In the wake of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government, largely driven by the report of the 9/11 Commission, undertook a major reform of its intelligence community. It was not as though an awareness of the system’s deficiencies was absent before the 9/11 attacks; as the records of several high-powered Federal commissions attest, there had been several efforts to achieve reform.
The basic structural problem stemmed from the piecemeal proliferation of 16 intelligence agencies during the Cold War, and the evolution of their missions and technical capabilities. Over time, what is called the “Intelligence Community” had become a fragmented and inefficient organizational arrangement in which capabilities and responsibilities and budget authorities were profoundly misaligned. There was often wasteful competition and duplication in which intelligence was often not shared among different agencies, and integrated operations were the exception, not the rule. Yet despite a reasonable consensus on the nature of the problem, reform efforts before 9/11 produced only modest improvements before a shock to the system laid bare its shortcomings. Given the turnover of administrations and of the membership of congressional select intelligence committees, and how the inherent secrecy of the business precluded public debate and understanding of the structural nature of the shortcomings, the critical mass for change didn’t come until that disaster.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004 sought to reshape the ungainly product of the incremental process that began in 1947 into an effective, integrated system appropriate to the diverse threats and technological environment of the 21st century. IRTPA, however, was written, debated and passed under heavy time pressures. It was in consequence laden with compromises that bequeathed to the first and subsequence Directors of National Intelligence (DNI) many ambiguities. Ironically, I myself testified during its formation against its passage as it was written, arguing that it left too many unresolved issues and did not establish the authority of the DNI firmly enough. There is nothing surprising about this. Though few remember it today, the seminal National Security Act of 1947 was amended not once but four times in the years immediately following its passage. That’s how our system works. The July 2008 revision of Executive Order 12333, which initially implemented IRTPA, filled in some of the gaps in the original legislation. In the more than three years since that time, however, little further progress has been made, and in fact, under the current administration, with a few exceptions, the overall momentum toward integration has slowed.
The fundamental concept of putting an official like the Director of National Intelligence in charge of all aspects of the nation’s intelligence, the concept at the heart of the 2004 Intelligence Reform and...