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Terror Spurs U.S. Intelligence Reform

The failure to detect and prevent the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, sparked new legislation to reform the U.S. intelligence structure. Chief among those reforms was the creation of a Director of National Intelligence to oversee the 16 government agencies involved in intelligence activity.

It took three years and an independent commission investigating the events leading up to September 11th attacks on New York and Washington for Congress to pass legislation in 2004 designed to improve the U.S. intelligence structure as a frontline against terrorism.

The core question is, has intelligence reform succeeded? Proponents say it has, pointing to the fact that there has been no terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9-11. But some analysts say that the success of the reforms -- particularly the creation of a director of national intelligence -- has been marginal.

Asked how he would grade progress in intelligence reform, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, whose office was created by the 2004 legislation, gives himself passing marks, particularly in interagency cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts. "On a pass-fail basis, I would certainly pass us. That would be my first point. I'd say it's also a work in progress. But I'm encouraged, I really am. I think we've made progress in the counter-terrorism area by strengthening the National Counter-Terrorism Center, where we have a fusion of databases from 28 different agencies," says Negroponte.

Are U.S. Intelligence Capabilities Improving?

But Paul Pillar, former deputy director of the CIA's counter-terrorism center, questions whether there has been overall improvement in U.S. intelligence.

"I don't think that that the [intelligence] reorganization legislation of December 2004 was a net improvement. In some respects, with particular reference to counter-terrorism, I think it was a step backwards. In the creation of N.C.T.C [i.e., National Counter-Terrorism Center], what you did was create a new 'stovepipe,' a new set of bureaucratic lines, over which information has to pass," says Pillar. "And a well-intentioned effort to try to improve cross-agency coordination and common use of information, I think, has had in some ways impeded the flow of information mainly because it is, for most intents and purposes, a new, separate agency."

The job of heading the U.S. intelligence community used to fall to the Director of Central Intelligence, who also was head of the C.I.A. and the president's chief intelligence officer. However, that post lacked any real authority among other governmental intelligence organs. The 9-11 Commission recommended creating a new chief intelligence officer to coordinate all 16 agencies.

John Negroponte, who is the first person to hold the newly-created post of Director of National Intelligence, says his job is to focus on "big picture" issues that affect all intelligence agencies.

"So I think of myself, if you will, as the coach of this team of 16 agencies. And if we do our job well dealing with cross-cutting issues that affect the community as a whole, we're actually going to relieve some of these agencies of the need to worry about those things themselves, and enable them to focus on their core challenges and the core tasks. So if we do it right, and I certainly think that we're moving in the right direction, I think that it's going to be a win-win situation," says Negroponte.

Growing Bureaucracy

Negroponte's office was envisioned only as a small coordinating body of perhaps 80 people, but has grown into a staff of around 1,500.

Tim Roemer, who was a member of the 9-11 Commission that drew up the recommendations on intelligence reform, says the idea of recommending the creation of the post was to streamline the bureaucracy, not enlarge it.

"Many of us in the 9-11 Commission worry that the current structure of the D.N.I. is getting to be too big, too many bureaucratic layers, and too many staff people, especially some of those people picked off from already existing organizations," says Roemer.

Former C.I.A. officer Paul Pillar questions the need for a D.N.I. at all, saying that the office was created to show that something was being done to "fix" the intelligence structure.

"Basically the exercise that was engaged in two years ago, using the scheme that came out of the 9-11 Commission, was for the most part a response to strong public pressure to do something after 9-11," says Pillar. "And so the commission came up with its plan, which falls under the category of the favorite Washington technique of doing something when we don't have any other really good ideas, and that's reorganize. So we move boxes around on the [organizational] chart, and I don't see how it's really improved anything."

The D.N.I. and the Pentagon

But Greg Treverton, senior analyst on intelligence policy at the RAND Corporation, says a D.N.I. was needed. The real flaw, he says, is that the D.N.I. lacks authority over Defense Department intelligence activities, setting the stage for clashes between the D.N.I. and the secretary of defense.

"If it turns out over time that the Pentagon and the D.N.I. end up going separate directions, that will be a shame, and I think that will be a real failure. And that might be a time when the nation might want to consider again, do we want to take the next step, do we want to do what almost happened in December 2004 and give the D.N.I. more substantial authority over those big [intelligence] collectors in the Defense Department," says Treverton.

The Defense Department, which has the largest share of the intelligence budget, has operational control over what analysts say is the United States' biggest intelligence bureaucracy - the electronic eavesdroppers and code breakers of the super-secret National Security Agency.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.