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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Intelligence Issues for Congress

Richard F. Grimmett
Specialist in International Security

Rebecca S. Lange
Air Force Fellow

To address the challenges facing the U.S. intelligence community in the 21st century, congressional and executive branch initiatives have sought to improve coordination among the different agencies and to encourage better analysis. In December 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (P.L. 108-458) was signed, providing for a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) with substantial authorities to manage the national intelligence effort. The legislation also established a separate Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Making cooperation effective presents substantial leadership and managerial challenges. The needs of intelligence “consumers”—ranging from the White House to Cabinet agencies to military commanders—must all be met, using many of the same systems and personnel. Intelligence collection systems are expensive and some critics suggest there have been elements of waste and unneeded duplication of effort while some intelligence “targets” have been neglected.

The DNI has substantial statutory authorities to address these issues, but the organizational relationships remain complex, especially for intelligence agencies that are part of the Defense Department. Members of Congress will be seeking to observe the extent to which effective coordination is accomplished.

International terrorism, a major threat facing the United States in the 21st century, presents a difficult analytical challenge, vividly demonstrated by the attempted bombing of a commercial aircraft approaching Detroit on December 25, 2009. Counterterrorism requires the close coordination of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but there remain many institutional and procedural issues that complicate cooperation between the two sets of agencies. Particular challenges relate to the protection of civil liberties that surround collecting information about U.S. persons.

Techniques for acquiring and analyzing information on small groups of plotters differ significantly from those used to evaluate the military capabilities of other countries, with a much higher need for situational awareness of third world societies. U.S. intelligence efforts are complicated by unfilled requirements for foreign language expertise.

Intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was inaccurate and Members have criticized the performance of the intelligence community in regard to current conditions in Afghanistan, Iran, and other areas. Improved analysis, while difficult to mandate, remains a key goal. Better human intelligence, it is widely agreed, is also essential, but very challenging to acquire.

Intelligence support to military operations continues to be a major responsibility of intelligence agencies. The use of precision guided munitions depends on accurate, real-time targeting data; integrating intelligence data into military operations challenges traditional organizational relationships and requires innovative technological approaches. Intelligence agencies will continue to be challenged in discriminating between legitimate targets and innocent bystanders.

The effort to reduce government expenditures has not neglected the intelligence community. The Administration is considering long-term reductions with an emphasis on potentially redundant information technology systems. There is great concern, however, that any reductions be carefully made to avoid curtailing capabilities that have become integral to military operations and to policymaking in many areas, including counterterrorism and cybersecurity.

Date of Report: September 26, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL33539
Price: $29.95

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