A Framework for Reform of the U.S. Intelligence Community: Chapter 6

A Framework for Reform of the
U.S. Intelligence Community

Chapter 6: Conclusions


For many reasons, the Intelligence Community needs a large number of discrete organizational and cultural changes throughout its component agencies. The latter are the most dangerous to organizational effectiveness and are the most difficult to change. The institutional keys for Congress, the Commission, and the public to reaching national consensus meaningful involve, in the following order:

1. Learning about the Intelligence Community.

2. Understanding what parts have gone wrong and why.

3. Formulating recommendations for procedural changes--in the incentive and personnel managements systems, for example--to ameliorating the cultural dysfunctions. These matters cannot be left to DCIs alone. Several of them made or failed to recognize the mess we now have.

4. Enacting some legislation where appropriate in aggregate organizational and personnel areas that would modify national security acts, affirmative action laws and policies, and personnel management rules. Key organizational changes are: strengthening the DCI by giving him authority over NSA and the imagery complex; restricting the intelligence authority and budget of Secretary of Defense to narrowly defense-related programs of the GDIP and TIARA; and, reforming the structure of the defense intelligence complex.

5. Making clear to the president, the DCI, and Congressional oversight committees that strong remedial action is essential, is expected, and is demanded. Nothing less is acceptable. With its growing base of understanding, the press can help assure that intelligence performance and the effectiveness of the reform effort become points upon which politicians will be held politically accountable.

6. Trying to find ways to help improve the management of intelligence by the White House and National Security Council and working on ways to improve meaningful Congressional oversight that is not micro-management, meddling, or interference with presidential foreign policy initiatives through the "oversight" process.

7. After resolution of the on-going national debate about U.S. foreign policy interests in the post-Cold War period, fitting the desired size and focus of intelligence to meet perceived national needs. Finalization of this function, and the accompanying focus on budget and narrowly defined "threats" or "targets" should come only after the first five points are substantially complete.

The reason the last point can wait until the end is that virtually any coherent intelligence structure will be accordion-like in that it can be relatively rapidly altered in shape and size. While there are lead times--recruiting and training personnel in complex skills and designing and procuring sophisticated hardware systems, for example--a good intelligence apparatus is inherently flexible. The key is that it is a working "musical instrument." The nation has a long way to go to accomplish the latter goal.

Finally, I have two cautions, or two hopes. The first is that the reform effort not be hijacked by defenders of the status quo. Such people are numerous and are tenacious. They must not be allowed to divert attention from the second critical point--establishment of national awareness of the true magnitude of the Intelligence Community's internal crisis and the size of the effort needed to restore a national treasure to institutional health.

Beware of the "Wise Men"

Congressional and Executive Branch inquiries into the state of the Intelligence Community should, of course, consult with a broad spectrum of observers--intelligence producer, consumers, and academics among them. It should be careful to assure a mix of experience that includes recent intelligence work and empirical evidence in the form of documents, surveys, and interviews. This means that the advice of retired senior intelligence officers of former policymaking "wise men" whose knowledge is dated and whose roles in intelligence put them in line for culpability for the current state of affairs should be placed in proper context. Some of these persons are the people who were responsible for changes in the 1980s, who chose the people who made the changes, or who blessed the changes in Congressional testimony and through op-ed pieces.

With CIA's culture increasingly dysfunctional in some respects since the mid-1980s, an obvious question is why no one sufficiently powerful to identify problems or to mandate change did so. There are several reasons, but no good excuses. First, CIA forbids its personnel to discuss CIA with the press, academics, or the Congressional oversight committees without official approval. This requirement effectively muzzles employees at all levels below the very senior--who regularly have funnelled favorable information to former intelligence officers known to be friendly to management. These senior officials and the public affairs apparatus they control, of course, saw (and see) few problems worth mentioning.

Those relative few who do write and speak of intelligence matters tend to be retired senior officials who prospered and will not admit to causing problems, operations officers who never knew the DI and the rest of the Intelligence Community well, and persons who retired before the current analyst/manager institutional structure was created. These last people often are incapable or unwilling to accept that the agency they loved has changed so drastically. (Some receive regular briefings on intelligence matters from CIA officials and act as unofficial spokesmen for the agency to the press and academia, among others; some critics have argued that these organizations are de facto front organizations for domestic CIA covert operations designed to advance its agenda.) In a 1993 conversation with the late George Carver, for example, Carver told me he was unaware that significant institutional change had occurred; yet Carver had written and spoken at length to defend Robert Gates during his 1991 DCI confirmation hearings. Former DCI William Colby, another op-ed page contributor, wrote in 1994 that the intelligence profession was a "fraternity"--a view common in 1976 when Colby retired but long gone by the 1990s (108).

