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Intelligence Office Gives Dissenters Their Due

April 14, 2006|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A year into a broad overhaul of U.S. intelligence operations, top officials said Thursday they have gained greater confidence in their intelligence assessments, in part by incorporating dissenting views into their analysis.

In a rare, on-the-record briefing, 10 top intelligence officials said that because of improved coordination through a new national intelligence office, they are confident they can avoid the mistakes they made in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

"What we have to offer decision-makers has benefited from the introspection the intelligence community has undergone in the last several years," said Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who is the nation's No. 2 intelligence official.

Congress created the position of director of national intelligence in part to coordinate the efforts of the country's 16 spy agencies, including the CIA. The Sept. 11 commission cited lack of coordination and information-sharing as a major cause of the intelligence agencies' failure to predict the terrorist attacks.

In the past, analysts have dissented from intelligence findings, but those views were sometimes overlooked, withheld from policymakers or reduced to footnotes in reports, critics have said.

Under the new procedures, acknowledgment and inclusion of dissenting views has become more routine.

"I have a high degree of confidence that we are not going to repeat the same cluster of problems in the same way," said National Intelligence Council Chairman Thomas Fingar, who is also in charge of analysis for the integrated intelligence office. "We are doing better. We are not yet perfect."

Before joining the new directorate, Fingar headed the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research, which dissented from other intelligence agencies before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq when it said that evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was inconclusive.

Fingar said that one of the achievements in the first year was incorporating such dissents into analyses sent to decision-makers.

"We think that will increase understanding of what we're doing" and "make it clear that we are not trying to drive the analytic community to come to any particular position," he said. "We want to have the most objective, and hopefully accurate, judgments we can make."

Among other changes imposed since the directorate was created was a demand for more information sharing with U.S. allies, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Dale W. Meyerrose, the chief information officer. His office has standardized procedures to encourage more information exchanges with coalition partners in Iraq, a move resisted by some of the 16 intelligence agencies.

In the year since the directorate was created, about 1,000 personnel have been moved from other agencies to serve there, Hayden said, and another 450 were hired to perform functions that were not previously the responsibility of the CIA or other agencies.

Hayden dismissed criticism by lawmakers that the directorate had become another layer of bureaucracy in the intelligence services, noting that Congress authorized a staff level of 1,539 and "we are under that."

Another change that has been made, Fingar said, is "showing our homework" -- greater transparency about sources, which allows analysts and policymakers to better assess the quality of the intelligence reporting.

"The analytic community has taken this to heart," he said. "We get it. We realize that we have to rebuild confidence, confidence of the people we support, confidence of the public that we know how to do our job, and confidence within the workforce."

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