Homeland Security Intelligence Gaps in the US

How to Improve the Intelligence System

The American government spends more than $60 billion every year for intelligence purposes. Very few countries in the world match up to this intelligence spending. Indeed, only China, France, and the United Kingdom (UK) come close (or surpass) this intelligence spending. Since the United States (US) government has a very elaborate and dynamic intelligence system, it is no surprise that the government incurs such huge investment costs. However, the greatest concern regarding this high investment budget is whether Americans get real value for their investments. This concern emerges from several intelligence failures that have characterized the American intelligence system in the past. The 9/11 crisis and the misinformation about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are just a few examples of the failure of the intelligence system to meet the expectations of its huge funding. These intelligence failures mean that there is room for improving the intelligence system to meet its intended goal of protecting America. This section of the paper explores areas and methods of how to improve the intelligence system to meet this purpose.

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Culture Change

The failure of the US intelligence system to detect and prevent Al-Qaeda aggression on America, during the 9/11 attacks, showed that the intelligence system operated in a dangerous culture that inhibited intelligence sharing and collaboration within the intelligence community. Findings from the 9/11 commission, which was mandated to investigate the events that preceded and followed the 9/11 crisis, showed that the intelligence system relied on an inferior culture that provided information to intelligence organs on a “need to know” basis. It was a sad state of affair when the 9/11 commission revealed that certain organs of the intelligence system had prior information about the impending attacks, but never bothered to tell other security agencies.

Therefore, the “need to know” culture prevented certain organs of the intelligence community from sharing vital information about terrorist activities, even when they understood that the existence of terrorist cells in America posed a big threat to national security. The security agencies only shared intelligence among a classified group of people within the intelligence system, thereby preventing important security organs from piecing important pieces of the puzzle together to prevent the attacks. The intelligence community can effectively use a culture of cooperation to solve this intelligence failure because when security organs share information about national security issues, they can have a broader picture of the security situation, and possibly connect the dots regarding different pieces of security information. A culture of cooperation would therefore help to make the security agencies act proactively when they face ambiguous security situations.

Improvement of Intelligence System Grading

Traditionally, experts have graded the US intelligence system based on how well it meets the requirements set out by the ruling administration. Even though this grading system has brought significant success to the intelligence community, this paper suggests that the intelligence system should consider a paradigm shift in the way it undertakes its operations. It is important to introduce this paradigm shift because the current grading system heavily relies on a predetermined set of beliefs and values that may undermine the success of the entire intelligence system. For example, few observers would dispute the fact that the US intelligence system operates on long-held beliefs about the source of terror, how terrorists operate, terrorist profiles, and similar notions regarding security threats. The failed Iraqi invasion is one example that shows the importance of introducing a paradigm shift in the way the US intelligence service operates.

In the first gulf war, the US intelligence service discovered that their intelligence systems grossly misinformed them about the Iraqi nuclear weapon capabilities. There was therefore a strong notion within the intelligence service that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction. In the second gulf war, the intelligence service approached the war with the sole goal of finding nuclear weapons (despite the lack of evidence concerning this assumption). This preconceived notion that Iraq held weapons of mass destruction led to a serious intelligence failure. From this understanding, a change of paradigm from approaching intelligence issues using long-held beliefs (Iraq had weapons of mass destruction) leads to serious intelligence failures. It is therefore prudent to change this paradigm to a framework where intelligence agencies follow the evidence, as opposed to long-held beliefs about terror and its antecedents. This way, intelligence agencies would approach intelligence issues objectively, as opposed to politically.

Political Control

Owing to the numerous incidents where political forces have influenced the intelligence system, it is important to suggest that there should be a clearer distinction/differentiation between political functions and intelligence functions. This clear demarcation of purpose and intentions is long overdue because the US intelligence system has consistently operated under the presumption that it serves the interest of the current regime. For example, most intelligence agencies seek to answer the questions of the leader (president). Sometimes, security agencies feed the interests of the leader. A clear separation of politics from security issues may clearly mitigate this ambiguity.

