Bulletin, February/March 2006


Re-Inventing the Empire of Secrecy: An Agenda for the First DNI

by Lee S. Strickland

Lee S. Strickland is director of the Center for Information Policy and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, College Park . He can be reached by email at lee.s.strickland<at>att.net

Four years after the attacks on New York and Washington , and as Ambassador Negroponte builds his office as the new director of national intelligence (DNI), there is no shortage of judgment concerning the requisite changes in the intelligence community (IC) in order to prevent another 9/11. Two high-level reviews - the National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the "9/11 Commission") and the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (the “WMD Commission”), one new law (the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Public Law 108-458) and two sets of proposals, one each from the CIA and the FBI, have offered detailed findings and recommendations.

Yet, to a substantial degree, these efforts have offered broad policy objectives or the time-honored solutions of more centralized management, organizational changes and additional resources for the IC. Notably absent were specific actions to resolve precisely the dysfunctions in American intelligence that allowed the first major terrorist attack on the homeland since a remarkably parallel, politically inspired attack on the civilian population of Columbus , New Mexico , 85 years ago. To be fair, the 9/11 Commission accomplished a very thorough and highly detailed assessment of specific shortcomings and the WMD Commission followed with a very correct judgment on the systemic intelligence problems – human collection that is severely limited in terms of quantity and quality as well as finished intelligence production that is marred by analytic errors and poorly communicated. And although the WMD Commission spoke to remediation efforts such as integration across the IC including the appointment of mission managers, the fact is that the nation lacks an action plan predicated on a root cause analysis of specific functional failures that not only permitted terrorists to operate with impunity inside the United States but also failed to appreciate, warn and mitigate the risk.

And this action plan is even more necessary when we consider the improvement proposals by the FBI and CIA that were ordered by President Bush and commented upon by the WMD Commission on March 29, 2005. The essential parameters: the FBI plan focuses on the creation of a new intelligence directorate while the CIA plan focuses on increasing the ranks of intelligence analysts and overseas operations officers by 50% through FY 2011. But we know from the professional literature and experience in the business sector that organizations in today’s information age must employ systems thinking such as that described in Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline where the totality of inputs, processes and outputs – and their interrelationships – effect the desired outcomes. Moreover, it is apparent from these sources that it is the information-proficient organization that is best positioned to reach such outcomes. This superiority results largely from comprehensive mission and functional re-engineering that seeks to optimize the use of information, and thus performance, by incorporating a lessons-learned capability. Successful organizations in the public and private sector must recognize that their business models and structures must continually be re-invented if errors of the past are to be avoided and new threats met.

It follows that the IC, essentially a business conglomerate with independent divisions offering overlapping product lines, must also embrace innovation – new strategies, approaches and technologies – that can achieve better results. However here we are not concerned with consumer goods and returns for voluntary investors but something vastly more important – national intelligence and the necessary outcome of deterring and preventing terrorism. Notably, the WMD Commission commented that the FBI and CIA plans propose a “business as usual approach to intelligence” that will not serve to make America safer. Certainly, the terrorist threat today is even graver and presents a more difficult intelligence target than before 9/11. Quite simply, our intelligence and military successes against al-Qaeda have created a more diffuse, polycellephous organization with less central control and more autonomous action. Indeed, its very role may be changing from directing one organization to being the inspiration for many.

            Thus in this evolving risk environment, is the U.S. IC fundamentally flawed or can its past failings be remedied by the creation of new, specialized intelligence centers and more resources for existing agencies? In other words, what should the agenda be for the new DNI? However one might answer these questions, there is the critical need to acknowledge that the IC, with the events of 9/11, experienced a classic failure of knowledge management. In the private sector and scholarly literature, we define this as a failure to bring together an organization’s collective explicit information and tacit knowledge and, through rigorous analysis, create new knowledge so that business threats can be anticipated, identified and mitigated. This field is called competitive intelligence – deriving from the historical realm of government intelligence – where the issues and needs are functionally identical.

