Building a Better Spy
By RICHARD A. CLARKE
You have been in office as the first director of national intelligence for about a month now. Wishing you were back in Baghdad? I understand. The law that created your job was filled with compromises designed to satisfy Don Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's backers in Congress. As a result, the law is, to be charitable, ambiguous about your authority over Defense Department intelligence agencies and the F.B.I. You have always been a team player, not a rock-the-boat kind of guy. But this is your last job in government, John, so why not go for it?
In fact, unless you clarify those ambiguities to make clear the director of national intelligence has real authority, you will have been a failure. Right now, America cannot afford for you to fail. So although it is against your personal style, pick some fights. And win them. Here are a few ideas on things worth fighting for.
Shake up the C.I.A.: The C.I.A. has bad morale and a split personality: half spies, half analysts. Take the analysts out of it and have them report directly to you as the Office of National Assessments. Then rename what's left the National Clandestine Service. Thank Porter Goss for his transitional service and get someone who has actually done some spying in the last 30 years to run the new clandestine outfit. Forget the idea of doubling the number of spies; that was just a P.R. idea anyway. Go for quality, not quantity.
Implement the Silberman-Robb commission's idea about the F.B.I.:
The president's commission on intelligence and weapons of mass destruction proposed creating the National Security Service within the F.B.I. by merging the counterterrorism, counterintelligence and intelligence analysis units and then having them report to you, the director of national intelligence.
Bob Mueller's reforms at the F.B.I. have been halfway measures that have not yet created an elite, expert and coherent domestic-security unit with modern capabilities. The latest report is that the new analysts spend much of their time escorting visitors and emptying garbage.
Get Rumsfeld's toys: Outside experts estimate the American intelligence budget at more than $40 billion a year. They say that about 75 percent of that is for Defense Department agencies like N.S.A. (electronic spying), N.R.O. (satellites) and N.G.A. (pictures and maps). These independent fiefs are a result of cold-war bureaucratic fights. There is needless duplication and competition. Merge them into one Technical Collection Intelligence Agency. You will save billions, and you can organize the agency around our new priorities: counterterrorism, counterproliferation and war-fighting support. If Rumsfeld threatens to fall on his sword, let him.
The president has to decide who is running these agencies, and if it's not you, walk.
Analytic excellence: That new Office of National Assessments should really be different from the old C.I.A. analytical unit. Stop recruiting kids straight out of college, giving them a portfolio they know nothing about and then moving them to a new topic seven or eight times over 20 years. Get some mature, real experts in their fields and sign them up for a fixed-time, renewable contract. You're getting too many similar people. Forget the polygraph as an entry-level screening device. Many good people will not even think of joining the C.I.A. now because they know the stories about being strapped up around the ribs, having electrodes tied to the fingertips and then being bullied by somebody who wants to know too many irrelevant and private details. Save the star chamber for investigations.
Stop just saying you will pay attention to ''open source'' (i.e., unclassified) information and create a real program. Encourage debate and dissent and make room for risk takers who sometimes get it wrong. But keep track of who gets it right and who doesn't and why they got it wrong. Incorporate the lessons learned in future analyses.
If you don't like these ideas, find some you do like. But don't just be a go-along, get-along guy as director, John. Remember the intelligence failures around 9/11 and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Things have not improved that much at the C.I.A., F.B.I. and the other three-letter firms. And the bad guys are still out there.
Well said, Mr Clarke!