the possibility of some measure of intelligence failure.
Another problem that we have seen over the many years is how many times there has in fact been political failure. In other words, the intelligence did not bring you all the way to a certain decision a politician made — an administration made, a senior official made. It brought you part of the way and the rest of it was — if I wanted to use sort of current terminology, it might be called political spin. But that’s derogatory. But intelligence in many cases can only take the policymaker a certain distance, and then that final stretch involves policy. The beleaguered policymaker often, in cases where maybe the intelligence officer or agency should have been given a little bit greater respect and a little bit less blame, the policymaker gladly throws the blame over to the intelligence side as an intelligence failure. But that term is just bandied about loosely in many ways. John wasn’t doing that, but I just want to make sure there was an understanding that almost never are we in the possession of the amount of information we want. Even if we’re inundated with it, it’s often information that we didn’t want that gets in the way of the information that was much more highly desired.
With that editorial comment, I’ll turn it over to Rand to wrap it up for us.
former Counterterrorism Advisor, NSC
Let me just pick up on that last thing, which was going to be the thing that I was going to talk about last. I think the point that Wayne is making is absolutely critical for people to understand. There is an inherent tension between policymakers and the intelligence community and it’s just not going to go away.
When the situation doesn’t involve the definition of a precise policy, where it’s simply absorbing the information, then the interaction between the intelligence community and the policy community is probably at its best, because the tension is reduced to the minimal level. But as soon as the policymaker is faced with the need to make a policy decision — as Wayne quite correctly said, never (well, maybe almost never) based on perfect knowledge or good enough knowledge to have a real possession of the facts — a leap is made by policymakers just as the analytical leap is made by intelligence officials trying to paint a picture that they don’t have all the information about.
But the policymaker is then stuck with the policy that the policymaker has decided upon. The intelligence community appropriately continues to report on what is in fact happening on the ground. To some degree or another, there will begin at that point in time, if it hasn’t happened before, to be a divergence between the policymaker’s view of reality and the intelligence collector’s view of reality, because the policymaker wants reality to conform to the policy that he or she has decided upon. So the information as absorbed is taken to justify the policy when in fact it may not. When the intelligence community does nothing but bring bad news or information that is counter to the thrust of the policy, the tension occurs.
Whether that ends up being a case of intelligence failure or not, it is an inherent challenge that the intelligence community during its history has sought to overcome by maintaining strong relationship with the customer. But it’s never perfect and it always represents a challenge.
What I want to talk about now is another challenge, which is the intelligence challenge as I see it in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s easy enough when the United States or anyone has defeated an enemy in a conventional form of warfare to — it’s hard enough to transition from conventional warfare to peacekeeping and nation-building, as was the case in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo in recent history. They all showed the challenges both for policymakers and intelligence in terms of understanding what was going on politically, what was happening with the institutions and institution-building that was underway, what was happening with organized crime and other forms of corruption that existed in all of these states.
So we’re talking about a situation in which that kind of environment is difficult enough. But when you add to that an unresolved security situation, that makes the situation even much harder. Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, I think, are recent examples of that.
In Somalia, understanding the clan-family structure was an enormous challenge. Bob Oakley may have been the only person who actually understood it, but he was only one person. We had had an embassy there not so long before our intervention but even that didn’t leave us with enough information. The failures of policy choices that led to the takeover of the radio station in Mogadishu, the killing of the Pakistani peacekeepers in Mogadishu, and the struggle against Mohammed Farah Aideed as a result of that, all led down a path to what resulted in “Black Hawk Down” in Mogadishu in the fall. Whether that was something we might not have had to do is another question, but those were all decisions that were taken based on information that was incomplete at best.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, the situation is even more challenging because the security situation is enormous as a challenge. Getting rid of the Taliban and al Qaeda, getting rid of Saddam Hussein, in both of those countries turned out to be the easier tasks before us. The intelligence community has been asked to provide the information on which to continue the policies, to continue the actions — the military and security actions — that are necessary in order to try to effect a successful outcome.
But this is all in the context of, in the first instance, many of the sources that existed at the point of conventional conflict or before suddenly acquire a different value with respect to the situation after the conventional conflict is settled. By that I mean, think of the cases that have been reported in the newspapers in which the United States has been accused of bombing a wedding or some other kind of festive activity. The question about whether or not the basis of the information in fact was information in which a previously valuable source was simply getting even with somebody else, settling a score, or in some way trying to effect a political outcome in a new environment. That was not an action taken when everybody was opposed to the leadership of the country prior.