Former DCI Richard Helms offered a rare exception in comments in 1994 to The Washington Post about the problems of CIA. He said the agency's problems stem from "a lack of direction ... There is no sense of mission." (109) Reflecting on reform proposals, he said, "Jiggering with organizations will not do it. It's a matter of people." (110)

Another prominent exception is former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council Harold P. Ford who surprised Congressional supporters of Robert Gates' bid to become DCI in 1991 by opposing the nomination. Ford altered his views after talking with people who had seen Gates at work:

... it is my view, based chiefly on the confidences of CIA officers whose abilities and character I respect, that other of Bob Gates' pressures have clearly gone beyond professional bounds and do constitute a skewing of intelligence ...(111)

Most retirees and resignees of middle rank who are most aware of problems in the DI culture simply want to leave and forget. Few want to live again the situation they left. Yet these are the people investigators of the true state of the Intelligence Community must seek out and rigorously interview. Even those who want to describe it find the situation and the problems of intelligence to be enormously difficult to describe. An analogy is the difficulty soldiers have in describing combat to those who never served in the military. Former analyst Jennifer Glaudemans, describing the slanting of analysis in CIA's Directorate of Intelligence in the 1980s, put it another way:

... politicization is like fog. Though you cannot hold it in your hands, or nail it to a wall, it does exist, it is real, and it does affect people's behavior (112).

The tendency of so many former, senior officials to impute the standards, ethics and culture of the CIA they knew--perhaps 20 or more years ago--to the CIA of the 1990s constitutes recurrent examples of the classic analytic mistake of mirror-imaging. This mistake obviously does not spring from national cultural differences, but rather it comes from: the passage of time; the veil of secrecy that insulates even retirees from developments at CIA; the briefings they receive from current senior officers that all is well; and, unwillingness to accept that the officers they chose to succeed them could have damaged the institution so badly. I call the phenomenon intertemporal mirror-imaging.

Conduct Real Research

With recollections of former intelligence officers and consumers fading and agendas sometimes suspect, even the best of verbal arguments for change or maintenance of the status quo should be buttressed with sound, empirical research where possible. This is an area that intelligence officials and academic students of intelligence have traditionally done poorly, or not at all, for a variety of reasons. The crisis in American intelligence is so great, and the stakes so great, that the expenditure of time and resources on real studies of the Intelligence Community is worth making. And, perhaps for the first time, a significant body of data is available for methodologically sound academic research.

Because the ethical and leadership malaise is so severe, an early priority is professional, large-scale surveys of Intelligence Community personnel. These should be designed to seek out systemic organizational and procedural problems, to identify poor leaders, and to solicit suggestions for improvements from the many good people of the Intelligence Community who see solutions to obvious problems.

A second avenue of research is a review of the considerable amount of survey and other research data already accumulated in the Community. Within CIA, the Office of Training and Education and the Office of Medical Services collect data on CIA organizations and culture. OIG conducts periodic inspections of offices that lead to reports that come in variations for various consumer groups (113). Researchers should seek out the most candid version, along with the raw survey data collected.

A third approach is a review of grievance procedures and Inspector General inquiries that presumably fill much space, but which have sparked little action. These should be part of the evaluation of the grievance and oversight organizations themselves.

A thorough, methodologically sound investigation is essential for several reasons. Major work by credible researchers--including but not limited to consulting firms, academics, the Congressional oversight committees, OMB, and GAO--is essential if a body of knowledge adequate to overcome the many public and governmental misperceptions about intelligence. Such work would deflect concerns about biases among commentators. It would buttress the judgments of those who really know of what they speak, and lead to better public understanding about which pundits really know what they are talking about. With some of the information made public, the research could form a basis for better citizen understanding of their government--and help knowledgeable laymen, academics, and the press both keep intelligence accountable while helping the country maintain reasonable expectations about their intelligence agencies.

In principle I agree with the argument that secret intelligence services should be secret indeed. There are prices to pay for openness--reluctance of foreigners to work with us and occasional security breaches, among them. But the U.S. Intelligence Community has betrayed the trust the nation placed in it, and there seems little prospect that public confidence will return without both better understanding of intelligence and better public monitoring of its activities. Restoration of public trust in intelligence is the paramount challenge.

A Critical Window of Opportunity

Finally, U.S. intelligence is in genuine crisis. DCI Deutch and his handful of outsiders have not, as of this writing, made signifcant changes. The self-destruction has damaged a critical pillar of the nation's defense/foreign affairs establishment. Leading intelligence back to sound service will require knowledge, vision, leadership, hard management skills, and no small dose of wisdom. It is a daunting task that will not be easy and cannot be completed quickly. The troubles took a decade or more to develop, and years will be needed to overcome the ethical and cultural problems now engrained at CIA and some of the other organizations.

This period of review and assessment is critical. It must be done properly. Failure to do the job well could have enormously negative consequences. And a failure to do the job right would delay essential reform indefinitely and make eventual resolution of troubles all the more difficult to accomplish.


108. William E. Colby, "The CIA: Everybody's Favorite Scapegoat," The Washington Post, August 5, 1994, p. A21. To his credit, Mr. Colby during our August 5, 1994 telephone discussion about the article recognized the possibili ty that CIA's culture had changed--a flexibility I have not found often in CIA's defenders among former senior intelligence officers.

109. Walter Pincus, "CIA Struggles To Find Identity In a New World," The Washington Post, May 9, 1994, pp. A1 and A9.

110. Ibid.

111. Harold P. Ford, "Statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, October 1, 1991, Concerning the Confirmation of Robert Gates as Director of Central Intelligence," p. 3.

112. United States Senate, Transcript of Proceedings Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, Evening Session, September 25, 1991, p. 96.

113. For a brief glimpse at a botched "inspection" of the Office of Soviet Analysis, see Gentry, Lost Promise, p. 113.

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