Collaboration is key to U.S. security
By Ilana Freedman / Local Columnist
Friday, April 8, 2005
"The intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction."
Report to the President, March 2005
Last week, a report entitled "The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction" was formally handed to President Bush.
The Commission, which the President himself established by executive order in February 2004, presented a scathing critique of our intelligence community, listing the shortcomings of our agencies, and making 70 recommendations to correct what it called "a major intelligence failure."
The results of this report should come as no great surprise. Long before our latest engagement in Iraq, it was known that the short-sighted policies of the Clinton administration, with strong support from a willing Congress, had decimated our field intelligence and weakened our acquisition and analytical capabilities in every federal agency engaged in the spy game.
The problem does not, unfortunately, stop there. A long tradition of bitter turf wars between intelligence agencies prevented the sharing of what information they did have, making analytical collaboration impossible. Critical data was regularly discarded as irrelevant because the keys to their importance were held by other agencies that refused to share what they had acquired. Despite highly vocal declarations to the contrary, these turf wars continue unabated.
The lack of transparency and cooperation between agencies played a large role in the degree to which we were unprepared for the events of 9/11 and equally unprepared for the dramatic shift from conventional warfare to an asymmetrical war against terrorists after our initial victory in Iraq.
Today, two years after that invasion and after the release of several reports identifying the lapses and failings of our intelligence gathering systems, we find that serious gaps have still not been closed and that our government still knows far too little about the plans and strategies of those who dream of destroying us.
The latest report shows us that out intelligence agencies have yet to come to terms with our enemy and still are not able to effectively understand the information that they gather.
Some of the problem relates to technology. A year and a half ago, a declassified study reported that the CIA was five years behind the rest of the world when it came to using technology to do its job. It found that the CIA made insufficient use of the Internet, that their databases were inflexible and primitive, and that even some of the most basic computerized tools available to the general public were not in their counter-intelligence tool box.
The FBI also has its technology problems. For far too long, its agents have been struggling with an antiquated computer system that limits their ability to effectively process the massive amounts of intelligence that they continually acquire.
In 2001, an attempt was made to upgrade the IT capability with a computer system that was to bring the Bureau into the 21st century. It cost the American taxpayers $581 million ($200 million over budget), but will probably have to be scrapped due to an endless series of delays, changes of specifications, and disagreements with SAIC, the system's developer. Intended to help the FBI sift through the massive amounts of data it collects, the three year project has come to a screeching halt, forcing the agents to continue using the old slow, unreliable, and obsolete systems for at least another three years.
How can we expect our own intelligence agencies to protect us when we have not given them to tools with which to do the job well?
One point that is rarely mentioned goes beyond information sharing and 21st century technology. There is a general void in the area of intelligence analysis that none of the agencies has been able to fill. What is lacking is a methodology for effectively and accurately analyzing the massive quantities of information, data, and intelligence that is acquired by each agency every day.
If the different agencies actually worked together in a true collaborative spirit, if they had modern technology with which to process the information, dynamic databases in which to store and from which to retrieve the information, and an accurate and efficient methodology that would enable them to identify the links between diverse scraps of information and put the piece of the intelligence puzzle together, we would have the beginning of a solution to our intelligence crisis.
There is no way to overestimate the scope of our problem. If we are to meet the real and growing threat of al Qaeda against our nation, our intelligence agencies need to be as technologically current and as strategically focused as our enemy. The tools they use, no less than the methodology that drives them, must be up-to-date and relevant.
The current deficiencies of our intelligence capabilities can be solved, but only through the breaking down of the walls that prevent collaboration and the defining of a new approach to analyzing the critical information that holds the key to our future security.
(Ilana Freedman is a specialist in counter-terrorism and Managing Partner of Gerard Group. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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