In addition to that, an extraordinary effort to acquire new sources of information, new local sources of information. Constant questions over whether or not national technical means have a real window on reality, including collection of what we call signals intelligence, given the nature of cell phone communications today. But there’s still a question as to how much we can get or rely on those kinds of pieces of information, though they’re certainly things we shouldn’t be excluding.
Next, in both of those countries but most predominantly in Iraq the size of the in-country intelligence presence exploded. The point was made earlier that normally we have only about seven people maximum in a country. In both of those countries the size of the station or the size of the US agent presence was much greater than that. That was also true in Somalia.
Where do those people come from? They come from the rest of the intelligence community. Does that mean that they have any particular knowledge or expertise in the country that we’re asking them to go? Hopefully, but probably not.
Then on top of that we have a rotational schedule because of the hardship challenges of operating in these kinds of environments, where we’re talking about six-month tours. A year tour is actually a long tour in these kinds of situations, and that’s not a whole lot different from what we ask of our foreign service officers and it’s not a whole lot different from what we ask of our military in those countries. But grounding in an environment in the way that an intelligence officer needs to is very difficult if you’re asking that officer to act in that capacity in that kind of a reduced period of time.
We talked earlier about the value of liaison services. There are other countries who have services in both of those countries. But in each of those countries there is no — or there was no — host country service after the completion of conventional operations, which means that there’s no local reporting agency other than what you build from scratch. In both cases that becomes an additional work element for an already overtaxed intelligence service within the country.
Then you have in addition to that the tension that exists within the intelligence community between collection and reporting of facts on the ground and at the other end covert action, which is an effort to move or change policy. This puts the intelligence community, which is supposed to be the agency that talks only about reality, into the position of executing policy and being interested in defending their own execution of that particular policy element that they’re pursuing.
Finally, when there are US combat forces in a country and the intelligence community is in the country, the primary role of the intelligence community is to support US combat forces. So for example, in a country like Afghanistan where our combat forces are focused on predominantly cleaning up the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban, it means that the intelligence community is primarily supporting that particular activity, which means that they are not reporting on the rest of the country. They are not looking at the rest of the country in the same level of detail. So when we find situations like the president of Afghanistan limited in his early days in office to Kabul because the security situation in the rest of the country was either bad or unknown, even though it did not involve Taliban or al Qaeda activities there, it was in part a recognition of the fact that we were focused on, yes, the primary enemy and, yes, supporting US forces in combat. But it does represent a skew that the intelligence community has had to deal with over its history in these kinds of challenging situations.
I’ve gone over my limit also. Let me stop there and we’ll take questions.
Question & Answer:
Wayne White: I think predictably we’ve got a lot of questions here that probably fall outside the purview of the panel, such as, how far up does the responsibility for the Bush Administration’s misuse of intelligence go? A specific question about Valerie Plame and that issue and how far up that goes. I’m not making fun of these questions, they’re actually quite critical, but we probably can’t deal with them.
Question: How can the intelligence community cure its addiction to secret information, proven so often to be of poor quality, and shift its emphasis to the great depth of open source information available, including in foreign languages?
Wayne White: I have to admit that in my last years in government, which just ended in March, there was a tremendous effort to do this. I’m most familiar with that effort in the CIA and the Directorate of Intelligence, the analytic side, and my own Bureau of Intelligence and Research. There was of course this problem of having too much. But I can assure you that when I go out and speak to audiences, I am often telling them that during the last two years when I was working so heavily on Iraq with others in the Bureau, I found that there were certain entire assessments I was sending to Secretary Powell which were based completely on open source and not on intelligence. In fact, I was asked once about whether I’d read the intelligence, because it was so clearly based on open source. I said I hadn’t and was asked to put some in, in order to make it look more like some of the other things we write.
Jokes aside, I think the intelligence community is trying to grapple with that vast amount of new information coming in from open sources. The problem is, again, even in that realm, sifting and trying to get a way of sorting that out. It has added a tremendous new side of information — particularly, for example, to cite one, embedded correspondents with the US military in Iraq. But it also has added a new area of information that has to be sorted, culled and appropriately dealt with by a limited number of people.
Question: John, you mentioned that we have a long way to go on WMD. How do you think we can expand on that? What sorts of new efforts could be employed in order to have a better read on issues of WMD? I guess I would include nuclear in that. Some people don’t when you’re talking about WMD.
