US intelligence reform in the post and pre 9/11 crisis - USA Essay Example


Intelligence reform, according to Keefe[1] is, at least in the American way, connecting the dots to be able to arrive at the conclusion which is usually the product of the intelligence’s dot-connecting activity. The former head of the US weapons inspections team situated in Iraq David Kay emphasized about intelligence gathering and the logic of connecting the dots, and the significance of collecting the dots too[2].


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In an article by Gorman, Kay was quoted as saying how people overlook the task of collecting the dots first before starting with connecting the dots, telling President Bush how it is dangerous to connect dots without collecting dots and that it ultimately results to the creation of a fact-free universe and why this attitude was the reason why the US intelligence was proven wrong about the supposed presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) inside Iraq [3].

What Keefe noticed is similar to the connect-the-dots analogy of Kay, and that the pre and post 9/11 intelligence reform in the United states end up with the same output – that is, US failing to connect the dots or failing to connect the right series of dots; either way, intelligence before and after 9/11 sees the US ending up at the wrong alley.  Keefe pointed out the absence of an aggressive connect-the-dot activity in US intelligence that is why they did not saw that a potential threat was present, and was executed[4].

After the 9/11 crisis, the US lacked the restraint and diligence to make sure that the dots they are connecting belong to the logical and correct series. The result – a war they waged in Afghanistan and Iraq that hardly did the country any good at all.

But Hutchings believe that not all of the blame should be cast on the inability of the intelligence agency to connect the dots correctly. According to Hutchings, there are instances that even when the outcome of a certain scenario is identified or known, it is only during the actualization of the event that pieces started falling into place, since not all of the time a group is fully capable of picking the right dots from a universe full of many dots and successfully plot a series that makes perfect sense and are intertwined significantly to each other [5].

Many believed that the US was not so bad at the intelligence dot connecting process to win the wars it has engaged itself into like how it did in the Cold War and the fight against the rise of communist extremist; but some say otherwise, that instances prior to the 9/11 like the Bay of Pigs invasion are all proofs that the US intelligence gathering and assessment capability is not very much useful and credible and it is because of this fact that pre and post 9/11 saw very significant and useful change in the US intelligence. If this is the dilemma facing Americans, it is important to know how the US is manipulating its resources to for its own sake and if the US has any prospect of improving in its spy game and how it uses whatever intelligence is left inside US’ intelligence teams.

Compare and contrast intelligence reform pre-9/11 with intelligence reform after 9/11 – Gorman (2005) was plainly blunt in describing the US ‘human-intelligence capabilities and how it did not experience any drastic change from what it was before the World Trade Center was destroyed[6] by two commercial airliners and after the world shook off the initial tremors of the 9/11 crisis. Other observers, using the post-9/11 actions of the United States as a way to measure its intelligence capability, were convinced that it may have even worsened.

The occurrence of the 9/11 attack and the implications of the event on the vulnerability of the United States and the exposed loopholes and chinks in the armor of the US defense via its intelligence made it possible for post 9/11 intelligence reform to feature a lot of noticeable differences.

First, there was the political and bureaucratic restructuring so that problems in intelligence gathering and analysis (i.e. the political pressure influencing the intelligence and the inability of the CIA to foster an international intelligence gathering protocol that makes everyone cooperative and yielding any information useful to the US simply because of the conflict of interests and the general conflict that the CIA head brings to the table) can be remedied.

There was also the installation of a new entity in this spy game, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its inaugural head John Negroponte; the replacement of Porter Goss by Michael Hayden, and most importantly, the putting up of the National Counterterrorism Center so that terrorism and terrorist-related intelligence will now be funneled inside one office which is responsible in putting everything together in the hope that it can stop another large scale terrorist attack similar to the 9/11[7].

These differences, however, is not a guarantee that (1) there are any real changes that can provide the solution to the problem US intelligence gathering is facing, and (2) of the reforms that happened after 9/11 made US intelligence better structured and better equipped for its post 9/11 intelligence jostling with its counterparts abroad.

There are those like Hutchings who are pointing out the folly in the change in approach in improving US intelligence gathering, particularly the creation of many different offices that either overlap each other or puts US intelligence in a position that it is useless once it ends up in the bureaucratic hands that do not know how to make the best use of such piece of intelligence. Efficiency in performance is the key, and for Hutchings, the current actions of the government are in no way geared at addressing the problem of efficiency since the presence of a new intelligence office and the staying of past and current intelligence organization according to Hutchings, leads to the division of responsibility among groups and its respective spy leader who are all flawed in one way or another[8].

