Homeland Security, the Intelligence Community, Policymakers, and Intelligence Failures

Introduction: The World We Inherited

            There’s an amazing quote by former DCI James Woosley as he explained his vision of post-Cold War world to the Senate Intelligence Committee, “We have slain a large dragon. But we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes. And in many ways, the dragon was easier to keep track of.[1]

In a nutshell, Woosley’s portrayal of a post-Soviet world was much more perilous than the one that preceded it: the US was the lone superpower, the leader of the free world, and the model country for economics, liberalization, and governmental organization for the rest of the world. But with worldwide hegemony, the world became much more insecure for the United States as global, economic and military challengers such as China arose; non-state actors and low-intensity conflict became the norm in warfare; and with the fracturing of the Eastern Bloc, instability had returned to continental Europe.

Whereas the Soviet Union and its communist satellite states had once created a stable military, cultural, and economic threat to the West, the new democracies (or totalitarian states) that succeeded them were weak, nationalistic (genocidal in the former Yugoslavia; problematic for Russia), and looked to the West for direction.

The Bush-Clinton Era was the era of the peace dividend and a fun, summer vacation for much of the US National Security apparatus. Instead of one dragon, there were plenty of adversaries to identify, prioritize, and act upon. The main question, however, was who must we prioritize our eyes upon?

This mass confusion led to US adventures in peacekeeping, nation building, and civil affairs missions that had little to do with national security interests, but much to do with the US’s foreign interest and prestige.

The new threat to the United States and its homeland security would not rear itself for approximately a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union.

On 9/11, 2001 Woosely’s prediction proved true as four planes were hijacked with three of the improvised missiles hitting their targets: the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia.  The nascent threat of the post-Cold War world was Al Qaeda and it had succeeded its mission of striking the heartland of the United States of America.

This is the political and geopolitical world in which the United States has inherited, with new threats that arise from the shadows and strike in ways unimaginable to the Cold Warriors who defended the US a generation before.

The context of this paper is written during the post-9/11 era and its directives relate to the failures of the U.S. Intelligence Community and federal policymakers in keeping this country safe – much of this which is well documented in the 9/11 Commission Report. Thus, the scope of this paper, in terms of its relationship to the homeland security function of the Intelligence Community, is constrained to national security aspect of homeland security rather than the law enforcement (aside from the domestic counter-intelligence function of the FBI), disaster relief, or other human security aspects of the U.S. homeland security apparatus.

More specifically, the objectives of this paper will be two-fold: firstly, to survey the interagency relationships between the eighteen members of the US Intelligence Community, the tensions that distracted them from foreseeing 9/11, post-9/11 reforms, and recommendations I believe are vital in resolving these interagency deficiencies. The second objective of this paper is my analysis of the Intelligence Community and its relationship with policymakers and its appropriateness, the efficiencies and weaknesses of this relationship (which have been blunted by politicization, intelligence failures, and other mishaps), and whether the undemocratic intelligence function serves a role in our liberal, democratic country.

My approach for writing this paper will be from a political science perspective and will focus on the organizational and structural aspects of the Intelligence Community such as the bureaucratic biases, vested interests, and cultural foibles of this confederated body. For my approach about the political aspects between the Intelligence Community (intelligence production) and policymakers (intelligence consumer), I will take a more personal analysis which deals with the professional relationship, political calculus, and culture between policymaker and intelligence analyst and the inherent hurdles in working together.

Section One: The Intelligence Community, Intelligence Failures, and Jointness

In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 and upon the recommendation of the 9/11 commission, the eighteen members of the US Intelligence Community (and the entire US national security apparatus) must have a concerted effort in their persecution of national security threats – which forced this highly confederated body to share, cooperate, and centralize in order to do this task.

Within the following section, I will impress that this was no easy feat because of the decentralization of the Intelligence Community due to cultural biases, functional paradigms, and institutional constraints that have dulled the post-war, pre-9/11 Intelligence Community. In this section, I will further impress upon the reforms that have lead the Intelligence Community towards the recommendations of the 9/11 commission which stresses “jointness”, the role of the DNI, and my personal recommendations of enhancing the Intelligence Community’s role in homeland security.

