Do you believe the post-9/11 and post-Iraq War reform and improvement recommendations will actually improve intelligence performance? Essay

Do you believe the post-9/11 and post-Iraq War reform and improvement recommendations will actually improve intelligence performance (“fill the glass”), its integration into national security policy, and/or prevent future failure or surprise? Which problems present in the 9/11 or Iraq cases will remain—as per Betts–inherent and unsolvable?

Module Title: Intelligence and National Security

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The occurrence of September 11 terrorist attacks and the erroneous intelligence estimates on Iraq’s capabilities of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that provided the core justification for the war, formed the central impetus for radical (and urgent) reforms within America’s Intelligence Community (IC) (Betts; 2007: xi-4, Johnson; 2011, 417, Levin; 2004: 5).

Review reports from the bipartisan Congressional Joint Inquiry, 9/11 Commission and the WMD Commission, among others, highlighted significant deficiencies rooted in the source of the failures; most significantly, the IC’s failure to “connect the dots”, the overestimated analysis of Iraq’s WMD, the priority grading of counterterrorism as an executive policy matter, and the inefficient coordination between the different national security institutions (Tucker; 2008:4). As the debate over whether the reforms will actually change the processes and ‘success ratio’ of the Community continues; this paper looks at the effectiveness of the mechanisms of change enacted and improvement proposals that have filtered through over the years.

Does the argument among scholars, such as Amy Zegart and Nancy Tucker, have fiercely disputed that the fundamental transformations must instead be made at the core – culture of and within the Intelligence Community – as opposed to structure ones, for example, the reorganisation of national intelligence leadership, holds form?

Several points can be made from a supportive view that the reforms and improvement recommendations will enhance for the better the work and overall structures and practices involved in intelligence; however modest.

Entrenched by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) (2004) – a distinctive proposal of the 9/11 Commission – the radically restructuring of the IC leadership with the creation of a new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) (holds authorities formerly held by the Director of Central Intelligence) illustrates a unity of efforts towards increased centralisation and integration within the national security systems; a recognised shortfall of 9/11 as the FBI and CIA failed to relate information gathered (Betts; 2007: 183, Tucker; 2008: 50). For the most part, initiatives of change, bolstered by the ODNI will arguably create and deepen some developments that improves the analytical standards, information sharing across the Community, and intelligence performance, especially as personnel become more open to practices outside their ‘stovepipe organisations’ and move from the system of “need to know” that is replaced by “need to share” (9/11 Commission Report).

Moreover, not only has the structural transformation united the sixteen different agencies under one leadership, which addresses the breakdown of the ‘walls’ in the IC, but breeds changes including the Library of National Intelligence (merges data from across the agencies) which enhances information sharing, Analyst Resource Catalog (which makes specialist easier to find), proposals on joint training and a changing perspective to the President’s Daily Briefing (transformed from a CIA product into a multiagency compilation) in all geared towards a reduction in the chances of future failure/ surprises (Tucker; 2008: 50, Marrin and Davies; 2009: 645).

However, it must be firmly noted that while organisational transformations may improve performance, the glass will never be completely full; particularly given the impeding issues to the progression of ODNI (Hastedt; 2005). From bureaucratic defiance of ‘territory’, quipped as ‘bureaucratic constipation’ by Betts (2007:144), degree of power given to the DNI (three different DNI in two years), generational rigidity to changes in the culture, and institutional obstacles, fierce criticisms that it adds to bureaucracy without additional effectiveness, create impediments to the progress of the reforms and proposals and to less effective management of the IC. Tucker (2008; 48) acknowledged this as she stated, “The ideals and tools behind the current reforms are fitting, but what may be lacking is the will of the intelligence community to succeed.”