John Moore: I think there are two different kinds of WMD. There’s the sort of A.Q. Khan network, which is spreading the know-how of the ability to make that. Then on the other side is countries want WMD for specific reasons. It’s a strategic interest to be able to either deter or intimidate. So I think one of the criticisms of the WMD Commission is the fact that the intelligence community tends to set up what I call boutiques. We have a boutique for counter-proliferation or WMD which is divorced from the regional analysis folks. So you lose that synergy of people. If Iran is developing a nuclear weapon or is planning to develop a nuclear weapon, you should have, I believe — because I’m a committed regionalist — the nuclear people on Iran in the Middle East shop or the Iranian shop. I don’t think you can divorce that completely.
WMD, exporting A.Q. Khan, I think was a — what he was doing, and it was stopped, was a success for the community. But as the WMD Commission report says, we know less about the capabilities of some of these concerned countries that we did ten years ago. So I think there needs to be a little synergy between the analysis of the country and the analysis of the technical WMD activities.
Question: John, given that intelligence analysis requires many analytic leaps — and we’ve all been there, we all know this — don’t you think that punishing intel failures will prevent taking the necessary risks inherent with intel work, in the context in which that is desirable?
John Moore: When you reward people for failures, you give them medals, what are you saying? Just do your job, you’ll get a bonus, you’ll get a little bauble on your chest? In business, do any businesses operate that way? Intelligence is a business, frankly. It’s part of the government’s business. Somebody’s got to be responsible and frankly what the system has done is diffused itself so much that nobody’s responsible. That’s a crime. I think it’s a crime.
I went through, when I was a junior analyst, saw people get fired — not from the Agency, not from their jobs, but from their leadership of the Middle East office — because they failed to understand what was going on with Egypt and Israel and Syria. They moved on to other things. Maybe they weren’t given as much responsibility. They weren’t thrown out of the government, except the vice-admiral and the colonel and the captain who basically had enough time to retire gracefully.
But as a young analyst, it made a hell of an impression upon me. I became more willing to make statements and say, this is my best knowledge of what I know; here’s what I don’t know; and here’s what I think. That’s what an intelligence analyst should be paid for. If you don’t tell them what you don’t know — that’s why we had so much about Iraq which was a failure. The intelligence folks failed to tell the policymakers how thin, how awful and how much we were fooled by our so-called friends about what Iraq’s WMD capacity was.
Question: Frank, on the subject of intel officer training, how are agency historians doing in the realm of teaching intel history and relevant case studies as a way of avoiding further failure?
Frank Anderson: I have an immediate answer: I don’t know.
Rand Beers: There is an effort underway certainly at the Kent Center to do these kinds of things and there are publications that are put out there for the analytical community. But I think it is also fair to say that at least some of the critics that I have read of the degree of professionalization on these kinds of subjects in the community are limited, that lessons learned are not done as much as they ought to be and aren’t used as teaching tools in that regard. So while there’s some professional literature, how much it’s actually adapted into the training program — or in fact how robust the training program actually is for analysts — is a serious issue.
For a long time, an analyst was assumed to be a renaissance man or woman who came to the job with all the tools they needed, maybe got a little bit of pitch on what they were supposed to think, and then they just went out and did their thing, just like others in academia did their basic training and then went on to produce their work singly rather than in groups. The degree of sharing of knowledge wasn’t the kind of sharing that we would expect in those kinds of situations.
Frank Anderson: Having said that I don’t know, let me give one reason for optimism. It’s less on the analytical than on the operational side. The training of Agency operations officers really since the days of OSS has been based on placing them for a long time in an imaginary station in an imaginary country, where they pretend to be operations officers in a situation that’s set up every year. It’s renewed by people who have just returned from the field. It cranks in a double-feedback loop that constantly renews that training and adapts it to the new world.
Question: A question for the entire panel, though it was originally directed at you, Rand. Regarding your comments on Iraq, Iran and Somalia, how are intel agencies doing in the area of teaching small wars and insurgencies, lessons learned, et cetera?
Rand Beers: I would just go back to the comments I started with. The whole area of taking lessons learned is something that needs to be expanded. The military is particularly good in post-operational situations at sending either some of their operations officers or their historians back to look at what actually happened in those kinds of operational situations, dissecting them and providing them for the War College or the Command and General Staff College curricula so that they can be incorporated.