But given the Congressionally noted failures – which can best be characterized as an array of missed opportunities ranging from lack of the required human intelligence assets to analytical failures caused by not developing and rigorously evaluating a full range of hypotheses – where does the nation go? Is the direction for the future demonstrated by the Intelligence Reform Act of December 2004 and the previously discussed plans of the agencies? Many experts in the media and academia believe that the legislation, with its ambiguous powers for the DNI and its preservation of prerogatives for the Defense Department, sets the stage for business-as-usual if not additional bureaucracy and costly duplication of effort. Others are more confident that central, effective control can be achieved. But perhaps a truly strategic, fine-grained approach is required that specifically addresses the problems that have so aptly been highlighted. What follows is a multifaceted plan that considers root causes and proposes fundamental changes that could make a difference within a year and quite likely free substantial funding to address targets of opportunity. These changes are as follows:

1.      Rationalize and restructure IC rather than reorganizing and/or expanding its bureaucracy.

2.      Institute a performance-based management review.

3.      Engineer an effective information-sharing policy and system.

4.      Revitalize the scientific discipline of intelligence analysis.

5.      Develop and implement a strategy against terrorism.

Rationalize and Restructure the Intelligence Community

Rationalizing and restructuring are fundamentally different from organizational change that involves the creation of new centers and additional management layers to focus on coordination activities. Rationalizing and restructuring is a zero-based review of an organization’s lines of business that eliminates overlap, achieves economies of scale and, perhaps most significantly, encourages growth in new areas – all with the objective of achieving the best use of available resources. If the IC is going to perform better, the first priority is to rationalize and functionally align the structure to the new era of intelligence threats (targets) and hence requirements (business needs). It includes eliminating the competing capabilities that continue to grow including, for example, the human collection programs in the Department of Defense. In other words, today the IC organizes, budgets and operates around intelligence collection capabilities (INTS) such as human intelligence (HUMINT) or signal intelligence (SIGINT).  It then proceeds to duplicate those functions at member agencies. A better approach would be a management strategy that organizes in terms of intelligence priorities and applies intelligence sources and methods as necessary to the unique tasks. Today, although there exists a National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF) that is intended to focus collection and analysis activities on particular and evolving threats, we nevertheless organize and operate largely in terms of INTS and not threats. The result is that the collection machinery, not the national needs, drives the intelligence business.

            Nevertheless, and this is true of both collection and analysis, there is a belief in many quarters that current security paradigms in the IC should reflect private sector business practices – undertaking quantitative assessments of threats, risk, potential and cost of mitigation. Utilizing these practices, the full benefit of new technological and human capital could be achieved, bureaucracy reduced and agility to respond to new demands and changed environments vastly enhanced. Congress and others have observed that intelligence is the most change resistant and risk adverse organization in government. Indeed, to prove this allegation, one need only review the calls, studies and proposals over the years for change in the IC and the singular lack of results (see, for example, General William F. Odom’s Fixing Intelligence for a More Secure America). In business terms, any organization today must become information proficient through appropriate tools and policy that foster agility. Business dominance comes from practices that produce quality intelligence whether the business mission is profit or homeland security. Indeed, applying this theory, one can argue that the real intelligence failure leading to the war in Iraq was not the flawed analysis (more about this problem later), but rather the lack of substance and depth in the collection and analysis of this target. While Iraq did not present a transparent government, it was not a closed, totalitarian society in the character of North Korea . Iraqi government officials, businessmen, politicians, military officers and well-placed citizens traveled the world, and there is little doubt among experts that the intelligence product over the last 10 years should have been prodigious. With a business focus and an optimized organization, that potential could have been realized.

The bottom line is that the IC must be managed as a joint command with integration and cooperation beyond the boundaries of today’s individual agencies. This necessity translates to a division of labor and the development of individual competencies much like the military has accomplished with joint structures where each service has assumed lead responsibility for a particular aspect of a defense priority – for instance, the Air Force’s lead in decontamination for the Joint Chemical Biological Defense Program. Such a restructuring for intelligence might well divide responsibilities even for activities such as covert human collection, and it would almost certainly divide analytical focus along both functional and geographical lines. The point is that operational tradecraft knowledge and analytical subject matter expertise are severely limited and must be developed – a process that is not consistent with the current structure where agencies are so expansive in their focus and individual position tenure is so limited. In sum, a joint structure, built on a plan from demonstrated and nurtured capabilities, would ensure efficiency and true integration of both the activities and the resulting products. Such a structure is the path toward homeland security.

Institute a Performance-Based Management System

At least in part because of inherent secrecy in the intelligence process, the IC is a remarkably insular organization that has avoided most of the Congressional initiatives for measurement. For example, the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA, or "The Results Act"), P.L. 103-62, was intended to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of government programs by requiring agencies to focus on results rather than traditional concerns such as staffing and activity levels. Under the GPRA, agencies must publicly set goals, measure performance and report on their accomplishments. Specifically required are strategic plans, annual performance plans and annual program performance reports. To comply, agencies need to be able to articulate their mission, identify goals, identify activities that will achieve those goals, identify performance measures and identify how that measurement information will be used to make improvements.

