Fixing Intelligence: For a More Secure America by Lt Gen William E. Odom, USA, Retired. Yale University Press (http://www.yalepress.yale. edu/yupbooks), P.O. Box 209040, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-9040, 2003, 230 pages, $24.95 (hardcover).
The need for intelligence reform is indisputable. In the wake of 9/11, many Americans were shocked to learn that intelligence and law--enforcement agencies either ignored the growing al Qaeda threat or were unable to piece together all the available clues into information that might have prevented the attacks.
Clearly, intelligence reform is an idea whose time has come—again. Revelations from the 9/11 Commission have put the issue back on the front burner, and the panel’s final report contains recommendations for fixing our intelligence and security shortfalls. Congress and the president are expected to address these proposals after the November election. Emerging reforms are difficult to forecast; however, one thing is certain—"the devil is in the details." Efforts to correct the intelligence failures that contributed to 9/11 will require a major shift in organizational roles, responsibilities, and resources.
Making these required changes is the focus of Fixing Intelligence by Lt Gen William E. Odom, who served as director of the National Security Agency (NSA) during the Reagan administration. In a surprisingly slim volume (only 230 pages), General Odom presents a clear and concise plan for intelligence reform, built around a "national manager" concept for the intelligence community as a whole, as well as its major disciplines.
Odom believes that our intelligence woes begin at the top and proposes a major realignment for the director of Central Intelligence (DCI). Under his plan, the DCI would no longer serve as both CIA director and overall leader of our intelligence community. Splitting the post into two positions would, according to Odom, allow the DCI to serve as an advocate for the entire community and not merely as a defender of parochial CIA interests. This concept has been discussed before and warrants renewed consideration as part of intelligence reform.
General Odom also believes that the various intelligence methodologies (signals intelligence, imagery intelligence, human intelligence, etc.) would benefit from more centralized control, under the aegis of a single agency. The directors of these organizations would, in turn, function as national-level managers for that discipline, with greatly expanded control over operations, budget, personnel, and procurement functions.
This "national manager" concept is hardly new. As NSA director in the late 1980s, General Odom exercised many of the powers outlined in his reform plan. He is correct in his assertion that wider use of this model would eliminate much of the wasteful redundancy that has long permeated our intelligence community.
To underscore these problems and support his reform plan, he cites examples that are painfully familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of our existing intelligence system. As the author notes, the FBI and CIA still share responsibility for counter-intelligence (CI), despite the abysmal record this arrangement has produced. In the world of imagery intelligence (IMINT), Odom writes, virtually every agency is a "player," with little regard for the overlap and duplication that inevitably result. Under Odom’s plan, CI would become the domain of a new federal agency, melding elements of the CIA and FBI. IMINT, on the other hand, would be consolidated under the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Both organizations would serve as national managers for their respective disciplines. His model also envisions a slightly downsized CIA, focused on human intelligence (HUMINT) and paramilitary operations. Outside the HUMINT realm, much of the agency’s analytical capabilities would be absorbed by an expanded National Intelligence Council, which would play a key role in areas such as collection management and the production of national intelligence estimates. The Defense Intelligence Agency would concentrate on analysis, with clear delineations between enemy threat assessments and analysis supporting our own weapons-procurement programs. He also offers concrete ideas for restructuring the NSA and military intelligence and creating a unified intelligence doctrine—requirements that are long overdue.
Creating a more "streamlined" intelligence community is a controversial idea, and it is unclear how much support the Odom plan would actually receive. His proposed reforms clearly step on some bureaucratic "toes," particularly those of the once-secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)—the long-time developer and procurement authority for overhead intelligence systems. According to Odom, the NRO exerts too much influence. During his tenure at NSA, he discovered that the NRO controlled about 40 percent of the nation’s signals intelligence (SIGINT) budget, a staggering amount for an organization with 90 percent fewer personnel than NSA. Not surprisingly, he advocates a smaller NRO, which would serve as a technical and procurement advisor for the agencies that use its overhead platforms. Needless to say, his plan won’t get much support in the hallways of the NRO.
While Odom’s proposals have obvious merit, they are not without their flaws. His book makes only two references to measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT), a rapidly growing discipline that will have a profound effect on the future of intelligence and war fighting. Should MASINT also have a single national manager, and, if so, which agency should assume the lead role? He never resolves that issue and fails to address an underlying consideration: will the central-manager concept work for disciplines like MASINT, which draw upon the resources of multiple intelligence methodologies?
Additionally, General Odom offers no suggestions for organizing intelligence support for information warfare (IW). The author (who retired from active duty in 1988) freely admits that he lacks expertise in IW, but that’s a hollow argument, given the countless books and articles that have been published on the subject. Using this material, he could have formulated potential guidelines for intelligence support of IW. As it stands, failing to adequately address the intelligence role in IW becomes a serious deficiency for Odom’s reform plan and his book.
Finally—and perhaps most important for any reform plan—the Odom book glosses over the -bottom-line question: will the reorganization actually "fix" the problems plaguing our intelligence system, or simply lead to more empire building inside the beltway? General Odom clearly believes his program would work, but practical experience raises some doubt. It’s worth noting that the author’s old agency (NSA) has long been hampered by a shortage of linguists, despite the power, influence, and effort of past directors, who have long functioned as de facto national managers for SIGINT. If the Odom plan can’t solve this sort of fundamental problem, it would amount to little more than a bureaucratic exercise—something the intelligence community can ill afford at this time.
Despite these shortcomings, General Odom has written a provocative book, producing a useful template for genuine intelligence reform. Amid the efforts to make our intelligence agencies more responsive (and prevent another 9/11), the ideas advanced in Fixing Intelligence deserve serious and thoughtful consideration.
Maj Gary Pounder, USAF, Retired
Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.