A vital aspect of understanding the interagency relationships between the different agencies of the US Intelligence Community is surveying the goals, functions, and missions of the individual agencies.

The 9/11 Commission states that, “During the Cold War, intelligence agencies did not depend on seamless integration to track and count thousands of military targets … each agency concentrated on its specialized mission, acquiring its own information and then sharing it via formal, finished reports.[2]

Firstly, there are a total of sixteen agencies which are part of the Intelligence Community, which is split along civilian and military functions. Approximately 80 percent of the Intelligence Community is controlled by the Department of Defense and the remaining agencies are part of civilian-controlled cabinet departments such as State, Treasury, Energy and Homeland Security. One agency, however, is an independent agency, the Central Intelligence Agency[3].

Much of the Department of Defense’s intelligence agencies serve either a strategic or tactical role in the information they collect, analyze, and produce into intelligence products and for a variety of consumers. For example, the prime manager of government communications (which includes platform security, encryption, encoding), the interception, code breaking, collection and analysis of foreign electronic communications is granted to the National Security Agency.

Other defense related intelligence agencies are their functions are as follows: the Defense Intelligence Agency (mainly strategic intelligence from human and technical intelligence sources, prime consumers: SECDEF, JCS, and Unified Combatant Commanders); the National Reconnaissance Office (which specializes in imagery and surveillance collection and analysis through imagery satellites and airborne assets); the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (which manages US GEOINT, manages US satellite capabilities, and provides full spectrum collection and analysis of satellite borne intelligence); lastly, the four uniformed services of the US Military Establishment (USAF, USA,USN, and USMC) each have their own intelligence detachments that collect tactical intelligence, multi-source intelligence gathering capabilities, and advices field commanders of tactical battlefield concerns and conditions).

The Central Intelligence Agency is an independent executive agency which is primarily responsible for the collection, production, and dissemination of HUMINT and all-source information. Previously, the Director of Central Intelligence was the professional head of not only the CIA, but the Intelligence Community as a whole as idealized in the National Security Act of 1947. This was later changed when the position of the Director of National Intelligence was created to reign over the Intelligence Community and the DCI was demoted or replaced into becoming the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Lastly, the civilian agencies have intelligence agencies that mesh well with their respective cabinet department’s portfolio of governmental responsibilities, which include the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Energy Department’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; US Treasury Department Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence; the Justice Department’s FBI domestic intelligence directorate and Drug Enforcement Agency Office of National Security Intelligence; and lastly, Department of Homeland Security’s Coast Guard Office of Intelligence and Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Of the agencies named, the DEA and DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis are the newest additions to the US Intelligence Community[4].

With a sixteen member Intelligence Community, the Intelligence Community has its own foibles and problems that have plagued it through the past. Many of these problems arise from constraints that are legal, moral, operational, and financial in character. Other problems are those related to agency culture, institutional biases, organizational rivalries, vested interests or decisions related to the direction of executive policymakers.

In the following paragraphs, I will give some examples of what I describe as those related to some form of constraint or institutional problem. Many of these examples are taken directly from the 9/11 Commission Report’s section 3.4, which relates to the pre-9/11 Intelligence Community and their Intelligence failures.

As I mention above, the H.W. Bush-Clinton Era was a fun, summer vacation and many of the Intelligence Community had felt the pressures of the peace dividend and the need to realign their institutional orientation.

Firstly, financial cuts in both military and intelligence budgets were staggering and constrained the freedom of choice and mobility for many of these agencies. For example, the military, which was trained to mobilize into two global theater of war, was cut to drastically half that fighting force. Choices of prioritization were made and some capabilities were cut or re-tasked such as the Clandestine Service falling out of favor and CIA analysts being seconded around the globe as State Department type diplomats.

I mentioned legal and moral constraints that prevented cooperation and sharing of information.

Previously, in order for the NSA to spy upon a US person was for the NSA asset to contact the FBI thereby issuing a justifiable cause for the FISA Court to file a warrant against a suspected spy, criminal, or terrorist, which was a legal constraint. Part of the genius and perniciousness of the USA Patriot Act was the breaking of the half-century old directive of the wall between law enforcement and intelligence agencies which resulted in the pooling of information and sharing of resources.

