Thursday, March 31, 2005

Robb-Silberman Report released

Last year President Bush designated a bipartisan commission to investigate the US intelligence capacity, efficacy and the ability of the intelligence community with special emphasis on what happened to cause the WMD assessment failures and what steps should be taken in the future.

Today, the commission released its report and it's a LOT better than the 9-11 Commission's politically charged and analytically flawed products. Some key excerpts from the overview with my comments:

On the brink of war, and in front of the whole world, the United States government asserted that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, had biological weapons and mobile biological weapon production facilities, and had stockpiled and was producing chemical weapons. All of this was based on the assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community. And not one bit of it could be confirmed when the war was over.

Largely accurate, but I'm still wondering what a search of Syria would prove about Iraq's stockpiles -- were they shipped west toward Damascus whilst the US diddled with the UN process?

This failure was in large part the result of analytical shortcomings; intelligence analysts were too wedded to their assumptions about Saddam’s inten­tions. But it was also a failure on the part of those who collect intelligence— CIA’s and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) spies, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) eavesdroppers, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) imagery experts.[1] In the end, those agencies collected precious little intelligence for the analysts to analyze, and much of what they did collect was either worthless or misleading. Finally, it was a failure to communicate effectively with policymakers; the Intelligence Community didn’t adequately explain just how little good intelligence it had—or how much its assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence.

In other words, the Intel community sought to present its conclusions and cover its a-- by not revealing the low source-quality of its material.

The failures we found in Iraq are not repeated everywhere. The Intelligence Community played a key role, for example, in getting Libya to renounce weapons of mass destruction and in exposing the long-running A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network. It is engaged in imaginative, successful (and highly classified) operations in many parts of the world. Tactical support to counterterrorism efforts is excellent, and there are signs of a boldness that would have been unimaginable before September 11, 2001.

The Clinton Administration was useless in combatting terrorism and the Bush Administration didn't ramp-up counterterrorist efforts in the first 7.5 months of its existence thanks in part to the cruddy quality assessments from the intel community that helped paint a copacetic picture.

But neither was Iraq a “perfect storm.” The flaws we found in the Intelligence Community’s Iraq performance are still all too common. Across the board, the Intelligence Community knows disturbingly little about the nuclear programs of many of the world’s most dangerous actors. In some cases, it knows less now than it did five or ten years ago. As for biological weapons, despite years of Presidential concern, the Intelligence Community has struggled to address this threat.

Bush should have sacked George Tenet long ago and reconfigured intelligence long before the Porter Goss appointment after the '04 election. But lots of us were saying this . . .

To be sure, the Intelligence Community is full of talented, dedicated people. But they seem to be working harder and harder just to maintain a status quo that is increasingly irrelevant to the new challenges presented by weapons of mass destruction. Our collection agencies are often unable to gather intelli­gence on the very things we care the most about. Too often, analysts simply accept these gaps; they do little to help collectors identify new opportunities, and they do not always tell decisionmakers just how limited their knowledge really is.

These employees are dedicated to maintaining their current jobs in comfortable situations, not innovating nor thinking inventively or creatively.

The Intelligence Community is also fragmented, loosely managed, and poorly coordinated; the 15 intelligence organizations are a “Community” in name only and rarely act with a unity of purpose. What we need is an Intel­ligence Community that is integrated: the Community’s leadership must be capable of allocating and directing the Community’s resources in a coordi­nated way. The strengths of our distinct collection agencies must be brought to bear together on the most difficult intelligence problems. At the same time we need a Community that preserves diversity of analysis, and that encourages structured debate among agencies and analysts over the inter­pretation of information.

The left hand and right hand need to work together whilst still competing to get the best analysis out, just as Reagan mandated in Executive Order 12333 (see Section 1.1(a)).

