WASHINGTON – As questions surface about the information that led to war in Iraq, U.S. lawmakers continue to probe information relating to the Sept. 11 attacks and say the lessons learned reveal the U.S. intelligence community needs a major overhaul.
House Intelligence Committee lawmakers say they plan to hold an open hearing next Thursday to review the quality and scope of intelligence regarding Iraq and whether it was "accurate, unbiased and timely." Former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency and other experts are expected to testify.
The Joint Intelligence Committee is also releasing next Friday its final report on whether intelligence failures contributed to events on Sept. 11.
Lawmakers and political analysts say that while progress has been made in rearranging intelligence priorities since the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, more steps need to be taken. Some of these include hiring more spies in the ground, recruiting more foreign language experts, analyzing intelligence data in a more timely fashion, sharing more information with state and local officials and making sure the director of intelligence watches over how all classified information relating to national security is handled.
"I think we need to certainly look at how our intelligence agencies are performing … in a post-Sept. 11 environment. It's a different world," said Peter Brookes, a senior fellow for national security affairs at The Heritage Foundation (search).
"We may need more intelligence assets, more different intelligence assets. It is a huge bureaucracy" with many agencies involved, Brookes added.
Late last month, the House passed on a 410-9 vote an intelligence authorization bill (search) that would mandate just that. A similar Senate version that passed the Senate Intelligence Committee likely will be brought to the floor this week or next. Any differences between the two bills would be hammered out in conference shortly after that.
"This bill accelerates investment in enhanced capabilities and people to move the intelligence community from being postured from the threats of the past to being positioned to address the increasingly asymmetric threats facing us in the future," Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., (search) vice chairman of two intelligence subcommittees, said during debate on the measure.
"It will not happen overnight but the changes needed must and will come about at a rapid pace."
Boehlert and others have been calling for more human intelligence, rather than data gleaned from high-tech satellites and other reconnaissance gadgets, and they say management is in dire need of reform.
"There's been a great tendency to rely on national technical means" for espionage work in the post-Cold War era, said Clark Murdoch, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (search).
Murdoch said that the best aid to the intelligence community will come from spies on the ground who are able to infiltrate terror networks and learn the minds of terrorists.
"When you're dealing with adversaries like Al Qaeda, [Usama] bin Laden, Saddam Hussein — you need human intelligence and clearly, our capabilities in that area have atrophied over the years."
The CIA, FBI and other intelligence corners — as well as departments like State and Defense — also need to recruit more analysts with foreign language skills, experts and lawmakers say. That may be a problem, said Murdoch, since Americans as a whole don't learn many different languages.
"The base from which you can recruit people of those kinds of skills tends to be fairly narrow," he said.
Brookes said the president needs a director of intelligence to report to him on activities going on in all corners of the U.S. government. Currently, George Tenet, as director of the CIA, loosely holds this role but two distinct positions would help.
"I think that's a critical thing to have," Brookes said.
Not all the news is bad, however. House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman, D-Calif., said Tuesday that Tenet had brought back a high morale to the agency. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., added that he has complete confidence in Tenet's ability to run the CIA, though he wishes the CIA had more resources.
The need for intelligence reform may be even more timely with the recent imbroglio over the so-called "Niger documents" — documents shared with the United States from Britain showing that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. The Bush administration has been taking heat recently since it was discovered part of the evidence was forged.
President Bush has said he relied on the CIA for the information for use in his State of the Union address in January. Tenet has taken the blame for that information being included in the speech.
Some lawmakers — mostly Democrats — say this is just one issue in a morass of other murky intelligence that needs to be cleared up, especially with regard to the Iraq war.
But experts say the uranium controversy is only the latest symptom of a struggling intelligence community.
"I wouldn't say this is a seminal event that says intelligence agencies need to be reformed; the issue of 9/11 is the real thing we need to deal with," Brookes said.