Other legal and moral constraints were laws and executive orders that limit the scope of approved actions for clandestine operations such as the recommendation of Church/Pike Commissions, which later create an institutional constraint which limited career CIA officers from choosing operations as a career path.

Agency cultural, institutional biases, organizational rivalries, and vested interests are problems that severely limited the ways in which different agencies of the Intelligence Community cooperated pre-9/11.

A classic example of this is jurisdiction, which is partially a legal constraint and partially about organizational rivalries. Each of the different intelligence agencies have portfolio of different tasks and topics in which they have jurisdiction or manage over. But many are not clear cut or infringe on others, such as the counter-intelligence function of the CIA and the FBI. Legally, the CIA is focused upon foreign surveillance and the FBI is a domestic security, counter-intelligence agency for example.

Another problem for the agencies to cooperate may be because of agency culture or institutional biases. I will name a number of them. One classic case of the FBI’s law enforcement culture versus its counter-intelligence culture within the bureau, because of the stigma related toward gestapo-type organizations in the US, the FBI pre-9/11 had atrophied in its domestic counter intelligence capability as a priority. The rivalries between military (“Yes, Sir!”) and civilian intelligence organizations (“We can’t Win!”) during Vietnam are another example of cultural cleavages that endanger the unity of the IC.

An example of institutional bias can be the paranoia and compartmentalization of information at the CIA after Aldrich Ames was uncovered as a mole. The CIA distrusted other agencies with key information and thus, shared very little after this event.

Lastly, I want to point out interference from policymakers are another constraint on the Intelligence Community’s ability to cooperate or effectiveness. For many years, lawmakers and policymakers had decided that the focus of the post- Cold War US National Security apparatus was to go high-tech with their war-fighters, planes, satellites, and other technological wonders such as the adoption of higher resolution imagery capabilities.

This was great for fighting conventional wars with conventional maneuvers and tactics, but it doesn’t deter non-state actors. Because of the prioritization of the Revolution of Military Affairs by the politicians, certain capabilities such as IMINT, MASINT, and OSINT benefited but core capabilities such as HUMINT, linguistic and regional studies faltered due to lack of interest from policymakers.

Much of these problems and constraints are still evident in the institutional cultures and day to day workings of the Intelligence Community, though they have been minimalized by the prescription of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Intelligence Community adhere to the doctrine of unity or jointness.

According to the 9/11 commission, there were several problems that prevented jointness, and most of them seem to agree with my assessment of the pre-9/11 Intelligence Community. Also, justifiably these all related to the former head of the Intelligence Community- the DCI.

For the scope of this paper, I will not explain and comment on each of these following points in full detail, but make note of them:

Firstly, according to the 9/11 commission, there were many structural barriers to performing joint intelligence work.  Like I stated above, much of this has to do with the tunnel vision the different agencies had with their sole mission, which was not related to being part of a holistic approach.

Secondly, lack of common standards and practices across the foreign-domestic divide was another problem towards the joining of the Intelligence Community.

Thirdly, divided management of national intelligence capabilities related to the dual role of the DCI: it’s both the head of the Intelligence Community and the CIA.

Fourth, there was a weak capacity to set priorities and move resources from inside the Intelligence Community, especially by the DCI.

Fifth, there were too many jobs for the DCI –simply there were too many hats for one man to wear and do the job effectively.

Lastly, the Intelligence community was too complex and too secretive. Everything was compartmentalized, paranoia, and strict secrecy lead to only a few to realize the grand picture.

These problems sets all clearly lead to the logical conclusion of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2005, which reorganized and changed the Intelligence Community forever, leading for unity in the Intelligence Community under a Director of National Intelligence.

The idea of joint operations is not new. Under the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which reorganized or reoriented the four major uniformed services of the US Military into sharing strategic, logistical, and operational resources and enhanced team work procedures as a doctrinal stance was very successful policy in that it minimalized cost overruns, organizational rivalry (they still bicker), and other organizational obstacles to war fighting. The new joint strike fighter is an example of this jointness.

Fusion centers, the reorganization and reformation of the Intelligence Community, and the pooling of resources have become a lynch pin of this new direction of jointness. What used to plague the Intelligence Community has been supplanted by this remedy of jointness.

