Operation Chaos was the result of J. Edgar Hoover’s fervent belief that 1960s anti-war radicals were controlled by the Soviets. Established under Lyndon Johnson’s orders, this domestic intelligence operation violated the law that established the CIA as a foreign intelligence organization. When some of the alumni got themselves caught breaking into the Democratic Party Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, the CIA became a pariah, so shackled by congressional action that its ability to recruit, train and use spies was neutered. The damage left in the wake of Operation Chaos still hampers our spycraft.
After Watergate, our intelligence community became dependent on “elint” — electronically-gathered intelligence — swept up by huge radio antenna farms, spy satellites, and wiretaps implanted on Soviet undersea cables by submariners. Because of the intelligence failures leading up to 9/11, the enemy achieved strategic surprise. We knew very little about what was coming and where it was coming from, too little to do anything to stop it. Now, one of the most important challenges we face is how to change our intelligence community — the CIA, the FBI, No Such Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office and, ah, Other Agencies — to prevent this from happening again.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the HPSCI, is called the “hip-see” in Hill jargon. According to a report it published last week, “The most lethal chemical, biological and radiological devices are not easy to make, but non-state actors have demonstrated the ability to acquire or fabricate chemical and biological weapons, materials, components, and complete weapon systems.” What that means is that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have an ever-growing ability to attack us in utterly devastating ways. The President is right to say that we must strike at them preemptively. But before we can do that, we need to know where they are and what they’re doing. Right now, our intelligence agencies aren’t up to the job. The HPSCI report shows how serious the problems are.
In his tenure as CIA Director Clintonoid John Deutsch imposed some amazingly impractical rules on CIA operations. For example, anyone who has a naughty past can’t be a paid CIA informer. Which reduces our ability to deal with any informers who are not currently enrolled in the Girl Scouts. By 9/11, Deutsch was long gone, having resigned in disgrace for violating regulations on treatment of highly classified information. Congress — which is capable of doing things correctly — passed a law ordering repeal of the Deutsch rules.
But as of July 17, the date of the HPSCI report, the current CIA Director — Clintonoid holdover George Tenet — has still not canceled Deutsch’s rules. Why is Tenet — whose only claim to fame is failure — still employed? He — and fellow Clinton traveler Norm Mineta, famed opponent of guns in the cockpit and profiling — should be exiled to academia where, come to think of it, Deutsch came from.
And there’s worse. The HPSCI describes the CIA’s “no threshold” policy on reporting terrorist threats. This policy — which apparently kicks everything upstairs, without saying which reports are important or reliable — is both cowardly and self-defeating. The President must be able to rely on intelligence analysis, and not have to do it for himself. One reason the CIA doesn’t have the courage to do more than just report is that it fears what other information may be out there, and coming to the President from other agencies. The unknown can make it look foolish, so its people often “vague up” their analyses and recommendations, as do the other agencies for the same reason. But why not take that fear away? We know how to do that. It’s called “intelligence fusion,” and it’s something we need to get done now, not next year.
The concept of intelligence “fusion” means that the CIA, NSA, FBI, and NRO would all have to share information with one another, and coordinate their analysts’ skills to help each sort out the masses of information it gets, and produce usable intelligence analyses. Through fusion, we can combine the strengths of our intelligence agencies, rather than keeping them divided among agencies that don’t even talk to each other. If you want someone to connect the dots, you have to have all the dots on the same page. The current system prevents that. If we change the law to mandate intelligence fusion, the president should get more than data dumps from scared bureaucrats.
In the President’s Homeland Security plan, the new department would collate, analyze and decide action on the fused intelligence. That’s the wrong way to do it (because it divorces analysis from operations). Sen. Joe Lieberman — whose committee has seized jurisdiction over the issue — has decided that we won’t change the laws to deal with issues such as intelligence fusion before the joint House-Senate investigation of intelligence failures is done in January ’03. The HPSCI, which is part of that investigation, didn’t even mention the problem. Lieberman’s decision inexplicably faces no White House opposition. In the face of it, the President should be telling Congress to set aside the rest of the Homeland Security legislation and deal with this question first. If he doesn’t, the next round of intelligence failures will lie at his doorstep. If the agencies aren’t told to cooperate, and given the legal permission to do so, no one will connect the dots, and someone may well erase them all with a weapon of mass destruction.
Churchill said that you can always count on Americans to do the right thing, but only after they try everything else. The snail’s pace at which Congress is trying to reshape our intelligence community proves him right once again. But the threat environment that exists today doesn’t give us the luxury of time. We can’t wait for whatever the bigger congressional investigation may show. We know how to mandate intelligence fusion right now. Congress may not want to have to go through two rounds of intelligence reforms, with a partial fix now and a more elegant one later. But if Congress has to spend the time to do two rounds of reforms, that’s a personal problem for congressional members who might have to sacrifice their usual four-day work week. Ain’t that just too bad?
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P.S. My good friend, Gen. Paul Vallely, just returned from Israel. He sent me a photo of the flags flying at the U.N. compound on the Israel-Lebanon border. The picture shows U.N. and Hezbollah flags flying side by side. For those of us who have forgotten, Paul points out that Hezbollah was the group that murdered 283 Marines in the Beirut bombing almost twenty years ago, and also murdered a CIA station chief. This was in their spare time between bombings to kill Israeli women and children. Last week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he still insisted on dealing with Yassir Arafat despite President Bush’s refusal to do so. Please, tell me again. Why do we put up with this?
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