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Homeland Security

Questions:1. Should the DHS secretary, or some other authority such as the DNI, have complete control of the portion of the intelligence community that deals with terrorism?2. Does the American public and the homeland security community expect too much from intelligence? Should an effort be made to better inform all of the stakeholders in the IC as to what can be expected?3.Describe how politics, and politicians, affect intelligence. For examples, how did politics influence the start of the war in Iraq? What could be done to help make intelligence less subjective?Intelligence OverviewI was part of the intelligence community for about 15 years, and I feel some need to defend what it does in light of the criticism it typically receives. However, I will also tell you that there is a tremendous amount of waste, incompetence, and our leaders have often taken us in what is, in my opinion, the wrong direction.First, regarding what the most of the public expects and understands. Clearly, much of the American public and our political leaders expect too much and don’t really know what intelligence is and what it can do. Unfortunately, many think intelligence is a pretty glamorous business, and they gain their opinions more from Hollywood than from any other source. Adding to this false impression is the fact that the nature of the business precludes making the true picture of what happens available to the public; there is a dearth of information to counter the false impressions the entertainment industry provides.Consider also that there is rarely any glory in the intelligence business, particularly in human intelligence (or HUMINT). We learn of intelligence failures, but news of intelligence successes is not quite as common. Headlines that say “Agent X of the CIA foiled a plot to bomb X” don’t come often – the recent Zazi case is certainly an exception. Well, we can’t reveal the name of agent X, as we’d put his life in danger and end any capacity for agent X to ever conduct operations again. We also don’t typically say the bomb plot is foiled (except for the occasional need for good press by our senior leaders). If a terrorist group learns its plot had been foiled, they would change operatives, plans, locations, methods of operation, etc. They might also learn that someone in the group is leaking information, and operational security would tighten or change. Bottom line here is that we can’t reveal the successes as such revelations would immediately cut off any future success. I can tell you that there have been numerous successes that I know about that never made the headlines. I am no longer directly involved in intelligence, but seeing changes in how DoD plans to respond to and preempt terror, I can tell as a former professional in this field that these changes are coming at least partly as a result of intelligence. We have learned of intelligence successes from a historical perspective.We say we outspent the Russians to win that war, which is only partially true. We spent money countering weapons systems they were building, and they couldn’t afford to keep building new ones which we couldn’t stop. Where do you think knowledge of those systems came from? This is but one form of intelligence that was an unqualified success.Regarding traditional HUMINT, which I did for about a dozen years, there’s a glamorous mystique about it, but it is an ugly business. The intelligence community has had difficulty attracting talent to work in this field: who would want to do this? In the 1990s many of the smart people in this country were obsessed with making money, so they went to industry; pay in intel was (and continues to be) not very good. You have to give up luxuries; you can’t recruit a terrorist operative from a hotel room at the Intercontinental. You are in constant danger, the water is bad (for American digestive systems), and the people working back at the headquarters have better chances for promotion as they are closer to the boss. Finally, perhaps the biggest drawback, is that after a huge success, you can’t tell anyone about it! You have to be pretty dedicated to want to do this, and accept only intrinsic satisfaction as it won’t come from anywhere else. The power point presentation for this week has some more information on HUMINT.We are enamored in this country with technology (isn’t technology partially responsible for the mess we’re in?). But from the 1980s on, we moved away from HUMINT to technical collection. Satellites are very expensive; for the cost of just one, you could run years worth of HUMINT. Technical solutions are less messy though; there is little chance for embarrassment, and lives aren’t at risk (and we are a risk averse society). Also, with the spread of communications technologies ad globalizations, technical collection has taken on significantly greater importance. Nevertheless, HUMINT is making a comeback at both the local and national levels.Another issue about intelligence I want to bring up is “group think” and “spin.” Anyone who uses intelligence can use it selectively, can interpret it selectively, and can see what they want selectively. Two of us can read an article in our unbiased (hah!) media, and come away with completely differing views. This is especially the case with intelligence as it is collecting odd bits and trying to piece them together. Interpretation of these bits is often nothing more than making a guess; most of the time, at least, it’s an educated guess. I can tell you that 99% of the pros in the intelligence community try to forward unbiased, empirical data up the chain. Hopefully, we are gaining information that will help us understand better and make more informed, unbiased decisions.

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