Conclusion

The weaknesses of the US intelligence system are largely unintended. However, it is important for security agencies to improve their operations by stopping to rely on information that feeds their quest to pursue predetermined objectives; instead, they should be open-minded and seek new insights that reflect changing circumstances. A culture change, a change in intelligence system grading, and the separation of politics from security issues should be the first steps to achieve a more effective intelligence system.

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Gaps in Intelligence Knowledge

Gaps in intelligence knowledge normally arise when security agencies do not have enough information regarding a security issue. The lack of adequate information inhibits their ability to manage security issues, or respond to similar attacks. Indeed, it is impossible for security agencies to analyze the intelligence that they do not have. The existence of gaps in intelligence is therefore undesirable for the effective operations of intelligence agencies. This section of the paper outlines how intelligence gaps affect security operations and how new techniques of intelligence gathering could alleviate such concerns.

Establishment of Domestic Intelligence Agency

The establishment of a domestic intelligence agency would easily provide a platform where the intelligence community may effectively analyze foreign and domestic national security threats. Even though many industrialized countries like the UK, France, and Australia use different versions of this platform to analyze their foreign and domestic threats, the US intelligence community still lags behind in introducing a domestic intelligence agency. The creation of this agency would solve some of the most noticeable intelligence gaps that exist in the intelligence community because the security agencies fail to share information. Essentially the introduction of the domestic intelligence agency would redesign the structure of key intelligence agencies and operational abilities. For example, the 9/11 Commission established that there was a serious information gap emanating from the lack of synchrony between the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) functions. Theoretically, the creation of the domestic intelligence agency would solve this issue by introducing a new platform where trained investigators gather intelligence regarding local and foreign threats. The introduction of this intelligence agency would in the end lead to the emergence of an elite public servant team that works with state and federal governments to manage security concerns.

Value Addition

Traditional intelligence-gathering methods usually try to answer a pending security question using short-term assessment tools. Different security agencies within the intelligence community use different methods of intelligence gathering, depending on their objectives and mandates. However, even as every security agency conducts its investigations, there exist intelligence gaps in this regard. In part, using value-added methods that seek to enrich existing channels of collecting information could solve these intelligence gaps. For example, instead of conducting intelligence-gathering exercises to fill short-term intelligence needs, the intelligence community could conduct value-added services by conducting long-term investigations on the same. Through the value-addition approach, intelligence agencies would find it easier to extrapolate intelligence information, deduce patterns of attacks, identify interrelationships that form the basis of their judgments, and provide a forecast for intelligence analysis.

Collaboration

Traditionally, the US has relied on its security agencies and US-trained officers to gather intelligence on domestic and foreign threats. However, this approach may not work everywhere (especially concerning the assessment of foreign threats) because it would be difficult for American security officers to gather information about foreign intelligence if they are not part of the foreign community where this intelligence exists in the first place. This situation has caused serious intelligence gaps in the American intelligence community. For example, the intelligence community is now experiencing serious intelligence gaps concerning Iran’s military abilities.

Unfortunately, this concern is rife when the US is still experiencing significant challenges in convincing non-traditional partners, like China and Russia, to impose stiffer sanctions on Iran. The quest to impose sanctions on countries like Iran is an attempt at filling intelligence gaps regarding the country’s military capabilities. When faced with such challenges, it is better for the US to seek collaboration from reliable third parties intelligence services that have a favorable perception in the eyes of the “enemy.” For example, for Iran, the US may collaborate with Arab-friendly governments to gather information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities (relying on the UN and other international institutions that the public regards as western “puppets” may only exacerbate intelligence gaps). This strategy would provide better chances for the US intelligence community to gather information regarding governments that it considers hostile to the US.

Conclusion

Intelligence gaps create an unfavorable operating environment for US intelligence agencies. Certainly, when intelligence agencies do not have adequate knowledge regarding security issues, they are ill-prepared to detect, prevent, or analyze national security risks. It is therefore crucial for such intelligence agencies to pursue non-traditional intelligence-gathering strategies, like collaborating with unconventional partners (Iran case) or adding value to existing intelligence-gathering strategies, to improve their capabilities in managing foreign and domestic security threats. Alongside these strategies, the US intelligence community should also strive to be at par with other countries that have an advanced intelligence collection system by establishing a domestic intelligence agency to improve the much-needed synchrony among its security organs (for example, the improvement of the FBI and CIA functions would suffice in this regard). The adoption of these strategies may help the intelligence community to overcome their intelligence gaps.