Fusion centers are an important, joint aspect to the Intelligence Community’s joint doctrine of Homeland Security.

An example of this is the National Counter Terrorism Center[5], is a governmental organization jointly staffed by members from across the Intelligence Community. Its mission is to support both domestic and foreign counterterrorism activity by encouraging cooperation and sharing of information from throughout the intelligence community.

Why it works: it contains the massive terrorism databases of both the NSA and CIA, the largest database on foreign terrorists, is staffed by law enforcement (FBI), military, and other civilian personnel all tasked with preventing another terrorist attack on US soil. With a full spectrum expertise over multiple disciplines, it would seem much more difficult for another 9/11 to occur within the United States.

While I concur with the direction in which the US intelligence community has been moving. However, it would be foolish for me to not recommend some other alternatives outside of “jointness” as a way of moving forward.

An alternative to the measures that reformed the Intelligence Community around a Director of National Intelligence would be to reorganize the Intelligence Community all together and abolish the disparate agencies and create a new central intelligence organization to fill the void. While this would be the most radical form of reorganization, it has its merits of centralizing all intelligence collection and analysis under one roof, while the previous problem sets still occur, which include eventual group thinking, institutional biases, and other organizational biases in the long-term. Similar to the reorganization that occurred within the US Government for the Department of Homeland Security, the merger of these different organizations will still create friction from bringing together so many other sectors of the government which include law enforcement, intelligence, and service assets.

For the conclusion of this section, I believe that the major overhaul to the Intelligence Community have been substantial and have proven to be beneficial to both the national interest and homeland security goals for the United States of America. What I’ve documented about Pre-9/11 is still valid and rears its head from time to time and creates intelligence failures such as the case of the terrorist attacks on the US consulate of Benghazi. However, I am hopeful for the next generation of intelligence officers because with this jointness, the US will finally shed its perceptions and biases about fighting in the Cold War context and instead be willing to fight in much more complex context diligently and with more freedom of action.

Section Two: The Tight Rope Walked Between Intelligence Analysts and Policymaker

In the second part of this essay, I will analyze the complex relationship between the policymaker and intelligence analyst. Firstly, I will explain who is an policymaker and his role within the intelligence process. Secondly, I will do the same for the intelligence analyst and explain his role within the intelligence process. What will be made apparent is the symbiotic relationship between both policymakers and intelligence analysts, because they truly need each other to do their respective duties. The third part of this essay will relate to intelligence failures caused when both policymakers and intelligence analysts go beyond what is acceptable to their professional relationships. Lastly, I will give a succinct recommendation of how policymakers and intelligence analysts can move forward regarding future intelligence dilemmas and mishaps.

Before moving further, I must define who the two players are for our discussion.

Firstly, who is a policymaker and what is his role in the intelligence process?

Policymakers are the cliental and primary consumers of finished intelligence products and because of this play a centralized role within the intelligence process. What is critical about their role is that policymakers shape intelligence policy and without direction, the intelligence process is rendered meaningless[6].

Policymakers within the US National Security apparatus vary in their political motivations and this is obviously based on where they sit within the US Federal Government. Thus, there are five centers that are important for any intelligence analyst because they eventually are the ones who consume his work.

The President is the most important policymaker being that he is the elected head of state and government for the United States of America. It is through him that broad government policy initiatives are conducted and presidential administrations have either exploited or ignored the Intelligence Community in their analysis, which lead to intelligence failures.

The executives of the US national security departments are also a key consumer of finished intelligence productions and include the State Department, Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary of State focuses on intelligence that maintains US diplomatic interests abroad, while the Secretary of Defense focuses upon intelligence that achieves DOD’s goals of military superiority, homeland defense, and ability to defeat threats efficiently. Lastly, the Secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for coordinating the US civil domestic security apparatus that include law enforcement agencies with specialties in homeland security such as the border patrol, Coast Guard, and counter terrorism aspects of the other departments.

Lastly, Congress, the National Security Council, and the Intelligence Community have appointed or elected policymakers that also shape and mold national security policies that utilize intelligence analysts in order to formulate their specialized policy decisions.