Perhaps above all, the Intelligence Community is too slow to change the way it does business. It is reluctant to use new human and technical collection methods; it is behind the curve in applying cutting-edge technologies; and it has not adapted its personnel practices and incentives structures to fit the needs of a new job market. What we need is an Intelligence Community that is flexible—able to respond nimbly to an ever-shifting threat environment and to the rapid pace of today’s technological changes.

In short, to succeed in confronting today’s and tomorrow’s threats, the Intelli­gence Community must be transformed—a goal that would be difficult to meet even in the best of all possible worlds. And we do not live in the best of worlds. The CIA and NSA may be sleek and omniscient in the movies, but in real life they and other intelligence agencies are vast government bureaucracies. They are bureaucracies filled with talented people and armed with sophisticated technological tools, but talent and tools do not suspend the iron laws of bureaucratic behavior. Like government bodies everywhere, intelli­gence agencies are prone to develop self-reinforcing, risk averse cultures that take outside advice badly. While laudable steps were taken to improve our intelligence agencies after September 11, 2001, the agencies have done less in response to the failures over Iraq, and we believe that many within those agencies do not accept the conclusion that we reached after our year of study: that the Community needs fundamental change if it is to successfully confront the threats of the 21st century.

We are not the first to say this. Indeed, commission after commission has identified some of the same fundamental failings we see in the Intelligence Community, usually to little effect. The Intelligence Community is a closed world, and many insiders admitted to us that it has an almost perfect record of resisting external recommendations.

But the present moment offers an unprecedented opportunity to overcome this resistance. About halfway through our inquiry, Congress passed the Intelli­gence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which became a sort of a deus ex machina in our deliberations. The act created a Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI’s role could have been a purely coordinating position, with a limited staff and authority to match. Or it could have been something closer to a “Secretary of Intelligence,” with full authority over the principal intelligence agencies and clear responsibility for their actions— which also might well have been consistent with a small bureaucratic super­structure. In the end, the DNI created by the intelligence reform legislation was neither of these things; the office is given broad responsibilities but only ambiguous authorities. While we might have chosen a different solution, we are not writing on a blank slate. So our focus has been in large part on how to make the new intelligence structure work, and in particular on giving the DNI tools (and support staff) to match his large responsibilities.

We are mindful, however, that there is a serious risk in creating too large a bureaucratic structure to serve the DNI: the risk that decisionmaking in the field, which sometimes requires quick action, will be improperly delayed. Balancing these two imperatives—necessary agility of operational execution and thoughtful coordination of intelligence activities—is, in our view, the DNI’s greatest challenge.

In considering organizational issues, we did not delude ourselves that organizational structure alone can solve problems. More than many parts of govern­ment, the culture of the Intelligence Community is formed in the field, where organizational changes at headquarters are felt only lightly. We understand the limits of organizational change, and many of our recommendations go beyond organizational issues and would, if enacted, directly affect the way that intelligence is collected and analyzed. But we regret that we were not able to make such detailed proposals for some of the most important technical collection agencies, such as NSA and NGA. For those agencies, and for the many other issues that we could only touch upon, we must trust that our broader institu­tional recommendations will enable necessary reform. The DNI that we envision will have the budget and management tools to dig deep into the culture of each agency and to force changes where needed.

Here are the lessons we've learned: (1) Rearranging the furniture doesn't change the solidity of the house's foundation. (2) You dopes in Congress enacted the DNI law and intel reform act too quickly. (3) Bureaucratic inertia is a fact of life, therefore do not eviscerate the ability of field operatives to make decisions. (4) And a butt-kicker is needed to enact reforms. That's why Goss was a good choice at CIA.

And ultimately, there's this conclusion about the intel mistakes on Iraq's WMD:

These are errors--serious errors. But these errors stem from poor tradecraft and poor management. The Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs. As we discuss in detail in the body of our report, analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments. We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments.

Bad analysis, bad management but not political pressure led to the intelligence foul-ups. The intelligence was not botched for political purposes, it was botched because the agencies need a better refurbishing than the Augean Stables did before Hercules arrived.

No comments: