WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., heard testimony Wednesday about significant obstacles still keeping the intelligence community from working in a unified fashion as envisioned by 2004 reforms.
Those reforms, based on recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, created a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to manage the intelligence community and established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to ensure that all parts of the government work together seamlessly against terrorism.
“In many, many instances, the DNI and NCTC have used their authorities well and implemented critical policies and organizational initiatives to improve intelligence functions and better protect the American people,” Lieberman said, citing their roles in coordinating with other federal, state, and local agencies to prevent plots against the U.S., particularly the arrests of Najibullah Zazi and David Headley.
“But in other instances — such as the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day — failures have continued to occur. In key areas, progress at fully implementing reforms has been slow, perhaps due to institutional or bureaucratic resistance from some of the 16 agencies that report to the DNI, and or perhaps due in other cases to insufficient resources or inadequate leadership.”
Problems still plaguing the intelligence community – comprised of 16 agencies scattered among seven departments – include institutional resistance to the DNI, uncertainty about the DNI’s role, and competing national priorities that undermine support for reform.
In addition, NCTC’s efforts to develop counterterrorism plans that integrate military, diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, and economic capabilities across the government have been stymied by department failures to participate meaningfully in NCTC’s planning activities. The NCTC is further hampered by its inability to make key resource decisions. And finally, legal, policy, and technology challenges to intelligence analysis remain unresolved nine years after 9/11.
“The seemingly endless argument over authorities undermines the unit pride that all agencies in the Intelligence Community have,” said Jeffrey Smith, former General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency. “We owe it to them to fix it.”
The testimony came at the fifth hearing in a series the Committee is holding to examine the intelligence reforms adopted after 9/11, and in the context of the failed terrorist attack on Christmas Day, which exposed continuing gaps in our homeland defenses.
The Committee has previously held hearings on general intelligence reform issues, what went wrong on Christmas Day, and on watchlisting and prescreening systems. Next month, the Committee will hold hearings on visa issuance procedures and intelligence analysis and information sharing.
Witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing in addition to Smith were Benjamin Powell, former General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; and Richard Nelson, Director, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former official at NCTC.