As Hutchings described it, the problem of the new Director of National Intelligence is the absence of a sufficient front office and field agents to flex the muscle it has over its nominal authority, as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director has he sufficient amount of the required staff but operates with diminished authority, while the National Counterterrorist Center (NCC) directors operates ‘with a broad but unclear mandate[9].

In the end, Keefe’s standpoint is spoken boldly by the blurb found just beneath the title of his article as it was published in a website: things as complex as intelligence reform, to achieve real reform, will have to wait for more than five years (with reference to the time of writing of the article), even wait for a generation, before real reform is achieved [10]

And real reform starts from the changes and improvements happening in the grass roots level so to speak – when the changes affect ‘linguists and analysts and case officers’ who are expected to undergo intensive decade-long or more training years before they are actually ‘proficient enough in the languages and cultures of America’s terrorist adversaries’, making them real assets that can provide manpower for real intelligence gathering and not just ‘patchwork vigilance'[11].

Another important thorn in the side of intelligence reform and improvement is the ability of current leaders to ‘undo a half-century of suspicion and territoriality’ and allow the putting up of bridges of inter-organization communication, support, assistance and partnership so that intelligence gathering units are allowed to share information and not hoard real intelligence.

For his part, Hutchings believe that the post 9/11 intelligence reform inside the United States did not just include the creation of more confusion and lack of clear and solid path in intelligence gathering through the emergence of a leading intelligence agency; the problem also featured the characteristic of US intelligence as being unable to adapt to the changing times, changing structures and changing paradigms[12].

Hutching insists that the US is employing the ‘wrong model’ based from the fact that the intelligence community inside the United States is morphing in a way different from how its adversaries are developing themselves as well as how it operates inside and outside of US, pointing out the efforts to centralize when the threat, on the other hand, is becoming ‘more decentralized, dispersed, and eclectic’ (2007)[13].

Discuss how the end of the Cold War affected intelligence reform (changes in organizations, funding, capabilities, collection focus etc) – The Cold War was one of the important events in the US and world history. During this era, the United States discovered its strength in gathering intelligence by the use of electronic equipment.

This started the trend of having intelligence units becoming overly dependent on the changing technology and how it can be used to improved spying techniques, ultimately becoming US’s undoing in the long run as Paul Wolfowitz already pointed out that such behavioral pattern of US spy chiefs and their operation paradigm results to the marginalizing of the efforts on maintaining a top human spy who is still the greatest asset an intelligence agency can have, regardless of technology [14].

It is already being felt now that CIA is being assessed for its post Cold War performance which so far yields unimpressive marks.

A UCLA article quoted Writer and professor Amy Zegart, who has extensively studied US intelligence reform, about how Zegart views US intelligence as being slow or totally incapable of adapting ‘with the changing world’ after the Cold War (2005). Zegart’s book, entitled Intelligence in Wonderland: 9/11 and the Roots of Failure, focused on this incapability of the intelligence bureaus of US and the impact of the US intelligence agencies’ being trapped in past stigmas like the Cold War[15], ‘they cling to tactics that worked fairly well in the old days of fighting Communism’. [16]According to Zegart, the Cold War seemed to have frozen the thinking and operation of the CIA as well as that of the 13 other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community that it did not manage to move on effectively to accommodate its new role in US security[17].

Aside from being considered as time warped and freeze-timed in the Cold War setting, other observers like Gorman[18] believed that the intelligence operation of US agencies like the CIA is still operating with its ‘Cold War mentality’ and how it does not fit in the new battles that US has engaged itself in.

This maybe because the time of the Cold War is one of the glory days of US intelligence gathering when the US intelligence estimates were pegged at 75 percent correct and accurate, compared to the 20 percent accuracy of today’s CIA intelligence on terrorism. For one, intelligence done by counting tanks and missiles cannot be used against Bin Laden who does not have (visible) tanks in the first place. There is troop movement to monitor, but CIA, according to Gorman, seems to be unsure on how to get about the task[19].

But there seemed to be life left in CIA, and some aspects of the agency is breathing, and learning. And one of its lessons is that ‘post-Cold War spying wasn’t easy’ (Gorman, 2005). Top ranked officials of the CIA admit to the fact that intelligence gathering during the age of Cold War and the age of terrorism is very much different that what was considered as Cold War intelligence assets like money and connection to people with inside track to operation is now ineffective or very difficult to find. During the Cold War, many people are considered as prospective contact points where vital information can be taken from; now, even the smallest terrorist cell independent from any other groups are very hard to penetrate since the information needed sometimes resides on one man alone[20].

The second lesson can be the cutback in monitoring Moscow – from 65 to 16 percent, at least after Robert Gates stepped in.