Whether the feedback loop is fast enough is another question. Some of you probably read about what General Petraeus has been trying to do at the Command and General Staff School by getting people to insert their stuff as quickly as possible into the curriculum, and General Casey still feeling in Iraq that that was not fast enough and so he took the Special Operations officers who were actually just leaving the country and made them spend the last part of their tour there teaching the incoming officers about counterinsurgency tactics and techniques that were the most recent, since the situation there is so dynamic.
Question: There’s a large number of questions related to the use of the INC as a source for intelligence before the war. They basically focus on what lessons can be learned from that, what can be done to avoid the reliance on this kind of information in the future, what may have already been done to avoid this kind of single-source heavy dependence in the future. I think frankly the question is a broader one, because there are other examples of similar situations that we’ve had.
Frank Anderson: The Agency’s review, their post-mortem, which was published in Studies for Intelligence, makes a couple of very interesting points. One was, notwithstanding what I want to be the truth — that is, there was political manipulation of the intelligence process on WMD — let me read from their finding. “This however seems to have been less a case of policy reinforcing helpful intelligence judgments than a case of policy deliberations deferring to the community in an area where classified information and technical analysis were seen as giving it unique expertise.” That would seem to give the policymakers a pass on criticism for this.
I’ll get to the view of how this applies to INC and other sources. “The policy community was receptive to technical intelligence on WMD where the analysis was wrong, but paid little attention to analysis on post-Saddam Iraq which was right.” The intelligence community got it wrong about weapons of mass destruction. Those defending the Administration have noted that everybody got it wrong. There wasn’t a single country in the world that didn’t believe that Iraq was seeking to have weapons of mass destruction and they still had some. We were all wrong.
What the majority of analysts got right was what the war was going to go like and, unfortunately, what the postwar situation would be like. We are not now confronting a situation which was not predicted. Let me go back to the study saying there was an “on the other hand” of the analysis on weapons of mass destruction accepting assumptions on very little intelligence and not criticizing them and getting reinforcement from not very good sources. “On the other hand, the intelligence community’s analysis of post-Saddam Iraq rested on little hard information but was informed largely by strong regional/country expertise developed over time and was on the mark.”
Rather than argue about INC — this is classic. This isn’t the first time. The functions of intelligence, our intelligence collection and counter-intelligence — counter-intelligence has two aspects. One aspect is don’t let the other guys get you, but the other side of that coin is don’t be gotten. A big function, maybe the important function of counter-intelligence, is don’t be fooled. I don’t believe — in this case, I think it was the policy community rather than the analytic community that ignored throughout the foreign policy structure experienced voices that were saying, “You’re being fooled.” Not on WMD, but on flowers that will welcome you when you arrive.
Rand Beers: I remember once a number of years ago a piece of advice from an intelligence office, who said you should always make sure you go the extra step in evaluating sources when those sources speak to you in English.
Question: There’s an interesting question that affects us all. It was for you, Rand, specifically, but it’s across the board here. Could you discuss the challenge of gaining intelligence in a country with which we don’t have diplomatic relations, say Iran?
Wayne White: I’d like to say one brief thing about that. What we found beginning especially with the period of reform but even previous to that, when it was building, was to the extent that Iran possessed a relatively free press — naturally of course that’s been heavily cracked down upon, beginning as far back as 1998-1999 — there was a massive amount of open source information on Iran which in many cases was far more valuable than what one would collect otherwise. That would be my little piece of that answer. Does anyone else have any comments about it? Again, this is not just Iran, this is across the board collecting intelligence or what is most valuable in assessing the positions, activities of countries with which we do not have diplomatic relations.
Rand Beers: Let me go back to the last point I made, which is I think parallel to the point about open sources, which is absolutely true, I think you want to be careful about reliance or over-reliance on expats who have a particular agenda designed to replace the government in power as sources of information. Which is not to say that they aren’t sources, but you have to evaluate those sources carefully to make sure that you’re not being fed a line.
The other one which was mentioned earlier was liaison services who do have representatives within those countries, whether they’re diplomatic services or intelligence services, that provide that kind of internal information.
When I say open sources, I also mean monitoring the media in those countries directly, as opposed to taking secondary literature that’s explaining what’s in that media, so that you’re actually reading source material that comes out of that country about what the political dialogue may be. Even if that media is circumscribed by the government, it still gives you some ability to see some of the struggles that are going on as people who are critical or are simply being good analysts seek to tell greater degrees of truth despite the sensors or the limitations that may exist on the media within those countries.
