WASHINGTON – Lack of coordination and other problems with government-run centers are hurting the effort to provide better analysis of the nation's intelligence, according to a report in a CIA journal.
Some of these centers have existed for years to improve U.S. efforts against terrorism, weapons proliferation and other threats. But the creation of new ones — such as the National Counterterrorism Center — has become a commonly used remedy in the intelligence overhaul sparked by Sept. 11 and the botched prewar intelligence on Iraq.
The article in the newly declassified Studies in Intelligence argues that experts on particular countries or regions should not be split up into centers that focus on single issues that cross the borders of nations or continents.
Written by four intelligence veterans with more than 100 years of combined experience, the article found that the quality of intelligence analysis suffers with these centers because of coordination problems, duplication, confusion and misuse of scarce resources.
For example, the authors found, "the violence in Iraq has been characterized as terrorism by a center and as an insurgency by the Iraq office. The same violence should not be separated into two baskets of responsibility, running the risk of analytic units providing confusing, if not conflicting, analysis."
The report does not represent an official CIA opinion, but rather the independent views of the article's four authors. While it was written in May 2005, the authors said their vision remains relevant today.
Former CIA Director George Tenet commissioned the group — led by former CIA deputy director Richard Kerr — to study why the agency produced a faulty 2002 intelligence estimate on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. This journal article, the second of the group's findings to be made public, focused on the intelligence process.
In an interview, Kerr said "the soccer ball problem" is a leading issue facing the intelligence community. Intelligence resources are focused on a hot issue, like kids around a soccer ball, rather than improving the broader U.S. understanding of regions and countries.
"You need a balance," Kerr said. But "I would weigh it in favor of the country or regional expertise."
National Counterterrorism Center spokesman Mark Mansfield said Thursday that Congress and the Sept. 11 Commission believed the government needed a center to address the shortfalls in terrorism intelligence that existed prior to the attacks of 2001.
He said the center's analysts now produce big-picture analysis that looks at the long-term threat, as well as reports that protect Americans from more immediate harm. "The nature and extent of cooperation, collaboration and information sharing in the counterterrorism arena has never been greater," Mansfield added.
In a blunt, broad assessment, the article said collecting information on difficult targets is a core mission of intelligence, but neither the human spies nor the satellite, eavesdropping and other technological spying tools "are up to the challenges of today."
Aides to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, who oversees all 16 spy agencies, declined to comment on Wednesday.
The article said that the United States must rethink how it invests in satellites, eavesdropping equipment and traditional human spying — with the input of intelligence analysts who use that information to provide assessments to policymakers.
It also found that many of the same problems continue to plague intelligence analysts, even though several commissions and several years have given spy agencies a chance to improve. For instance, too many analysts don't understand how eavesdropping and other spy tools work, and analysts don't talk frequently enough with the people collecting the intelligence, the article said.
Many problems are being addressed, Kerr said, but the issues are long term. A key area: "Understanding what you don't have is as important as understanding what is available to you," he said.