Explain how earlier intelligence reform affected the performance of the IC leading up to the 9/11 attacks – To say that the US and other countries are not aware of a probable attack by terrorists on US soil is being truly naïve. For one, many already believed that the terrorists would, sooner or later, try to destabilize the US by attacking there[21].  Another point is the fact that the government’s clandestine operations have already started working through the use of device and strategies designed for intelligence gathering that can enable the country to be ready for both pre emptive strikes as well as retaliatory attacks to terrorists enemies[22].

The question here is the amount of intelligence coming inside involved agencies to make such a threat very close, real and possible that drastic defensive action and counter terrorism protocol should be engaged. The presence of terrorist attacks on US offices outside of the country is a sign that the enemy wants to crush the US, it is a matter of time that they put out their biggest guns and start shooting in US, and this reason alone is enough to assume that anti and counter terrorism plan of action is present in the war rooms of CIA, FBI and the country’s armed forces.

Still, the country was clearly caught off guard when the 9/11 crisis hit US and it is important to discuss the grave responsibility of US intelligence officers and the reforms it made in its offices in the years close to the 9/11 attack to make it still as vulnerable and immediately helpless and totally standing clueless and left in the dark as to the agenda of terrorists. People are asking why US intelligence ignored the signs that lead to the impending attack and holds US intelligence responsible for the death of approximately 3,000 during the crashing of four separate airplanes inside the United States.

The 9/11 attack was made possible because the intelligence reforms happening in the US prior to the attack was not geared at designing a system that ensures the safety of the US and its citizens from attacks like this. If they were not designed to function like this, why is it so? It is because the US is targeting its guns in the wrong direction, hoping that the enemy is not brave or not well funded or not well skilled enough to even try a terrorist act similar to the magnitude of the 9/11 attack, allowing the US to continue its aggression and intelligence campaigns on different parts of the world and at some point weakening US’ defenses through the use of intelligence which was used generally to support the logistical needs of its campaigns in other frontiers while its interiors become easily penetrable by the enemy that managed to make the most out of the US system that oddly enough allows many backdoors open for terrorist to come right in and try their thing in the US.

Before the 9/11, the US intelligence was busy hunting dissidents in Europe or warlords and genocide artists in Asia or plotting the assassination of communist leaders. Most of the time, they were busy begging for intelligence reports on Muslim extremists particularly about Osama Bin Laden whom the CIA do not have first hand information on since it is incapable of planting moles that can infiltrate the inner circle of Bin laden’s  core group.

It will not be ascertained whether or not the absence of pro active and pre emptive action in the part of US officials was due because of the fact that whatever intelligence the US has on Bin Laden came from the hands of middle Asian countries and their spies like Jordan and Egypt that is why (1) the US focused very intently on its other overseas operations and (2) the US made very little effort to assess the little intelligence and the tell tale signs of an attack on US soil soon.

What many observers point out is that despite the absence of an American mole inside Bin laden’s circle, the US is nonetheless equipped with sufficient intelligence that it can use to protect itself from the 9/11 attack but still opted on ignoring it.

Going back 20 years, any analysts can see that US intelligence agencies made many missteps when it comes to intelligence reform, making it predictable that they will not be able to intercept an attack like the 9/11 if it was staring them in the face because intelligence reforms in the past did not make today’s US intelligence agencies as how they should be so that they are suitable and capable in fighting the new kind of war in a defensive manner and not in a retaliatory manner that makes US looking as if it is just plain hungry for blood and vengeance.

As early as the early 1980s, intelligence gathering was starting to hit ‘walls’ and the flow of information at some degree stopped because of political reasons. The inability to allow useful information to be funneled inside the intelligence units’ systems is still one of the reasons why 9/11 was not avoided. They knew the intelligence problems then, but did not acted upon it in the several chances at reform[23].

On a different note, it is important to remember the fact that US intelligence agencies during the years close to the pre-9/11 crisis are given more and more room to maneuver and more and more resources to use so that the campaign against terrorism and the detection of terrorists are accomplished, even if it means treading dangerously the thin line between national security and the invasion of personal space and privacy of the citizens the intelligence agencies have sworn to protect24.

How did the post 9/11 international environment affected intelligence reform – the main battle cry that the US espoused after the 9/11 attack was the war on terrorism and many countries that are sympathetic and supportive to the US joined in, even if some of the countries are not hotspots for terrorist actions and bombings. The international environment provided the US with uncomfortable allies who placed themselves alongside the US in the hope that it can help in decreasing the fear factor inside the country and still be a promising spot for international investors. These countries also wanted a piece of the muscle the US is set to flex as it prepares to retaliate towards its aggressors, hoping that it can help them as well in their own local anti terrorism movement. The attitude of dependency and subjugation of other countries helped the US in the reforming of its intelligence protocol and design.