Frank Anderson: As any country where you’re denied access, if you don’t have platforms to collect intelligence, like an embassy-based operation, then you’ve really got to use your imagination and do some innovative collection. It’s all got to be done offshore until you get some kind of a base or a platform on the ground. That’s extremely difficult. It’s extremely time-consuming and it’s very hard. It takes years. If you hadn’t started something in 1996, you’re not going to get a dividend in 2006. If you’re just starting it in 2005, you got to wait probably three, four or five years to really get a steady flow of information out of some kind of a platform, in some new and innovative way.
So I think people — unfortunately in intelligence there’s a tyranny of current intelligence, or the CNN effect — we want instant answers and we don’t get them. This town is run on four-year cycles. These four-year cycles tend to change the emphasis of the community. That’s another problem in developing a long-term intelligence effort.
John Moore: This is not a new issue. We went through the Cold War — well, our intelligence community was born in a hot war when we had to report on not just countries with which we had no diplomatic relations but countries in which we would be shot if found. Throughout the Cold War we had diplomatic relations with a number of places. We had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Trying to collect intelligence on the Soviet Union through the embassy was one heck of a job, because that embassy was locked out. We’ve had diplomatic relations on and off with Iraq. Most of the time both the overt collectors and to the extent there were ever covert collectors in Iraq were extremely circumscribed. They were what was called in the intelligence business “denied areas.”
But we’ve always dealt with denied areas. It’s just something we got to do.
Wayne White: One comment that I’d also add is there’s been a lot of emphasis — it came through in Dr. Brzezinski’s talk yesterday and also generally — in alliance diplomacy. One aspect of alliance diplomacy is the fact that whenever you’re not represented in a country, there almost always is somebody that you have a relationship with who is. To the extent that you maintain broad alliances with a variety of other countries — which includes sharing of information — those countries who do have a presence in countries where we do not can provide us with a certain perspective that otherwise we would not be able to obtain. It gives you another incentive for maintaining these critical relationships with European and Asian and Middle Eastern and other allies throughout the world, because to some degree as the stock market of US relations politically with certain states goes up and down, so goes the information exchange with many of them. That’s something we have to keep in mind.
Question: There’s another interesting question here that goes back to, John, your statement that — which is true — that DOD controls over 80 percent of the intelligence budget and collection. To what degree the new architecture that is emerging — and I offer this also to the others on the panel — to what degree is the new architecture that’s emerging most recently impact on what DOD could do to control those agencies and oversee them?
John Moore: The Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of December 2004, which created the DNI, basically gave the DNI I believe the ability to transfer up to $150 million, or maybe it’s $100 million, and 150 people from one agency to another. That’s a fairly significant capability. But when you’re talking about billions and billions of dollars for these technical collection capabilities, it somewhat pales a little bit. But it’s a start.
But after the law was passed, we saw an effort last spring and into the summer by the Armed Services Committees, particularly in the House, to negotiate what if any powers the DNI would have. So as I understand, at least according to the press reports, the way it was finally agreed upon is the DNI would consult with Congress, not just the intelligence committees but the Armed Services Committees, about transferring defense resources. So that gives you a clear indication that the DNI’s powers and this organizational thing is starting to take baby steps. It’s going to depend on the strength of the personality of that individual and his relationship with that wrestler from Princeton known as Donald Rumsfeld as to how this thing is going to go on. Donald Rumsfeld has a well-deserved reputation as never having lost a wrestling match in the bureaucratic wars of Washington, as far as I can tell. But John Negroponte is also an extremely active and important personality, so we’ll have to see.
It’s a work in progress. Stay tuned, watch your daily newspapers and see what happens.
Question: There are a couple questions that get us into a very interesting and topical area. Did the use of rendition and clandestine detention centers overseas in fact help us or hurt us in efforts to combat terrorism? If reports on secret CIA prisons are true, does the US really need to maintain such facilities and do they do more harm than good because of the damage they do to the US image more publicly?
Frank Anderson: I’ve often been called opinionated, sometimes stubborn, passionate in my views. This in fact hits on one in which I have passionate views, but then I’ll back off from them.
It isn’t just the United States government and it isn’t recent. The prominent voices — Alan Dershowitz suggested a few years back that we have courts that issue warrants for torture. Rendition, the scandal at Abu Ghraib, an argument now going on with the vice president wanting to make certain that CIA has special authorities to mistreat people — these are troubling but they also raise a couple of important questions, and now I’m going to surprise people.
