by Austin Bay
December 7, 2005
Newt Gingrich's thoughtful and often-provocative testimony
before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence deserves careful
consideration. The former speaker of the House, testifying on Oct. 19,
focused on American intelligence performance and organizational flaws. These
are abundant, abysmal and, as we know from both Pearl Harbor and 9-11,
Gingrich says, bluntly, "The nation's intelligence system is
broken, and we cannot rest until we fix it." He suggests measures that
reward intelligence success and penalize failure. Given Washington's
bureaucratic and political impediments -- turf wars, ego-crats,
electioneering, etc. -- merely reorganizing intelligence agencies and
creating a new intel czar doesn't solve fundamental problems.
The latest czar is the new director of national intelligence
(DNI), Ambassador John Negroponte. Gingrich thinks the DNI is a good start,
but "at its core, intelligence reform has to be centered on performance, and
only then can we deal with organizational structures."
Gingrich is reinforcing former CIA Director James Schlesinger's
October 2003 observation that "major organizational change (in the intel
community) is not the salvation. I would submit the real challenge lies in
recruiting, fostering, training and motivating people with insight."
Gingrich identifies five "themes" for intelligence reform:
- America's current "global responsibilities" are more complex
than during the Cold War.
- America's current national security challenges are more
difficult than those confronted during the Cold War.
- Intelligence is "grotesquely under-sourced" based on what
"leaders claim they want" it to achieve.
- Intelligence needs a measurable system of accountability.
- Congress must also evolve institutionally to deal with new
strategic and intelligence complexities.
Theme 5 fingers one of the chief but slipperiest of culprits:
Washington leadership. Gingrich mentions the usual nostrums of effective
oversight and better leadership, and congressional finagling that has
hindered intelligence operations: "Many of today's intelligence problems are
a direct function of past congressional assaults on the process of
intelligence, starvation of the community, micromanagement of operations and
establishing of legalistic standards which cannot be employed in a genuine
This isn't news -- it is a hard, uncomfortable truth.
Gingrich then makes what I believe is his most important
recommendation, though it's one I suspect will attract little attention:
Political leaders must become "more sophisticated consumers of
intelligence." How do we do this? Gingrich says leaders must "participate in
war-gaming, metrics assessment and academic training to an unprecedented
Intelligence-gathering is tough enough, but producing useful,
useable intelligence is an art. It seems very few leaders understand that.
Intelligence is a grand exercise in data interpretation, pattern recognition
and intuition, requiring expertise in linguistics, geography, mathematics,
history, theology, psychology, physics, metaphysics, and every other human
means of analysis and explanation. Moreover, the intelligence "jigsaw
puzzle" is a dynamic, shifting, changing puzzle. It takes vision to "put the
puzzle together," which is what former Schlesinger meant when he said the
American intelligence community needs people with "insight."
Unfortunately, government bureaucracies are tough on artists and
visionaries. Political infighters and insiders tend to dominate the process.
Gingrich bets that war-gaming and education will give political leaders a
way to identify the artists and visionaries.
In January 2001 -- nine months before 9-11 -- I wrote a column
discussing America's intelligence vulnerabilities. Here's a quote from that
"Intelligence isn't simply data, it's a dynamic process that
includes: (1) creating and maintaining collection capabilities (with assets
from human spies to spy satellites); (2) retrieving the info in a way that's
timely and secure; (3) assessing source reliability; (4) assimilating often
contradictory information into a meaningful "pattern," which means
interpretation that is more art than science; and (5) convincing
decision-makers (whose minds may be less than open) to act on the
assessments. With the interplay of people, machines, opinion and politics,
it doesn't take a whole of lot of snap to see how the system can stutter,
stall and occasionally break."
On 9-11, it broke. It's high time we hired the artists and fired