Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Same Old Song

One of the first subjects taught in any course for prospective spooks is the intelligence cycle. It's a closed-loop, continuous system that begins with intelligence requirements. That, in turn, drives collection, which is followed by processing, analysis, dissemination and feedback. The receipt of feedback (at least in theory) drives new or modified requirements, starting the cycle anew.

From a management perspective, the real intelligence cycle goes something like this. You start with an intel calamity, an event like 9-11, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The disaster is inevitably followed by demands for "answers" and "accountability," from politicians. That leads to Congressional investigations and reports from blue ribbon commissions, who usually identify long-standing problems in the intelligence community.

In response, the White House and Congress implement a laundry list of "reforms," aimed at preventing similar debacles in the future. The legislative mandates are usually accompanied by spending increases for required reforms. After that, the intelligence agencies set off again, with little effort by the administration (or Congress) to make sure that the "fixes" are actually working. That period of benign neglect typically lasts until the next cataclysmic intel failure, which starts the reform process anew.

If you need proof of this model in operation, look no further than Tuesday's report in the Washington Times. According to national security correspondent Bill Gertz, a former senior intelligence official has revealed that the nation's counter-intelligence efforts remain fragmented and weak, despite a series of spy scandals over the past two decades, and supposed efforts to fix the problems:

Michelle Van Cleave, the former U.S. national counterintelligence executive, stated in the report that the FBI, CIA and other federal counterspy units lack both a needed focus and strategy for thwarting the growing foreign intelligence threat.

"Our counterintelligence capabilities are in decay. Instead of leadership and strategic coherence, the [director of national intelligence's] office has given us more bureaucracy," Miss Van Cleave said in an interview.

"Hostile intelligence activities are a national security challenge of the first order," Miss Van Cleave said. "The new administration will need to go back to first principles and be willing to make some major changes, in order to build a genuine strategic counterintelligence capability for the United States."


Release of the report follows a recent letter to Congress from former FBI agent Terry D. Turchie, a counterintelligence official posted to an Energy Department nuclear weapons laboratory, warning of "potentially catastrophic consequences" as the result of a downgrading of counterintelligence at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Reforms that focused on intelligence rather than counterintelligence "opened the way for major security breaches involving [Department of Energy] installations and personnel in the future," said the Sept. 1 letter to Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The 88-page report was authored by Miss Van Cleave for the private Project on National Security Reform, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group that, according to its Web site, works to modernize and improve U.S. national security.

As Mr. Gertz notes, the National Counterintelligence Executive was established in 2001, a direct response to damaging spy cases involving former FBI agent Robert Hanssen and CIA officer Aldrich Ames. Both men betrayed sensitive human intelligence sources to the Russians (in exchange for money), resulting in the loss of critical reporting assets.

Creation of the counterintelligence post was supposed to reinvigorate efforts to find traitors and enemy spies. But, as you might expect, the reform program became bogged down in bureaucracy and turf wars. Ms. Van Cleave, who headed the office from 2003-2006, says those barriers still remain, and have prevented the U.S. from launching a "strategic" program against hostile intelligence agencies and their operatives.

Meanwhile, our adversaries have ramped up their collection efforts against U.S. targets. In his article, Bill Gertz notes that the Director of National Intelligence, retired Admiral Mike McConnell, recently told Congress that spying activities by Moscow and Beijing are
"reaching Cold War levels."

But, without the necessary leadership--from someone who can stop the in-fighting--our counterintelligence efforts will remain largely hollow and toothless. No wonder the Chinese and Russians are so anxious to expand their espionage operations in the United States.

It's also a sure bet that Ms. Van Cleave's warning will be ignored--until the next major spy scandal breaks. That's how the real intelligence cycle works.

H/T: Haft of the Spear

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