First, I’ll surprise people who believe that the CIA likes to do this stuff. Notwithstanding the fact that I believe operationally it never works, the problem with torture is what it does to us. The scars of the tortured will heal and yes, they’ll have post-traumatic stress syndrome. I will rebel against anyone who wants my son to torture because that won’t ever heal.
Having laid out my personal position on the subject, the question here is do rendition and clandestine detention of members of al Qaeda hurt or help us in the war on terrorism? I don’t know, because I don’t know how much intelligence we’re getting from these people. In fact, I don’t know how many or even if the stories are true, that there are secret facilities to hold these people. I suspect that they are.
I believe the following is the problem. Dr. Brzezinski spoke about the problem we have now about legitimacy in the world. A number of things have happened that call into question the legitimacy of the United States. During the Cold War, recruiting Soviets was duck soup. Getting access to them was tough but getting people from that system to cooperate with us against the system was easy. They were profoundly motivated to do so. They knew they were part of something evil and they wanted to be associated with something that was good. We, throughout that period, were something that was good. Because we were something that was good, the rest of the world in fact tended to forgive us our mistakes. And we made them. We held a well-intentioned defector to the United States at the CIA Training Center for I can’t remember how long, it was over a year, in solitary confinement. This guy forgave us, because of the widely accepted legitimacy of our cause.
I happen to believe that we should be able to organize ourselves to conduct these kinds of operations. We have laws that create special activities and covert action as a structure that says from time to time the President of the United States will direct the Central Intelligence Agency to do something that is otherwise illegal. He has to go before the Congress and justify that. In the end, it has to pass the New York Times test. But I believe that we should and we can be able to do these kinds of things, and that includes the detention of bad people outside the normal rules.
Our problem now is that our legitimacy writ large has been called into question by a number of mistakes. In these circumstances, I would argue very strongly that the operational payoff from the authority to mistreat people is just nowhere worth the effort. This is just a personal and I guess it’s a political statement — I think what we ought to do now is get right behind the McCain bill. That is, we ought to declare that we don’t do this. We ought to declare that the intelligence isn’t worth it. Once we’ve done that, over time the world might once again give us a pass because of their overall acceptance of our overall legitimacy.
Wayne White: One thing I find personally discouraging is if we go back to the early phases of the postwar scenario in Iraq and get beyond clandestine facilities and talk about the ones like Abu Ghraib, which were not so clandestine, considering that early on our intelligence was not so developed that large batches of people being brought in in searches and what have you were essentially innocent and then basically were exposed to a system that was rather brutish. It brings to mind the article, I think someone from the BBC got to speak to an insurgent leader in Baghdad, I believe in the Rashid Street neighborhood which was so difficult back in 2004, and this insurgent leader said, I just keep track of who’s being released from Abu Ghraib and they form the backbone of my organization. It’s particularly difficult or counterproductive if you have a system — any system — which takes in a number of innocent people and then there is this kind of treatment. That has another, completely different downside which expands the damage into perhaps families, clans, tribes, people who aren’t at all involved yet in any form of resistance or activity.
Question: John, another question for you over here. This one is right up your alley. When did outgoing Director Admiral Jacoby do away with the Defense Intelligence Officer position that you loved so much? What was the impact on the DOD combat support agencies — DIA, NSA, NGA, NRO — to speak with one voice? Do you think the new DIA director will or should restore the DIO system? John was a DIO.
John Moore: As a committed regionalist, I think it was a mistake. It was done in the aftermath of the lead-up to the war in the summer of, I believe, 2003, or maybe the fall of that year. The DIO was essentially analogous to the National Intelligence Officer at CIA in many ways. It was a position created after the 1973 war by the Secretary of Defense and the Director of DIA then to get alternative analysis and viewpoints to the senior leadership, to prevent something like the failure of 1973. So in my view, the new director of DIA should immediately reestablish the position. But clearly not offer me the job back because I’m too happy playing golf several days a week to do something like that. But there are numerous well-qualified folks who could certainly immediately take over the job and coordinate a fractured view of the Middle East that pervades certainly in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Question: One quick follow-up, John. Interesting question. Do DIA and other DOD intel agencies make sufficiently effective use of the Army and Air Force’s psychological operations (psyops) communities in their analysis and the direction of their work?
John Moore: No, I don’t think so, because most of the work goes the other way. Most of the intelligence goes to the psychological operations folks. The feedback loop really doesn’t pervade, in my experience.
