Changes in U.S. Intelligence
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RAY SUAREZ: We are joined by Frank Anderson, who worked at the CIA from 1968 to 1994, and was the chief of its Near East and South Asia Division from 1991 to 94. Former Senator David Boren was the chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee from 1987 to 1993. Robert Blitzer was the FBI’s chief of domestic terrorism from 1996 to 1998. And Richard Kerr was deputy director of Central Intelligence from 1989 to 1992.
Well, Richard Kerr, we heard Director Tenet talking about the secrets of 9/11 being carried in perhaps the heads of three or four people. Was this really the greatest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor?
RICHARD KERR: Well, I don’t know whether it would be the greatest intelligence failure, but I don’t think there’s any question that it was an intelligence failure. But in my perspective, intelligence doesn’t operate alone; it operates with policy, it operated in this case with domestic law enforcement. So there were a lot of people and a lot of… there’s a lot of blame to go around in this.
And I might add, too, the one thing that we tend not to talk about is over the past several years, following the barracks — attack on the barracks in Saudi Arabia and the embassies in Africa and the Cole, we spent an awful lot of tell telling people how we do our work, what kind of intelligence we collect, what we go after. So it wasn’t… it isn’t surprising, I guess, that terrorists found ways to slip below that net. But in terms of a failure, yes, intelligence is supposed to provide warning, warning for the nation and the nation’s survival.
RAY SUAREZ: Robert Blitzer, you heard Mr. Kerr talking about the possibility of knowing some things in advance. Was this an intelligence failure?
ROBERT BLITZER: Well, to a degree I think it was an intelligence failure. And I think Dick’s description of it is correct. But a couple of things in the roll-up that rang true to me is the inability to penetrate with the people that know the culture, know the language. This has been a major issue I think for the intelligence community and the law enforcement community as a whole. The difficulty in penetrating and grabbing those secrets is very, very high, in my view, and I know it has been here at home. And I know it has been abroad. So this is a continuing issue, language skills, ability to mix in the culture, ability to develop agents or assets here. These are tough things.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Frank Anderson, given what the two previous speakers just said, should we be looking at failures of individual people doing specific jobs, or systems and the institutions in which they work?
FRANK ANDERSON: Well, a manager and a leader has to look at both of those things. There is the question: Has someone failed, or has something failed?
RAY SUAREZ: And where do you come down on that?
DAVID BOREN: I come down on it, I think it’s some thing. As we said, there were dots and collecting the dots. And there are two sides to this: One is the intelligence collection process, and that’s, for want of a better term, increasing the number of dots. And the other is increasing the probability that you’ll connect them. And for the leader of the intelligence community, he’s got to turn around and ask the question: Where are the systems that need to be mixed, and where are the handles that I can grab to improve our performance? And in fact, they were well along on a couple of those handles from problems that they know had come from the past.
I would argue that one of the most important changes was the appointment of George Tenet after Secretary… I’m sorry, Director Deutsche. He I think has gone a long way to fixing a number of the problems that had been identified before. The Congress of the United States appropriated substantial money, and there was a tremendous ramp-up in the hiring particularly of operations officers in the years immediately before 9/11. It’s a paradox, but actually the problem, or the popular reaction to 9/11 may very well have resolved what would otherwise have been a very serious but perhaps unavoidable problem, and that would come from the size and the speed of that build-up that began in 2000 and 2001 and what might otherwise have been the inevitable lowering of standards and the lowering of the overall quality of the operations officer population.
The nation’s reaction after 9/11 and the surge in patriotism and a sense of duty increased the applicant pool so widely and so rapidly, that I think that problem has gone away. We are getting America’s best and brightest in unprecedented numbers applying to do this work.
RAY SUAREZ: And Senator Boren, given what you know of the way the community works domestically and overseas, where do you come down on whether this was a failure of intelligence?
