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U.S. Intel Agencies Need 'Jointness'

By Jed Babbin

America's intelligence community has endured two major shakeups since 9-11 but it's more and more apparent that the changes haven't delivered the on the politicians' promises to fix what went wrong before 9-11. Last week's report by Cong. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) and his staff on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is the sum of some fears.

The shakeups came in quick succession. First, Congress shuffled the intel deck when it created the Department of Homeland Security, giving the new agency some control over the analysis and distribution of intelligence that might lead to interdiction of terrorist attacks. Then an even bigger shakeup resulted from the omniscient 9-11 Commission's insistence that the sky would fall if its recommendations weren't adopted immediately and without debate. In these "ready, fire, aim" exercises, neither Congress nor the Bush Administration took enough time - or got enough expert advice -- to craft the changes around what should have been the single goal: improving the quality of the intelligence delivered to the president and congressional policymakers. It would be wrong to say there haven't been improvements. But it is much more wrong to say that the changes accomplished what this nation needs.

Hoekstra's report condemns the lack of reliable intelligence we have about Iran. Entitled, "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat," it paints a very frightening picture of Iran, explaining in graphic terms the dangers of Iran's nuclear weapons program and other weapons - including chemical and biological - that the mullahs may be developing. The report has been ignored by most of the media, and what coverage there has been focused on the less important of its two parts. (The New York Times, in an editorial screech, accused Hoekstra of fearmongering and trying to bully the intelligence agencies to support a confrontation with Iran. It paid no attention to the enormous problem arising from the fact that neither it nor Cong. Hoekstra can be proven wrong by any intelligence we have.) Almost buried in the report is the other conclusion: that, "...the United States lacks critical information needed for analysts to make many of their judgments with confidence about Iran and there are many information gaps." How, five years after 9-11, can this be so? Why is the president still flying blind on Iran?

The Hoekstra report says that Iran is a "...denied area, with active denial and deception efforts [making it] a difficult target for intelligence analysis and collection." Well of course it is. And so are North Korea, China, Syria, and a host of other nations, not to mention the terror networks themselves. The reason intelligence agencies exist is to penetrate the fog and get the facts. From Hoekstra's report - and from the lack of defined strategies toward nations other than Iran -- it's reasonable to extrapolate that the president isn't being provided the intelligence information on which policies can be based.

The Hoekstra report makes seven recommendations to improve the capabilities of the intel community. Chief among them are enhanced analysis, improved coordination on Iran and on counter-proliferation issues, enhanced human intelligence activity and strengthened counterintelligence. Those recommendations should sound familiar. They are what we were promised by Congress in creating the Homeland Security agency and in adopting the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission. The promises weren't fulfilled because Sen. Barry Goldwater and Cong. Bill Nichols weren't there to remind everybody of something called "jointness." It all started with the island of Grenada in 1983, when a bunch of American students were being held against their will at a medical school. Ronald Reagan sent in the Marines.

But the Marines didn't go it alone. Every military service wanted a piece of the action, and they went to war almost as if the others hadn't existed. Cooperation was an afterthought. The lore of Grenada was a litany of obstacles, denying each of the forces the strengths of the others, such as Air Force pilots unable to talk to Marines on the ground because their radios didn't tune to those frequencies. The White House was shocked, the Pentagon was embarrassed and for once Congress got it right. The result was the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986.

Goldwater-Nichols forced "jointness" into every corner of the Pentagon. Jointness - an awkward word even by Defense Department standards -- means everyone works with everyone else, or else. Goldwater-Nichols broke down the barriers of inter-service rivalry that existed since late 1775 when some army officer looked at the first US Marine and asked, "Who the hell do you think you are?" Twenty years ago, "jointness" was a cultural revolution that shook the Pentagon like no war ever had. Today, it's nearly a religion, its apostles ranging from junior sergeants to the Secretary of Defense. They love it for one simple reason: it works like nothing else ever has.

While 9-11 Commission members were performing their Chicken Little routines, I wrote - on 23 August 2004 -- that we shouldn't create a "Director of National Intelligence" just adding another layer of bureaucracy but rather impose a Goldwater-Nichols-like transformation on the intel community.

Some in Congress - such as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) wanted to create the DNI as a powerful position that could have imposed "jointness" but their efforts ran aground on White House indifference and different agencies' lobbying against it. Even after the alleged "transformation," some agencies including the CIA and the National Intelligence Center work for Negroponte but a whole list of agencies -- including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Treasury, the State Department's INR and Defense Intelligence Agency's analysis branch -- are all semi-autonomous. It is precisely the opposite of the result Congress said it wanted, and of the course I advocated then.

In a radio interview last Friday, I asked Cong. Hoekstra about the idea of "jointness" and how it fits into the needed intelligence reforms. He answered that "jointness" was the direction he thought we were headed and wanted future reforms to go. But when? And how?

Congress needs to recognize that much of what it has done in intelligence "reform" has to be undone. A real intelligence transformation must be accomplished in accordance with the Goldwater-Nichols model. Forget who's running which show, and whether the CIA is subordinate to the DNI or the NSA works for the DoD or whatever other alphabet soup they're swimming in. We need to break down the walls of interagency rivalry and force a "jointness" culture on the intelligence community the same way it was forced on the defense establishment.

Every pol and pundit knows just enough to repeat the cliché about "connecting the dots." But it's about much more than "connecting the dots." It's about connecting the people, embedding them in a culture of cooperation.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a contributing editor to The American Spectator and author of Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States (with Edward Timperlake, Regnery 2006) and Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think (Regnery 2004).

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