Question: Here’s a question I’m going to pass to Rand. We did lots of good things in cooperation with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to end Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. What mistakes or shortcomings are there that should provide lessons for today? I’m giving it to Rand but you two might also have issues in here as well.
Rand Beers: First and foremost, I think we turned a blind eye toward Afghanistan after the Soviets left and allowed the country to change and evolve in ways that led first of all to chaos and then to the rise of the Taliban and then to the use of the Taliban-controlled area as a sanctuary for al Qaeda. It was a less than important area of the world to most policymakers after it was no longer a battle area between ourselves and the Soviet Union by proxy. So that, I think, is the major mistake that we made there.
Question: There’s a question that’s come in on whistle-blowing. When an intelligence officer sees or an intelligence manager perceives presumably that what he or she has been providing, sending forward, is being misused by a policymaker — I guess maybe the penultimate case is the one that’s before so many of us right now, where Joe Wilson went on a mission and then felt that his information was being misused and went public with it finally in his own article. Do you think there’s sufficient mechanisms in the intelligence community for this kind of thing?
Wayne White: I’ll just say when I was inside the community, it wasn’t so much in many ways whistle-blowing. It was the tendency to refuse to bow to such pressure. Often you could see something being misused or you could see it was going in a certain direction, there was a way of basically inside the system of providing counter-pressure or refusing to participate in this kind of thing, which we know of a few people who’ve done that, even some public cases that have gotten out there.
What about whistle-blowing?
John Moore: Since the intelligence community is supposed to work in secret, public whistle-blowers aren’t exactly encouraged, rewarded or even sanctioned. So I think the whistle-blowing, as you talk about, needs to be done within the system, by people within the system who basically say, wait a minute, this is wrong and we need to stop this. Whether there’s a system with inspector generals that can be created for something like that, I don’t know. In the analytical work, I think the development and the fostering of alternative analysis should be greatly encouraged. It’s one of the things that’s basically appeared in the 9-11 and WMD Commission, the article that Frank talked about in Studies of Intelligence — this has to become part of the mantra of the intelligence community so that one view doesn’t pertain to everything and becomes the corporate view. There has to be the ability for people to maybe whistle-blow within the system.
Wayne White: I think to some degree even within the intelligence community we’ve talked about policy versus intelligence or that tension that Rand mentioned earlier. But there’s a tension inside the intelligence community as well between agencies’ viewpoints and what have you. There has been a lot of encouragement and I think a lot of progress in the last ten years in trying to bring that into, for example, the National Estimate process. In other words, instead of having a footnote — even though that’s very helpful — to basically hash out views at the table and put it up in the main text, that some agencies feel this way, others feel the other way. I have seen in fact in the last two years one National Estimate held up and put through five drafts, and the fifth draft bore little resemblance to the first draft because two agencies stood up to the rest of the community — we’re not talking about political policymakers here, we’re talking about analysts themselves basically thrashing out an issue. The first view was incorrect. A very few stood up to that, basically put such a drag on the process that it had to be reevaluated and reevaluated until the final result was correct. That was turned around.
So there is a certain tension inside the system itself. You can almost call it internal whistle-blowing — essentially, no, you’re not going to do that because I disagree very strongly and I’m not going to put my chop on that until you’ve heard me out — that goes on inside the system.
Question: This next one is sort of classic tradecraft. Frank, you might want to take a bite on this one. How do you verify the authenticity of intelligence received from assets in the Middle East? How do you know when to trust someone? That’s really an extremely basic yet important question.
Frank Anderson: I’ll answer it in basic ways. You never trust anyone.
Intelligence officers can like, they can rely upon, they can — the old Ronald Reagan thing of “trust, but verify” — but in effect, this is a business where you must always question every source all the time. How do you do that? You compare that source’s reporting with things you already know to be true. You may often give the source a question, the answer to which you already know. I don’t think it’s any secret that we use polygraphs. You check and cross-check and cross-check.
I don’t know, those of us that are regional kind of believe in each region that we’re likely to be lied to more by our friends than other people in other regions. How do you know if what you receive from assets in the Middle East is true? Same way you know from what you receive in Asia — you check. You just assume that there might be a temptation about which you have no knowledge and over which you certainly have no control that would force this person to lie to you, even if they don’t want to. Keep checking.
Wayne White: One thing, I think, is cross-checking, looking for other intelligence that’s consistent with that or inconsistent, is one of the best ways that we all rely on for that. Sometimes it’s not available but sometimes it is. Something comes out, it just doesn’t jive with anything else you’re seeing. Is that suddenly a burst of truth or is that a red herring trying to pull you away from something you’ve been moving forward with correctly? I think that’s a very hard one to deal with.
