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US Intelligence Agenda

As they come in from the cold war, America's spies are being tasked with new, but no less vital, responsibilites in a radically changed world

GOOD intelligence is essential to United States security. It helps us understand trends that affect us, contributes to successful diplomacy, and helps verify international agreements. It can identify potential foreign hot spots and help avert crises. Good intelligence will underpin national security in the 1990s and beyond.Recent developments pose challenges for US intelligence: * The end of the cold war. US intelligence is at a crossroads. Since World War II, its chief task has been to assess the Soviet military threat. That threat has now become remote. New challenges to US interests are emerging. Policymakers need improved intelligence on weapons proliferation, regional conflicts, economic competition, drug trafficking, and other issues. * The Gulf crisis. Sophisticated electronic intelligence systems provided critical information on Iraq's military throughout the crisis. US intelligence is now providing support for United Nations efforts to dismantle Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But there were also shortcomings. First, US intelligence agencies were unable to anticipate Iraq's invasion of Kuwait or many of its subsequent actions. Our spying on the ground was not as good as our spying from space. Second, according to General Schwarzkopf, analyses provided by civilian intelligence agencies were too hedged or inconclusive to be useful. Third, US intelligence failed to detect the full progress of Iraq's nuclear program prior to the crisis. * The Gates confirmation hearings. During the hearings, Central Intelligence Agency director Robert Gates was accused of slanting intelligence analyses to suit the views of the Reagan administration. Analysts who worked for Mr. Gates said he neglected credible alternative views and suppressed dissent. Gates argued that the changes he made in intelligence assessments were meant to improve their quality. He implied that some of his accusers were disgruntled because their judgments had been overruled. This dispute heightened concerns about the politicization of intelligence. Each of these challenges must be addressed. The end of the cold war calls for a comprehensive review of US intelligence missions. Resources need to be shifted from cold-war priorities to new concerns, such as weapons proliferation. Congress has been hearing testimony on how to revise the intelligence agenda. Gates plans a major CIA review. We also need to discuss intelligence priorities with specialists from outside the profession, including diplomats, social scientists, and business leaders. @BODYTEXT = everal steps are necessary, as well, to improve the quality of intelligence. First, the legal foundation of US intelligence must be renovated. We have a massive and costly intelligence establishment, but no single law regulates it. This sometimes leads to confusion, duplication, and unnecessary executive-legislative conflict. An intelligence charter should be a top reform priority. Second, improved collection and analysis of intelligence from human sources will help us to make better predictions and assessments. We have devoted large resources to developing technical intelligence systems. We must make an equivalent effort to strengthen our human intelligence capabilities. Third, we need to ensure that intelligence is in the right hands, at the right time. Intelligence on car bombs, for example, did no good in Lebanon in 1983 because it was not in the hands of the Marine barracks commander. Coordination between our intelligence agencies and our military commands needs improvement. Duplication of military intelligence must end. Finally, the lines of authority in our intelligence establishment need to be clarified. The CIA director directly controls only about 15 percent of US intelligence spending. The rest is incorporated in the defense budget, controlled by the secretary of defense. Stronger leadership could be provided by a Director of National Intelligence, who would oversee all US intelligence agencies and budgets. The slanting of intelligence must be eliminated. Top intelligence officials often have strong policy views, and may be tempted to tell policymakers what they want to hear. Analysts are not free of personal biases and ambitions. If policy officials are to make good decisions, however, they need the unbiased, unvarnished intelligence assessments of talented analysts. They also need to hear dissenting views. There is another, equally harmful kind of politicization: the misuse of intelligence by policymakers seeking to influence policy debates. For example, available intelligence did not support President Reagan's claim that Soviet pilots knew that KAL Flight 007 was a civilian airliner when they shot it down in 1983. Similarly, in 1990 testimony by CIA director William Webster was cited by the administration as proof that economic sanctions would not force Iraq from Kuwait. Yet much of Webster's data proved that sanctions were having an impact. Intelligence should be used to make good policy, not to make policy look good. To expect perfect objectivity may be unrealistic. But we can discourage intelligence slanting. During his confirmation hearings, Robert Gates recommended soliciting reform ideas from analysts, asking the CIA's inspector-general to monitor the analytical process, and evaluating CIA managers on their ability to promote diverse views and independent analysis. Congress should ensure these proposals are implemented. In conclusion, significant intelligence reforms are needed. Congress has a key role to play in reform. Efforts to review intelligence priorities, improve the quality, and prevent politicization cannot succeed without the active participation of Congress.

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