Policymakers, in a nutshell, accept the role of the Intelligence Community, whether they choose to exploit this capability or not. There’s no question that finished intelligence products such as the President’s Daily Briefing’s by the Director of National Intelligence play a very important role in the creation of homeland security policy decisions, and for principal decision makers they realize this is a critical capability to utilize.

Policymakers, besides consuming intelligence analysis, also make policy decisions regarding the usage of covert operations and consult with and order the Intelligence Community to muster their capability to do this function.

Many policymakers are also accountable to the President, who, along with elected members of Congress, is accountable to the American electorate, with the POTUS as the nation’s chief commander, diplomat, and first responder and Congress as the country’s chief lawmakers. Along with democracy, this country’s republican structure and political culture also constrains and pressures policymakers to be on their best, moral behavior.

They expect the Intelligence Community to kneel and kowtow to policy demands and decisions, they hope to be re-elected in the next election cycle, and they are the ones who shape the homeland security strategies and goals for the nation.

The next part of this exercise is to introduce the career, professional Intelligence Analysis, what he does, and what is his role in the intelligence process.

From the institutional viewpoint of the US Intelligence Community, they have three goals in their dealings with policymakers: “to know everything, to be listened to, and to influence policy for the good.[7]

Thus, in their professional capacity, analysts are expected to non-partisan, objective, and impartial in ways and means in which they share intelligence findings with policymakers.  The function of the analyst also differs from those of the policymaker: analysts are professional, permanent members of the organizations they represent (whereas the political appointee will be temporary or at least until they are elected out of office), analysts filter out all-source information, direct, and create for policymakers important intelligence products, such as the NIEs, other estimates, and most importantly, PDBs; and are often skeptical and are risk adverse because of their training.

However, despite the need for analysts to keep a distance from policymakers (lest they become tainted by politicization), it is correct for analysts and the Intelligence Community as a whole to understand what policymakers want to know at the strategic level. Donald Rumsfeld once talked about what was known, what were known unknowns, and lastly, unknown unknowns in terms of national security threat assessment. Good analysts must rely on policymakers to continue to ask question or pressure for responses or the intelligence process becomes stagnant because analysts will continue to write papers about their pet topics, ignore known problems, and overlook threats that haven’t even surfaced.

Clearly, with different functions, roles, customers, and expectations, policymakers and intelligence analysts have completely different paradigms in which they conduct their relationship, which is often frustrating for the policymaker and a tightrope walk for the intelligence analyst.

When the policymakers and analysts are conducting their function in an effective, professional manner, things go well. However, when events such as the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi occur, the President and other principal policymakers’ first reaction, with great alacrity, is to corner the Intelligence Community and ask questions related to why IC didn’t alert them about a threat, why wasn’t said threat prevented, and who was responsible for the threat. But what is much worse than tactical surprise is strategy and policy tainted by politicization and other personal mishaps.

Please note the importance of objectivity, utility, and professionalism are vital in the context of an analyst’s duties as a tool of policy making and when the lines become personal. Policymakers are also accountable for their actions, their influencing, and expectations of the analyst.

With those considerations in mind, in the following paragraphs my focus will be to express examples of intelligence failures due to either the friction or closeness between policymakers and intelligence analysts – when the professional boundaries break down and personal tensions arise.

Politicization is the most dangerous threat to this professional relationship. There seven ways in which intelligence has been politicized.

First, direct pressure from principal policymaker resulting in tainted intelligence conclusion is a common trope amongst intelligence policy failures. A notable example of this is DCI George Tenant’s “slam dunk” briefing to President George W. Bush about Iraq’s resurgent WMD as pretext to war. There were never WMDs found in Iraq.

Secondly, there’s a trend of policymakers being selective of certain policy preferences over reports. Examples of this type of politicization are during the Vietnam War when the military intelligence findings were favored over the more cautious and scrutinizing civil intelligence findings. Military policies were streamlined, while civil policies were stonewalled by the Johnson/Nixon administrations.

Thirdly, the house line on a particular subject, which shifts the focus of bias from policy to intelligence, is another example of policymakers trying to influence the analysis.