Many countries were convinced that there is a reason to be scared, and that prevailing attitude in the international community became the tool for US to achieve its desired goals, like the opening of intelligence channels and the altering of local policies to accommodate anti-terrorism exercises that involve a general participation from the United States, an act which many believed the US used to conceal more and more acts of intelligence gathering and mole planting in countries were terrorist cells maybe training and operating to strike the US or other key country in the near future.[24]

There were also pressure coming from other countries that are close to berating the US for its inability to act accordingly to the terrorist threat that made 9/11 real, the primarily concern is the inability of the US to use its intelligence not just to protect the citizens but to also protect the presence of international trade and commerce in the country.

            Not wanting to displease the international community again and at the same time in need of ways to assure the international community that foreign investments and assets in the US is well protected despite the 9/11 incident, the post 9/11 intelligence reform in the US was focused on the improvement of data gathering and data management. Some opted for the commissioning of more spies in the field while others made efforts to improve networks with other countries, from official ambassador offices as well as from clandestine backdoor avenues through the use of local assets.

The post 9/11 attitude of the international community placed sufficient amount of pressure on the United States for it to act on its flawed and weak intelligence gathering system, getting a much needed shot in the arm. The question that remains to be seen is whether or not the US is now looking at the right direction when it comes to marking potential threats and using the intelligence it has to have a preview of what the enemy is trying to do and execute preemptive actions.


Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, Richard Esposito. “Secret Document: U.S. Fears Terror

      ‘Spectacular’ Planned” (July 1, 2007). ABC News.

“Complete 911 Timeline”. Cooperative Research History Commons. Center for Grassroots


Jason Leopold, “Bush Authorized Domestic Spying Before 9/11” Truthout, Perspective

      (January 13, 2006)

Patrick Radden Keefe, “The Long Intelligence Haul” Salte.Com (September 8, 2006)

“Researchers Delve into Sept. 11 Effects.” UCLA International Institute (October 11, 2005)

Robert L. Hutchings “The Morning After: How to Reform the Intelligence Reform”

      (December 6, 2007)

Siobhan Gorman, “Fewer, better spies key to intelligence reform, former official says”

      National Journal (March 18, 2005) Government

“US had ‘steady stream’ of pre-9/11 Warnings”. Online News Hour. (September 18, 2002)

[1] Patrick Radden Keefe “The Long Intelligence Haul” Salte.Com (September 8, 2006)

[2] Siobhan Gorman “Fewer, better spies key to intelligence reform, former official says” National Journal (March 18, 2005) Government

[3] Ibid

[4] Patrick Radden Keefe, “The Long Intelligence Haul” Salte.Com (September 8, 2006)

[5] Robert L. Hutchings “The Morning After: How to Reform the Intelligence Reform” (December 6, 2007)

[6] Siobhan Gorman “Fewer, better spies key to intelligence reform, former official says”

National Journal (March 18, 2005) Government

[7] Patrick Radden Keefe, “The Long Intelligence Haul” Salte.Com (September 8, 2006)

[8] Robert L. Hutchings “The Morning After: How to Reform the Intelligence Reform” (December 6, 2007)

[9] Ibid
[10] Patrick Radden Keefe, “The Long Intelligence Haul” Salte.Com (September 8, 2006)

[11] Ibid

[12] Robert L. Hutchings “The Morning After: How to Reform the Intelligence Reform” (December 6, 2007)

[13] Ibid

[14] Siobhan Gorman “Fewer, better spies key to intelligence reform, former official says”

National Journal (March 18, 2005) Government

[15] “Researchers Delve into Sept. 11 Effects.” UCLA International Institute (October 11, 2005)

[16] Siobhan Gorman “Fewer, better spies key to intelligence reform, former official says”

National Journal (March 18, 2005) Government

[17] “Researchers Delve into Sept. 11 Effects.” UCLA International Institute (October 11, 2005)

[18] Siobhan Gorman “Fewer, better spies key to intelligence reform, former official says”

National Journal (March 18, 2005) Government

            [19] Ibid

[20] Ibid.
[21] “US had ‘steady stream’ of pre-9/11 Warnings”. Online News Hour. (September 18, 2002)

[22] Jason Leopold “Bush Authorized Domestic Spying Before 9/11” Truthout, Perspective (January 13, 2006)

[23] “Complete 911 Timeline”. Cooperative Research History Commons. Center for Grassroots Oversight.
[24] Jason Leopold, “Bush Authorized Domestic Spying Before 9/11” Truthout, Perspective (January 13, 2006)


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