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Smarter Intelligence in a Disorderly World : Gates looks to reorient a CIA that's still fighting old fights

December 08, 1991

Robert M. Gates, the new director of Central Intelligence, is moving rapidly to fulfill the pledge he made during his recent Senate confirmation hearings to dramatically reorient U.S. intelligence gathering from its heavy emphasis on the Soviet Union toward a much broader range of potential threats.

The changes come at a time when the CIA and other U.S. intelligence organizations are facing leaner budgets, though not necessarily an any less mean world. The CIA, with an estimated 20,000 employees, is expected to shrink by about 15% in coming years. Funding for all intelligence activities, believed to run about $30 billion a year, could decline 20% or more. In a speech to CIA employees the other day, Gates indicated that significant cuts are likely to come in expensive reconnaissance satellite programs, while spending would increase for human intelligence-gathering efforts--in other words, for old-fashioned, on-the-ground spying.

THE NEW FOCUS: The disintegrating Soviet Union will not, however, be summarily dropped as an object of compelling intelligence interest. Gates has ordered the quick preparation of 10 major reports on the implications of the empire's collapse, some aspects of which--uncertainty over control of nuclear weapons most ominously--understandably disturb the sleep of U.S. policy-makers.

Up to now, said Gates, about half of all intelligence resources have been devoted to trying to figure out what the Soviet Union was doing. That will quantitatively change, and though he didn't say so it's certain that much more intense efforts will now be focused on monitoring Third World countries, especially those whose aggressive policies present regional or even global threats. The United States--indeed, the world--cannot afford any more surprises like Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

But it's also clear that intelligence needs can no longer be defined primarily in terms of strategic military threats. Dangers to the nation's security do not begin and end with the size of the Soviet intercontinental missile arsenal. The pressures produced by exploding population growth in certain regions can affect U.S. interests, if not immediately then some years hence. The industrial polluting of a key body of water in Country A, the construction of a major road in an undeveloped region of Country B, could have significant economic or demographic consequences to the United States and its friends.

THE INEVITABLE STRUGGLE: The outlook, then, is for a CIA that will be devoting an increasing part of its resources to the kind of broad information-gathering activities that, for example, embassies for centuries have engaged in, usually though not always overtly. The difference is that it will be able to call on the best available technology to sweep up information over a broad spectrum.

But the shift away from the longtime Cold War approach to intelligence gathering won't be unresisted, as Gates has recognized. Intelligence organizations--each of the armed services has its own, as does the Pentagon--are bureaucracies, and like bureaucracies everywhere they will struggle to hold on to everything they can. Gates seems to have high-level support in the Bush Administration and in Congress for reorienting intelligence. But that may not spare him from having to fight a necessary but nasty guerrilla war in the bureaucratic alleyways.

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