DAVID BOREN: Well, I think you have to admit it’s a failure. Certainly it is. But I think we need to go back in history to understand how we began to really deplete some of the resources of the intelligence community. In the 1970s, there were draw downs, significant draw downs on human intelligence. Some of our best agents were encouraged to retire early. We were enamored of technology. And in some ways that made sense. We were tracking Soviet targets at that time, we were tracking communications between huge units of governments, military commands in one part of the world and another. Technology had a way of penetrating that.
But once the world shifted and we began to be threatened more by very small cells, tightly organized groups of people, tiny handfuls of people that had to be penetrated, technology can’t do that job. It takes human intelligence. And I think the good news is that the rebuilding of our human intelligence capabilities began almost the day that George Tenet took the job as CIA Director. There had been five directors over a six-year period, a really tremendous loss of morale at the agency. But about that time, Tenet, who had been a longtime advocate of more emphasis on human intelligence, began to get support from Congress. And the good news is that in the last two years, we have had our two largest classes of clandestine agents, human intelligence operatives that we’ve had in over 30 years at the CIA.
The other good news is that over 70 percent of them have language skills and they particularly have cultural skills in the part of the world that we now find the most dangerous. So rebuilding the human intelligence capability, Congress is supporting Director Tenet, and making budget shifts to do that, using things like scholarships in order to get more students out to the rest of the world, parts of the world where we don’t have enough human skill in terms of languages and cultures. The good news is we are rebuilding and we’re making up for some of the deficiency that undoubtedly were very influential in causing this intelligence failure.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Richard Kerr, you heard Mr. Anderson and Senator Boren talk about improvements made in the human capital of the intelligence community. What about Ari Fleischer’s reference to lessons learned and changes made? There have been proposals, concrete and floated, about how to change the FBI, the CIA their relationship to each other and their structures. Have we moved very far in the year since September 11 on those things?
RICHARD KERR: I think we’ve moved a fair amount of distance. When there is a crisis, these organizations tend to work well together. It’s when the crisis eases off that the bureaucratic instincts tend to become fairly dominant. But I think we have a ways to go. I agree with what Senator Boren said. I think we’ve done some very important things. But we are in a different world where intelligence is going to be more intrusive, it is going to be preemptive in taking action, it’s going to do things that we have not done before, it’s going to stretch the limits a bit in terms of our relationships overseas and issues like international law. So I think we’re just beginning down a very interesting track in terms of our overseas intelligence, let alone our domestic side. I think that by far that may be the most intrusive and the most difficult area that we’re going to face.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, help me understand what you mean by stretching and being more intrusive. Are those just euphemisms for being ready to kill people overseas?
RICHARD KERR: I think… the president has made it clear that we are unwilling to wait until we are struck by terrorists, that if necessary, we’ll take action against them where they live, where they operate. We’re not going to wait until the event occurs. To do that means that you have to use force, use force outside your own country, on other people’s territory in other areas; you do coercive things that cause people to change their behavior or to stop acting. I think we’re going to be a much more proactive intelligence organization.
We’re not going to just sit by and collect information and analyze the information and give it to the policymaker. I think we’re going to, together with the policymaker, take action on that information. That changes the circumstances, I think in a fairly significant way. And overseas is one thing, but when you think about the new Homeland Security Department, the intrusiveness that it might have into organizations is quite an interesting future.
RAY SUAREZ: You’re an old CIA hand, as well. Do you agree with Richard Kerr’s prescription… or prediction that there’s going to be more covert action and more preemptive action on the part of our overseas intelligence?
FRANK ANDERSON: I agree that there certainly has to be more covert intelligence collection overseas, and we are certainly seeking to develop the capability to act preemptively. How long it’s going to take and whether or not the pendulum in policy will swing in the other way before we really get into that mode is a prediction I’m not ready to make. But this does bring up what is the real challenge.
I think now that they’ve gotten the money, they’ve gotten the people, I think they’ve gotten time from both the nation and the legislative branch and the rest of the government on putting off studies of the what went wrong, and that is now… it’s now into a point where it’s not a management problem, it’s a leadership problem.
