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One Reason for Intelligence Failures
Thursday, 01 November 2007 02:02
by Larry C. Johnson

More than six years since the terrorist attacks on 9-11 the intelligence community continues to employ a substandard analytical practice that virtually guarantees shoddy and inaccurate analysis. What am I talking about? An analyst within the CIA (or DIA or INR) who writes an article for the Presidential Daily Brief or other community wide daily intelligence brief is not currently required to coordinate with analysts outside of their organization. What’s so bad about that? The failure to coordinate and obtain the clearance of other analysts prevents policymakers from getting the best analysis and information available. Perhaps this helps explain the mess we encountered with the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.Sorry to sound like an old guy, but I need to explain what I mean in talking about “coordination”. When I was an analyst I was required to coordinate any article I wrote for the National Intelligence Daily and the Presidential Daily Brief with my counterparts at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). For example, I was the Honduran analyst.

If I wrote about the threat of Cuban backed terrorism from Nicaragua, I first had to share what I wrote with the analysts at CIA who worked on Nicaragua, Cuba, or terrorism. That meant I took my draft to three different offices (remember, this was before email). Why? My bosses wanted to make sure that the CIA spoke with one voice. They did not want Larry Johnson’s personal views being shared with the President. My supervisors demanded that the information in my intelligence articles was accurate and reflected everything we knew about the current state of intelligence. This part of the coordination process covered only inside the CIA.Once we had an agreed upon CIA version, I was then required to send the draft to the Honduran analyst at INR and the analyst at DIA who covered Honduras. (Both women by the way.) S ometimes they drove me nuts.

They did not agree with how I worded a paragraph or with a particular conclusion. I had a choice. Either I accepted their changes or we escalated the dispute to a branch chief. If the INR or DIA analyst was not satisfied with our proposed fixes they were allowed to write a “dissent”.A dissent is shorthand for a different point of view. For example, I could say “Iraq is trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger”. While INR would write, “No, Iraq is not trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger and cannot process the yellowcake currently in its possession”.

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This ensures the policymaker will understand there may be a dispute about particular matters. If there is not dispute then they have a reasonable expectation that they are reading a consensus view of the intelligence community.More often than not I accepted the changes proposed by my counterparts. Sometimes I did not like it. We got into screaming matches. Sometimes these gals thought of something I had not considered and helped dramatically improve the quality of the article and the analysis. Despite the rough and tumble and frustration inherent in this process, the end result was a piece of good analysis that reflected the collective judgment of the analysts who were the substantive experts on the topic at hand.That is not the case today and has not been the case for at least 8 years.

I still have not been able to determine who instituted this change – was it Woolsey, Deustch, or Tenet? Don’t know, but it was a damn stupid change. Analysts at CIA, DIA, and INR are now free to write articles that are disseminated throughout the intelligence community without having to coordinate with each other and get clearance on their pieces. And you wonder why we have intelligence failures? This is a contributing factor.

So what does it take to fix this? Not much. We do not need more bureaucracy. We do not have to spend more money. We do not need to hire more analysts. The Director of National Intelligence simply needs to tell the intelligence community to get off of its lazy ass and ensure that every article that is circulated outside of an intelligence agency – especially the PDB – should be fully coordinated and cleared by the relevant analysts of CIA, DIA, INR, and FBI. This one is simple. What is amazing is that it is not being done.
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