Question: This is directed at you, John, but I think it applies to everyone across the board. Do you see any value from ad hoc intelligence outfits such as Doug Feith’s shop in the Pentagon? The original question was “value or harm” — I think we’re all quite aware of the harm, but is there any value to ad hoc intelligence units like that?
John Moore: I think you can go back to our dealings with the Soviet Union and look at what we used to call the A Team and the B Team approach. There is value certainly in setting up different hypotheses about how you view a threat or something like that, and then letting the debate occur and the marshaling of evidence and so forth. That’s certainly one way to force the analysts and the community to look at its evidence, its intelligence reporting, its own views, et cetera. But that’s done knowingly, willingly within the community. When you set something up outside the community that’s not part of and run by the community, then you run the danger of politicization. So from my perspective, if you want to do an A Team/B Team approach or alternative hypotheses as a way of organizing your view of it, let the community do it. Let the professionals do it. Don’t let people who may have a policy agenda or be totally influenced by the policy agenda do that. That’s my view.
Wayne White: I think that’s pretty much everyone’s view. I think to the extent that the establishment of any individual shop that exists outside of the purview of the intelligence community is doing that kind of work interferes with probably the basic state of mind that must prevail in order to get to an intelligence decision, which is keeping an open mind. To the extent that is interfered with, that is going to be extremely counterproductive.
The intelligence community, by the way — we were talking about other things that have gotten into National Intelligence Estimates over the last few years — another is the notion of alternative hypotheses, almost requirements that at the end of Estimates one is provided with — well, if that isn’t true, what could be true? If that alternative view is true, what are the consequences of that? The way it’s termed often is low-likelihood/high-impact scenarios. You think everything is going to be fine in Country X — what if it isn’t? How serious would that be? That’s basically brought in outside experts as well in order to review what has been written by the people on the inside.
Question: One final question here I’m going to put to the panel, which is just an opinion question. What is the chance that the National Intelligence Strategy currently embarked upon will actually be taken seriously by the intelligence community?
Frank Anderson: John had pointed out the resistance of the intelligence community to reform. Organizations resist change — no, people resist change. Or more effectively, people don’t resist change, they resist being changed. Organizations resist being changed. I must say, in thirty years of working somehow for the US government, I never heard anybody actually say it, but I watched the behavior that was based on an understanding that this is a four-year problem. This is a four-year cycle, we’ll ride this out. We know how to do it better. Most of the time I guess that’s half-right, that we know how to do it better. Institutions need reform. Reform can usually only come from the outside. Institutions resist reform because most of the reformers are no smarter than the people who need to be reformed. Somehow this constant tension yields evolution. I expect that’s what we’ll get.
John Moore: The DNI’s National Intelligence Strategy basically has two ongoing missions, main mission areas, which is countering terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The new arena in it is looking for opportunities to foster the growth of democracy. I believe that the community will wait to see how serious the Administration is about fostering democracy, particularly in an area where it is the new national strategy, never before tried in the Middle East. So I think the go slow approach, as a cynic, is the way it’s going to happen. We’ll wait for the 2008 election and see if that really is a mission area that the community should be doing in the future.
Rand Beers: I think it depends entirely on the leadership’s willingness to in fact monitor what the community is actually doing. If the leadership is only interested in putting out a rhetorical statement about where it thinks things should go and not prepared to do the hard work of execution to ensure that movement is in that direction, then I think it will simply be a piece of paper. Or differently put, in the words of Deep Throat, “follow the money.”
Wayne White: I think one problem we have with that whole issue is human. That gets into a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about. Will this DNI or future DNIs view himself as more a member of a political cabinet, more a member of an administration, or more the representative of an intelligence organization, which must maintain an open mind, to the president and the president’s cabinet? It will be very interesting to see how the role of the DNI drifts and evolves. If the DNI does not view himself as basically the person who is the representative of the intelligence community and can bring the president and other senior policymakers bad news, then you have a problem. I think the vote’s still out on whether that’s going to be the case. As with so many things, I think it’s the human factor that often prevails in the end.
I think it’s lunchtime. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for your good questions. Thanks to the panel.
About this Transcript:
"Collecting and Understanding US Intelligence on the Middle East" was the final panel at MEI's 59th annual Conference, which was held on November 7-9, 2005.