Cherry picking is the fourth in which policy officials pick their favorite policies out of a range of assessments. A similar example of this is when USAF General Lemay decided his strategic bombing of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis was the best way to defeat the Communists, when there were other options that were advised, which included a naval blockade. Luckily, the “quarantine” of Soviet ships won over the air strike or military invasions of Cuba.

Fifth, known as framing the question, in which policymakers frame question to get a preferable answer from the analyst.  “Does Hussien have WMD?” is an example of this sort of politicization.

Sixth, group thinking is common and was the preferred type of analysis during the days leading to the War in Iraq. Everyone, even foreign intelligence agencies in France and Britain assumed Saddam to have WMD capabilities and everyone was blinded by this bias. Additionally, this bias is an exemplified by my examples of organizational biases and head nodding.

Lastly, policymakers can ignore the intelligence analysts all together as evidence by the President George W. Bush’s overlooking the PDB about Al Qaeda’s plot to use jetliners as improvised weapons of terror.

My evaluation of the current state of US policymaker-Intelligence relationship is I believe it is very complex in the ways and means that policymakers relate to their analyst subordinates.

However, I have a few recommendations for policymakers and analysts in order to prevent future episodes of politicization and the failures that follow.

Policymakers must understand the functional and cultural differences between the analytical process and the policy creation process. Policymakers must understand that analysts can only advise objective, positive policy choices, it is up for the policymakers to look at the supplied material and make choices that have the greatest, positive outcomes for the US national interests.

Analysts need to understand that policymakers, who include political appointees, come from a world where positive results net positive political outcomes for the policymakers (at least in liberal democracies) and be realistic in their relationships with policymakers. It’s the duty of the analyst to be professional, concise to describe reality rather than political ideals and outcomes policymakers like to dream about. They must also never discount the pressures or relevance of the policymakers for it is from political pressure that intelligence moves forward.

In this section’s conclusion, policymakers and analysts both have a vital role to play in the way the intelligence process works. Much of the problems come from when policymakers decide to fudge the intelligence to suit their politics, but in the final analysis, political reality trumps political optimism in solving homeland security problem sets.

The Final Analysis

As I stated in my introduction, the world has changed much since the end of the Cold War. Problem sets have changed; the adversaries are much craftier than in previous generation. But there’s one constant, the need for proper intelligence capability never changes.

Within the last decade, the US has reoriented its grand strategy on focusing on both non-state and violent state actors which include the likes of Iran, North Korea, and Al Qaeda affiliate terror organizations.

However, despite the victories, the US had paid much blood and treasure to achieve those victories. As a result of organizational infighting from within the Intelligence Community, the attacks of 9/11 had occurred without warning or proper preventative measures. To add to the fire, intelligence failures of the lead up to Iraq War had invalidated the rationale for war: there were no WMDs.

These series of failures, non-cooperation amongst the Intelligence Community and politicization of intelligence, specifically, have created a wide array of reforms and necessary changes from within the Intelligence Community and throughout the Federal Executive.

Hopefully with the inclusion of “jointness” as a doctrine of Intelligence, cooperation will begin to tear down the walls of institutional biases and politics that have plagued the community since the National Security Act of 1947.

In terms of the politicization of intelligence, I believe that this will always be a problem for both policymakers and the Intelligence Community, as the recent attacks against the US throughout the Middle East have shown during this passing September 11th.

My final thoughts to conclude this paper relates to the political necessity of intelligence organizations in a liberal democratic state. Our country was founded upon the ideals of Locke’s social contract between government and the governed. Throughout this paper, we have analyzed several relationships that are important to the intelligence process and the reforms that have created to fix problems inherent to our intelligence system. As an American, I was happy to find out that despite all the bickering of the intelligence agencies and policymakers, many of the legal ideals and traditions found within the living document known as our U.S. Constitution have been kept intact. To this end, I believe it has been both a political and intelligence success that we continue to live by our ways, the American Way rather than go down the road of our enemies.

[2] 9/11 Commission pg. 552

[3] 9/11 Commission  pg. 131-141

[4] 9/11 Commission  pg. 131-141

[6] Mark Lowenthal, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy

[7] Mark Lowenthal, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy 178.