Yet, inside the IC, very few if any measurement activities take place at the project or even higher levels, and it is thus impossible for senior management to prudently allocate funds or understand the efficiency of expenditures. Now, few would argue that this objective is simple – as evidenced by the March 2004 report of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that states the government is doing better but still has “difficulty setting outcome-oriented goals” and developing measures for these outcomes rather than simplistic measures of outputs. The reason measures of outputs such as speeding tickets issued, human sources recruited or terrorists eliminated are insufficient is evident from the definitions – outputs look merely to the process while outcomes look to results, goals and allow systems improvement.  In our case the outcome-oriented goal is “eliminating the terrorist threat to the homeland.” In other words, ignoring measures or focusing merely on outputs is a guarantee of strategic policy failure. In sum, the IC needs to elevate measurement to a strategic imperative with respect to operations, analysis and the myriad support functions including information technology.

Engineer an Effective Information Sharing Policy and System

There is a basic truth, seemingly anomalous, that secrecy and intelligence efficiency mutually conflict. Secrecy inhibits the efficiency of analysis by limiting access to information, but the lack of secrecy can also harm analysis by disclosing sources and methods. And often this latter concern is more bureaucratic than fact-based, especially for sharing among security-cleared personnel within the IC or between federal and local government agencies where need for vertical information sharing is critical.

There should be some optimal balancing point between these competing priorities, but little thought or study of the balance has taken place. The current culture of secrecy clearly does not favor information sharing and hence hinders knowledge development in the IC as well as among homeland security personnel. Although some progress has been made, such as better information sharing between the FBI and the CIA, the lack of information architectures and the current focus on technology to permit sharing rather than policy to enable sharing confirm there is much to do. One answer is to create by statute a chief knowledge officer at each IC agency, to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, whose responsibility would be to organize and proactively share institutional knowledge. Quite simply, effective sharing depends on changing the culture and creating new functions to manage knowledge through a new lifecycle – from creation through dissemination to all prospective users including the 95% of homeland security personnel that work at the local and state level. Yet today sharing all too infrequently focuses on the data elements and almost never the implicit knowledge in the organization. Just as the statute that created the inspectors general at federal agencies in a prior generation helped solve rampant waste, fraud and abuse, so dedicated responsibility for knowledge sharing can improve intelligence analysis and hence homeland security.

Revitalize the Scientific Discipline of Intelligence Analysis

If there is one improvement that can be accomplished with certainty, it is ensuring that the analytical errors leading to 9/11 and persisting today are abolished and that a collaborative, sound process and environment for analysis is created throughout the IC. Largely forgotten in the bureaucracy and proliferation of agencies is the fact that intelligence analysis is much more than thinking about a problem, embracing the conventional wisdom or offering judgments influenced by political considerations. Simply put, analysis is the scientific method in action.

The synonymy of analysis and science developed from the work of two members of the academic community who together occupied the role of chief intelligence analyst from 1941 to 1967 – first William Langer and second Sherman Kent . Together they began in the coordinator of information’s (COI) Research and Analysis Branch, oversaw the transition to the wartime imperative of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and returned to serve in the newly created Cold War-era Central Intelligence Agency at the request of then-DCI Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith in November 1950 in order to re-establish a powerful analytical base. Langer, as the first director of the new Office of National Estimates (1950-1952), and Kent as the second (1952-1967), created the modern intelligence function of analysis as a scholarly discipline with a defined methodology. Together, in the words of CIA historian Don Steury, they established intelligence analysis as a process characterized by intellectual rigor, conscious effort to avoid unconscious analytical bias, willingness to hear other judgments, collective responsibility of judgment, precision of statement, systematic use of some of the country’s best experts as consultants and checks against in-house blunder, and candid admission of shortcomings.”

Of course this rigorous process has not been infallible – Kent , for example failed to predict the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba – but the process, as with all science, learned from its failures, publicized those learnings and improved. In the proper execution of analysis, judgments are developed through a rigorous, scientifically based human process of analysis of competing hypotheses (ACH). In the seminal work to discuss this approach in detail, Richards J. Heuer, Jr., explains the basics of analysis, the ACH process and mechanisms by which it avoids many of the classic pitfalls in judgment. He posits that the predicate to effective analysis is decomposing and externalizing complex analytical problems where decomposition is defined as breaking the issue into its component parts and externalization is defined as documenting the decomposed problem on paper or other media in order to interact effectively with the totality of the issue. Without this approach, issues quickly exceed the ability of working memory. And inherent in this process of structuring an analytical problem is the importance of recognizing “evidence” which is data validated by ensuring that it is accurate, precise, sufficient, representative and authoritative.