Intelligence is only as good as its collection and analysis. As scholars, such as, Immerman who conceded that “the better the intelligence, the more informed the policymaker” (2005: 1), reforms and proposals on improving analysis and collection – core instruments of intelligence – are imperatives for greater securing national defences. Miller argues that to prevent future cases alike, analyst need to have extensive knowledge on history, politics, area and regional studies, cultural peculiarities, economics…(2008: 340), whilst Rovner emphasised the analytical techniques and quality of new hires (2005:3) and Davis signified the importance of analysts being better informed about individual countries than anyone else in the U.S. Government. Simply, these arguments supplement the wider debate of tightening the causes of cognitive bias and ‘groupthink’ – an issue the Senate Select Committee blamed for the October 2002 NIE on Iraq’s WMD (Byman; 2005: 147).

As proven to be often laden in intelligence failures, efforts of removing obstacles and widening to collection, suggestions concerning the use of ‘red teaming’, changes to the strategic analytical capabilities of the FBI in the direction of intelligence, and intelligence analytical framework will improve intelligence products and so puts policy-makers in better position to frame national security policy matters; highlighting warnings more quickly and making the country safer, even if it will never be entirely safe (Betts; 2007:192-193). Immerman (2008: 3) emphasised this as he stressed “a correlation between the quality of the intelligence received and the quality of the strategy” (if not policy).

More collection may create more knowledge of the enemy, though analysts must be aware of ‘noise’ of irrelevant data, inaccurate sources and uncertainty and assumptions (Tucker; 2008: 51, Byman; 2005: 147). Martin Petersen, a senior officer at the CIA observed that the, “goal of intelligence analysis is not to determine the outcome of the policy process, but rather to put the policymaker in the best position possible to make the best-informed decision possible” (Petersen; 2003: 51).

The relationship between the producers and consumers of intelligence is another identified and prominent area that reforms and improvement recommendations seek to modify. As another factor blamed for the failure over Iraq’s WMD, Martin Petersen, a senior officer at the CIA states that the, “goal of intelligence analysis is not to determine the outcome of the policy process, but rather to put the policymaker in the best position possible to make the best-informed decision possible” (Petersen; 2003: 51).

As the internet age make information more accessible, reforms towards analysts being close enough to maintain objectivity but to comprehend better the decision making initiatives of the executive may in the long run improve the quality of performance and intelligence integration into national security policy, a view taken by Petersen; (2003: 51-54). Adaptations to the PDB also plays part in bringing intelligence “into the realms of politics which is where national security is thrashed out” as quipped by Betts (2007: 193).

The difficulties inherent in detecting and disrupting threats not only make the work of strategic intelligence tough, mistakes bound to happen (Kent; 1949: 194, Johnson; 2011: 423) but such that intelligence personnel will never be “all right” or “all wrong” (Miscik, 2004:2). Richard Betts, in his well-received book, Enemies of Intelligence, describes these inherent enemies to be the, unreliable trade-offs among objectives and dilemmas, and the paradoxes that can never be resolved, in addition to outside and innocent threats posed to security (2007:192-193).

These were much distinctive elements found in the two momentous intelligence failures. Not only were the terrorists’ actions uncertain in the 9/11 case – even with reports that they might strike using aircrafts – but cognitive limitations and unimaginative thinking and pathologies in the communication between policy-makers and intelligence professionals are recognised limitations in the Iraq’s WMD case is arguably satisfies Betts argument of inherent limitations that are difficult to remedy.

Disasters tend to create change. On an overall basis, the numerous reforms and improvement recommendations do make concessions towards filling the deficiencies acknowledged by the 9/11 Commission and the WMD Commission and at least minimising the probabilities failures and surprises.

But just as Betts, Miller (2008; 337) and other scholars lament, intelligence failures and surprises are inevitable and so will never be guaranteed. Taking this into account, intelligence has become centrally more about reducing uncertainties. Nevertheless, it can be shown that successes such as the recent capture and death of Osama bin Laden are possible once policy makers and intelligence personnel take stock of inherent enemies.

In the post-Cold War era, America faces new kind of enemies. With ingrained uncertainties of how they will behave, new forms of strategies must be continually applied, and in some areas of agreement with critics of the changes, simple innovative strategies (cut out deterrents) in the culture will be a significant step towards better intelligence. This however, does not mean that the changes made so far will not be shown as effective in the years to come. But rather in the words of Betts (2007: 17), “intelligence can be improved marginally but not radically.”

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