HOW HE SEES IT Intelligence overhaul is needed to fix flaws
By ROBERT C. McFARLANE
Over the past 30 years, through abuse, neglect and poor leadership, the CIA has slowly ground to a virtual halt. More broadly, the so-called intelligence community -- structurally dysfunctional and lacking effective oversight -- essentially failed in its analysis of the two salient threats of the late 20th century: the Soviet Union and radical Islam. The Sept. 11 commission's proposed overhaul would go far toward restoring its effectiveness.
At present, the six peer agencies (CIA, DIA, NSA, INR, NRO and FBI) are dominated by one -- the CIA. Since all intelligence is filtered through the CIA, this creates an inevitable bias in what is presented to the president and diminishes the prospect that sound, though differing, judgments will be heard.
The commission's recommendations seek to make the bureaucracy functional by removing it from the control of one of its members and relying on the new national intelligence director's staff to oversee the production of objective, integrated intelligence.
I see no reason for concern that this restructuring could distance the president even further from dissenting intelligence voices. It would be far less threatening for a lone dissenter to approach the president's staff directly than to have to risk first going through a CIA filter to make his or her point.
In addition, the new staff, unfettered by agency loyalty and bias, could dramatically affect what I call "inertial budgeting" -- the practice of funding systems and programs this year because we did it last year -- and instead make it possible to focus resources on new priorities or exploit new technologies in a more timely way.
The military's unified command structure, which has proven so effective in bringing the four uniformed services into a cooperative working relationship, is a sound model for the new director's office. A superior NID staff could be created by careful recruiting of experienced professionals from within and outside government. And giving staff members separate career status would insulate them against special pleading from their former "parent" agency.
Giving the new director a fixed term that overlaps administrations, as suggested by some in Congress, will keep the post from becoming politicized. The challenge lies in selecting a nonpartisan, experienced individual, but there's a solid cohort of candidates to choose from, including such professionals as John Lehman, 9/11 commission member and former Navy secretary; Marine Gen. Jim Jones, NATO's top military commander; retired Adm. Dennis Blair, former commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific; Jim Woolsey, former director of central intelligence; and former ambassador David Miller, to name a few.
Does this arrangement risk placing more power over intelligence gathering in the national intelligence director's hands than in the president's? No. Clearly, the director would receive tasking from -- and be accountable to -- the president.
XMcFarlane, national security adviser to President Reagan from 1983 to 1985, chairs an energy development firm in Washington.