Thereafter, effective analysis is accomplished by a process that generates and rigorously evaluates a complete set of hypotheses. This approach (1) produces more accurate judgments by avoiding decision-making strategies that are identifiably faulty, such as satisficing, (2) can overcome cognitive bias in the evaluation of evidence and of cause and effect and (3) is particularly useful for controversial issues. In sum, ACH proceeds from the identification of a full range of hypotheses (prospective answers to the research question), the evaluation of the evidence and assumptions for consistency or inconsistency with each hypothesis, and thus the identification of most likely outcomes.

But readers may wish to consider the evidence available today from independent reviews demonstrating that the IC has slipped away from this requisite rigor. Indeed this decline is the general conclusion of a recent ethnography by Rob Johnston, who was invited by the director of central intelligence in August 2001 to identify and describe conditions and variables that negatively affect intelligence analysis.” As evident by the date, this work began contemporaneously with the events of 9/11, which contributed to the great interest demonstrated by the subjects that participated in some 489 interviews and focus groups. The key findings and recommendations for improvement (synthesized from the views of Dr. Johnston and the author of this article) are as follows:

·        Time demands inhibit analysis: For several years experts recognized that the glut of information was overwhelming the abilities of analysts but it is now also clear that the demands for current production of intelligence are so daunting as to impair group interactions and the analytic process.” In the words of one analyst, people seem to have confused writing with analysis.” And in the words of another: We’ve got Bayesian tools, simulations, all kinds of advanced methods, but when am I supposed to do any of that? It takes all my time to keep up with the daily reporting as it is.” Thus, information overload with a work focus on the short term, supported by a reward system that is perceived to support this dichotomy, has inhibited quality analysis.

·        The loss of scientific methodology: Although the culture and literature of intelligence generally focuses on operations rather than analysis, the fact is that analysis, as recognized by General William Donovan, is the essential heart of modern intelligence. Yet the focus on operations has led to a view that the tradecraft concept in operations is equally applicable to both arenas. But as we have discussed, analysis is neither craft nor art,” but rather a part of the scientific process. But while the process is taught, few managers and analysts are practitioners and the resulting quality speaks for itself.

Develop and Implement a Strategy Against Terrorism

The most recent terror attacks, including the continuing violence in Iraq and the July attacks in London , symbolize the fact that the threat to homeland security today is not al-Qaeda per se, but rather a society within a society that detests but exploits Western culture for its operational success. In fact, the intelligence and military success against al-Qaeda can be perceived as creating the opportunity for this new threat signature. Consider, for example, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Bedouin common criminal turned jihadist from Jordan, who has adopted the banner of al-Qaeda and has formed ad hoc groups into an effective terror machines with multiple kidnappings and beheadings to their credit and a growing media capability that not only enhances the effects of their actions but also facilitates recruitment.

This new threat requires us to re-orient intelligence policy to a broader, strategic approach in order to defeat terrorism – a move advocated, in fact, by the 9/11 Commission with four recommendations to develop a global counterterrorism strategy and nine others to prevent the continued growth of Islamic terrorism through the use of information, collaborative relationships with other countries and economics to win the battle of ideals in the Middle East. Yet there is a seeming drift in national policy in this regard and it is exacerbated by the educational system remaining in the hands of extremists in broad areas of the Middle East and by the continued spread of extremism from the Iraqi training grounds to their home countries in the Middle East as well as Western Europe . Watch how National Security Advisor Townsend either shapes or reflects policy in this regard and whether a new presidential directive is issued. In short, the threat to homeland security is broad and rooted firmly in economic deprivation and cultural issues. The intelligence agenda must focus as intensely here as it does on eliminating individual and group threats.

The Bottom Line

The report of the 9/11 Commission that documented the shortcomings in American law enforcement, intelligence, leadership and Congressional oversight also found that this attack should not have come as a surprise and that the primary governmental failure was one of imagination.” The accuracy of this conclusion is amply established in the evidence and staff statements of the commission (see, for example, No. 11, p. 6) as well as extensive media reporting. In fact, the government at large, as an information space, did know that such a scenario was possible but was unable to marshal its assets in mitigation. What each of these recommendations says in substantial part is that the IC must change from its insular past and make innovation and learning part of the intelligence culture. And in this regard there is promise – for example, the CIA has initiated an Innovation Center and is considering ways to create an institutional learning capacity. But much remains to be done including the fundamental restructuring we have considered here. If it were a business, the IC would quickly fall into irrelevancy and bankruptcy. The question is whether the DNI can undertake the tough business decisions necessary to create an intelligence structure that is functionally precise and efficient.