Intelligence Disclosure

Unauthorized intelligence disclosure has been a thorny issue in the analysis of intelligence reports in the US. There have been many examples regarding intelligence officials who intentionally disclose classified national security secrets to the public, thereby creating a lot of debate regarding the justification of their actions. For example, recently, the Bradley Manning (a US military officer) trial showed how trusted intelligence officers could leak classified information to the public through leaked cables to Wiki-leaks. Another trusted security official, Edward Snowden’s, case is also similar to Manning’s case because both officers of the state leaked classified information, in contravention of confidentiality clauses governing the same. On one hand, some people see intelligence disclosure as freedom of speech; while on the other hand, some people see this act as a compromise on the ability of intelligence agencies to protect the country. This section of the paper argues for the latter argument by showing that unauthorized intelligence disclosure only aids the adversaries, thereby leaving the country vulnerable to attack.

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Inaccuracy reporting

Among the greatest problem associated with unauthorized intelligence disclosure is the possibility of inaccurate fact reporting. Since state officials leaf most unauthorized intelligence reports anonymously, it may be difficult to trace the source of the leak and the accuracy of the information presented in the reports. This situation may paint an inaccurate picture of how the intelligence service works, thereby creating distrust between the public and the intelligence community. Such an eventuality is undesirable for the intelligence community because when there is distrust within the government; intelligence services lose the public goodwill of conducting their activities. This situation is particularly prevalent when intelligence officials who have been entrusted with a crucial piece of government information leak it to the public and cannot be traced to clarify what they have leaked for fear of being discovered or because the contents of their communication remain classified. This situation creates an environment where the public gets an inaccurate picture of how national security systems work. The inaccurate reporting may also cause public panic, or create an air of uncertainty regarding the security of the nation.

Ineffective Intelligence Service

The effectiveness of the intelligence community largely depends on how well it protects its information and how smartly security agencies use the information to protect the country. Unauthorized intelligence disclosure compromises their effectiveness in this regard because it empowers the enemies to understand what intelligence agencies know and how they can circumnavigate the potential security traps laid for them. In other words, unauthorized intelligence disclosure does not differ from giving the enemies a playbook manual to undertake their activities without any repercussions. Comprehensively, unauthorized intelligence disclosures create a strenuous environment for intelligence agencies to operate because gathering reliable intelligence takes a lot of time and resources, which often go to waste when the information gathered becomes public.

Unnecessary Distractions

Unauthorized intelligence disclosures attract a lot of public and media attention. Such attention puts intelligence officials on overdrive to save themselves from negative repercussions that arise from overexposure of intelligence operations. For example, the unauthorized disclosure of intelligence reports by Snowden created a bigger scandal regarding how the American intelligence system obtained its intelligence by surveying the citizenry. Many analysts claimed the intelligence agencies grossly misrepresented facts to congress by hiding under secret legal provisions that many Americans knew little about. This issue resulted in prolonged hearings where the intelligence community had to justify its operations by exposing some details regarding how they work (empowering adversaries). The entire Snowden case turned into a media circus that did very little to improve the preparedness of the intelligence service in detecting or preventing national attacks. Therefore, since there is usually a lot of public attention and media scrutiny when there is unauthorized intelligence disclosures, efforts to save face distract intelligence agencies from their goals and objectives, thereby compromising their ability to protect the nation.

Conclusion

Even though America is a democratic state, where the people respect the freedom of free speech, it is unethical and unlawful to tolerate unauthorized intelligence disclosures because they create a bigger problem of national security breaches. Besides the possibility of painting an inaccurate picture of how the intelligence community works, unauthorized intelligence disclosures may also lead to the creation of an ineffective intelligence service by creating unnecessary distractions on intelligence activities. What these distractions do is empower adversaries and weaken the preparedness of the intelligence community to expect, detect, or even prevent attacks. From this background, this paper shows that unauthorized intelligence disclosure is an unnecessary oversight of the government.

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