US Congress and the White House are at work on organizational framework for intelligence operations that should put the right resources in the most effective places. But some analysts say focusing on the organizational side of intelligence may be misguided. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.
The United States has the most capable and most comprehensive intelligence apparatus in the world. Jay Farrar, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., says it is also the most costly one: “The United States spends roughly 40 billion dollars a year on intelligence. And that money is spread across a number of agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, which has about thirteen or fourteen thousand people working for it."
"And then the Defense Department, which, through its various intelligence departments, has probably about seventy-five or eighty thousand people working in it. And then, of course, we have various other agencies within the government, located at the State Department, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the Treasury Department and some other smaller organizations.”
Mr. Farrar estimates that the intelligence community in the United States employs between 120-thousand and 140-thousand people, including experts in surveillance and communication technology, code breakers, analysts and others. The technical and human resources have enabled the United States to gather intelligence in every part of the globe.
Despite this enormous capability, the U-S intelligence has come up with a number of incorrect predictions. “One of them happened in 1950 when we went into the Korean War and they predicted that the Chinese would never come in the war," says Anna Nelson, a history professor at American University in Washington D.C.
"Of course, the Chinese did come in the war and it turned into a much longer war so that was a major intelligence failure. Another one, more recently, was their failure to predict that the Indians would detonate a nuclear bomb. They had not seen that coming and yet you’d think, with all of the satellite pictures and such, that they would have seen that coming,” says Professor Nelson.
Many Americans feel that the September-eleven disaster could have been avoided if the U-S intelligence had done its job. A bi-partisan commission appointed by U-S Congress to investigate the terrorist attacks has found that American leaders did not understand the gravity of al-Qaida’s threat. The September-eleven commission report also cites a lack of coordination among various elements of the government, especially the numerous intelligence agencies. Its recommendations call for a national counter-terrorism center headed by a cabinet-level director to centralize all intelligence efforts.
But many analysts, including Charles Pena, director of defense-policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, are not so sure this is such a good idea.
“There is a good reason why we have 15 separate agencies and why they are not all consolidated under a single person responsible for intelligence. And that is: these agencies have competing points of view and it is healthy from an intelligence perspective, to be able to have those differences of opinion, to be able to challenge other viewpoints and dissent from them because intelligence is not a hard science,” says Mr. Pena.
Pentagon officials have already expressed concern that a cabinet post with authority over the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and other defense spy agencies could create a layer of bureaucracy that might hinder the sharing of intelligence with soldiers on the battlefield.
More importantly, says Jay Farrar of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, re-organizing the structure of the intelligence community is no guarantee against future terrorist attacks: “You can look at Spain and talk about the al-Qaida attack against the commuter trains and ask how come Spain’s law enforcement and intelligence apparatus failed there. Or you can talk about the 1972 Olympics and how did the Palestinian terrorists get in there and take the Israelis hostage. The bottom line is: none of these types of organizations within any country, whether law enforcement or intelligence or military, are infallible.”
Some analysts say the U-S intelligence has in fact thwarted many potential attacks, but these successes have not been publicized due to the secrecy of such activity. Most agree the commission’s report is a good starting point for a nation-wide debate on how to improve intelligence, but caution against a rushed re-organization.