And it’s going to be a significant challenge to take these fine young people that are now entering into the service and lead them to the point where they’re ready to get out and endure the hardships and the hazards that are going to be part of creating this service that is going to be capable of continuing and increasing their ability to disrupt and destroy terrorist operations — organizations before they can get to us.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, I don’t want the whole conversation to go to the CIA, Bob Blitzer. Let’s talk a little bit more about the FBI. Earlier this year, there were proposals that would restructure the agency almost from top to bottom, make it more like a domestic intelligence agency.
ROBERT BLITZER: Right.
RAY SUAREZ: Is that the right response at this time?
ROBERT BLIZTER: Well, I think it is the right response. I think there’s a real sea change at the FBI, and while at least certainly when I was there preemption and prevention was, you know, absolutely the foremost in our mind. But we were limited by the amount of people we had to do the job. And so sometimes, you know, you do need more men and more cars to do the job, and I think post-9/11 clearly the FBI did need that. And according to, you know, at least what I’ve read and heard the new director has put a tremendous emphasis on intelligence analysis, the buildup of staff to do that kind of analysis, and preemption trying to stop it before it begins.
We’ve had some luck in the past, certainly in ’93, the ability to penetrate a human source into the cell that was going to destroy the tunnels and bridges up in New York, that was a major, major effort by the FBI. But with this new emphasis on really expanding the collection effort here in the United States, and again within the attorney general guidelines, within our laws, that’s a big emphasis.
And I think in some ways I’ve always looked at this as organized crime, and you take them out whenever you can on anything you can get them on, whether it’s an immigration violation or some even a minor criminal violation, so that you can get them off the street, perhaps exploit them for information, perhaps turn them as informants. I mean, it’s that kind of a world we’re in now in terms of terrorism, just a tremendous emphasis and people working extremely hard and a lot of new people — just as the agency was able to recruit a lot of people, the FBI was able to recruit, you know, just some tremendously fine individuals, and they’re building up, just as the agency has been
RAY SUAREZ: And finally, Senator Boren, how do the responsible committees of elected officials make sure that all this happens when there’s promises of reform, restructuring, new communications channels, when do we know it’s working?
DAVID BOREN: Well, I think first of all, that we have to have the Congress help the agencies themselves change their culture somewhat. Thinking back seeing Dick Kerr here today — thinking back to some of the times we went through together, I can remember at the end of the Cold War, as we called it, there were people saying, “we don’t even need a CIA anymore, we don’t need to spend any money on counterintelligence anymore.” There was that kind of talk. And we made our intelligence agents afraid to take risks.
For example, we legislated rules that even said you can’t talk to bad people, you can’t pay them as informants. That would be like telling the police they could only talk to people who go to church on Sunday, they could never talk to the criminal element to find out what’s going on in the world. So first of all, we have to change the culture, we have to create a culture where people in the intelligence community are not afraid to take risks, and if risks are taken, sometimes there are going to have to be mistakes. And we need for members of Congress not to be jumping out, being the drum, beating people over the head and creating a climate where they’re afraid to take risks.
I think the other thing that we do need to work with this new Office of Homeland Security when the full bill is passed and it’s created, you think about it, we have five, six thousand FBI agents that can be put on this task in the country, we have a couple of thousand Border Patrol agents. We have 600,000 local police. They are a great intelligence source. They can also help us analyze points at risk, vulnerable facilities in our country. That’s the job of homeland security intelligence.
So we need to pull that together — not recreate or duplicate the FBI or the CIA, but we need an analytical organization with homeland security that can look at the major points of risk and then we need to be able to share information coming up from these 600,000 police out across the country, and sometimes information coming down from above, we need to be able to tell them what they need to be looking for. So there’s a lot left to be done. Also, someone in the intelligence community has to have total control of all the budgets, so…
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Senator –
DAVID BOREN: But we’re making progress.
RAY SUAREZ: Great. Thanks a lot for joining us, gentlemen, thanks.