09 February 2004
Congresswoman Harman on Four Steps to Better Intelligence
Op-ed column by ranking member on the House intelligence committee
(This column by California Congresswoman Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was published in the Washington Post February 8 and is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)
Four Steps to Better Intelligence
By Congresswoman Jane Harman
At least five extensive inquiries have already been conducted regarding the prewar intelligence on Iraq, and every one of them has been sharply critical. While another investigation may tell us a few things we don't yet know, we cannot wait until after November to begin making needed improvements. Waiting will freeze in place an intolerable national security situation: shattered U.S. credibility and deeply flawed intelligence.
Senior political and intelligence leaders must immediately end their state of denial. Then a number of options, best developed on a bipartisan basis, need to be considered and implemented. Beyond his announcement of yet another inquiry, President Bush should announce specific steps now to improve intelligence and restore its credibility.
He should start with a call to relearn forgotten lessons. In 1992 Robert Gates, then director of central intelligence, wrote that analysts should highlight what they don't know and not try to "make the tough calls." "They should constantly challenge fundamental assumptions and work to avoid 'group-think.'" These lessons were lost in the key intelligence estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The president should tell his director of central intelligence, George Tenet, to reissue this guidance to every analyst in the intelligence community.
Second, we must quickly correct any other WMD estimates that may contain or be tainted by the same deficiencies found in the Iraq analysis. If estimates of Iraq's WMD programs were so far off the mark, we must be concerned that there are systemic deficiencies in intelligence analysis on other WMD programs and activities, such as those in Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Pakistan. The president should direct the intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough review of WMD intelligence estimates worldwide and release updates on all areas of serious concern. In addition, the agencies should conduct a detailed comparison of the intelligence on Libya's WMD programs with the ground truth found by new inspections.
Third, we must improve collection of WMD information, including recruiting and deploying more human sources. We were told that satellite photographs showed chemical weapons storage facilities. But we had no human source or close-in collection capability to tell us what was really going on inside the buildings. The few human sources we did have often turned out to be unreliable. And there are indications that other potential sources may have been dismissed because they were telling us something we didn't want to believe: There were no active WMD programs. The president should direct Tenet to implement an improved process for vetting sources, an aggressive plan for diversifying the intelligence workforce with people who understand the cultures and speak the languages of targeted countries and groups, and a crash research and development plan to develop better technology for detecting WMD programs.
Fourth, the president should call for a reinvigorated U.N. inspector force and commit additional U.S. resources to this effort. It turns out that U.N. inspectors had better information than anyone else. Presidential leadership on this would go a long way to restore sadly tarnished U.S. credibility.
As with any issue, leadership is key. Serious work toward fixing the problems won't succeed until the president and Tenet acknowledge that there were problems with the intelligence. Stronger overall leadership of the entire intelligence community is also needed. Some question whether Tenet, who is supposed to direct the efforts of all 15 bodies in the intelligence community but who in fact runs only the CIA, can ever be viewed as an honest broker in interagency disputes. Moreover, intelligence-gathering tools that reside in different agencies still do not work together seamlessly, and analysts do not effectively and regularly collaborate across agencies. Various elements of the intelligence community did have the right answers on aspects of Iraq's stalled WMD programs. We should consider creating a true director of national intelligence who can focus full time on the full breadth of U.S. intelligence activities and move aggressively to address these debilitating organizational "stovepipes."
Instead of taking another year to identify the problems, we should focus our efforts on developing and implementing ideas such as these, based on what we know today. Members of Congress, David Kay and others are doing their part to highlight the problems. It's time for the president to lead the way toward solving them.
-- The writer is a representative from California and ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
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