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Report criticizes U.S. spy agencies

Intelligence reforms launched five years ago have failed to end infighting or solve many pre-Sept. 11 problems, an internal probe finds.

April 02, 2009|Greg Miller

WASHINGTON — Five years after undergoing sweeping reforms, the nation's spy agencies continue to be hobbled by turf battles, incompatible computer systems and uncertainty over their legal boundaries, according to a harshly critical report issued Wednesday by the intelligence community's internal watchdog.

Although Congress created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or DNI, to cut through such obstacles, the report concluded that a majority of intelligence workers were so confused about the director's office that they "were unable to articulate a clear understanding of [his] mission, roles and responsibilities."

Overall, the report suggests that a major shake-up of the U.S. intelligence community in 2004 has not solved many of the problems that plagued spy agencies and contributed to their failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war.

In delivering the document, DNI Inspector General Edward Maguire said progress had been made since the report was completed in November, particularly with the issuing of new rules designed to force intelligence agencies to do a better job sharing information.

Still, the dismal findings were greeted with dismay on Capitol Hill, particularly among House members who have been critical of the expansion of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence since it was launched in 2005.

Congress wanted a "lean, coordinated body," said Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on a House subcommittee on intelligence community management. Instead, Myrick said, "we got fat, layer upon layer of bloated bureaucracy at the top of the community."

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), who chairs the subcommittee, said the report reflected a failure to achieve some of the basic goals of reform. A 15-page, unclassified version of the report was released as part of a subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

"I, for one, don't believe that the vision laid out in the reform act has been met," Eshoo said. "We still don't have a clear definition of the DNI's role nor a clear view of how the agencies should work together." Since the report was completed, the intelligence community has undergone a significant leadership turnover as the Obama administration replaced top-level officials appointed by President George W. Bush.

Dennis C. Blair, who began serving as director of national intelligence in January, has reviewed the findings and is "bringing in new leadership and implementing numerous changes to improve and streamline communications and management functions," said Ross Feinstein, a DNI spokesman.

Blair has indicated that he has shifted the job's emphasis from being the president's principal intelligence briefer to focusing on managing the 16 agencies that compose the U.S. intelligence community.

Blair's predecessor, J. Michael McConnell, often talked about how many hours were consumed preparing for daily White House briefings, an approach to the job that was faulted in the report.

The document also criticized the director's office for showering agencies with "duplicative taskings and conflicting messages."

The practice has fueled criticism that the office of the DNI has become just an "additional layer of bureaucracy," the report said.

The document found widespread problems in information sharing among agencies, an issue that was at the heart of many of the breakdowns found to have prevented U.S. spy agencies from identifying or disrupting the Sept. 11 plot.

The DNI has pushed a series of initiatives to address the issue, including requiring employees to work at multiple agencies and the creation of classified versions of Wikipedia and other websites to allow analysts to collaborate online.

Still, "most analysts rely on personal relationships with counterparts" to gather intelligence data, and agencies that collect raw intelligence "continue to control and limit access to data and products essential for analysis across the [community]," the report said.

The report praised the CIA for developing a system that allowed it to disseminate intelligence gathered by its case officers without revealing sensitive sources and methods.

But in general, analysts have no way to appeal when they are denied access to intelligence they think they need. And the computer systems that are supposed to link the intelligence community's roughly 100,000 workers "are largely disconnected and incompatible." The document sounded alarms on a number of other issues.

It warned of a rising risk of waste and abuse associated with a surge in government spending on private contractors for intelligence work.

It cited confusion over legal boundaries that are intended to guide the operations of the CIA and other agencies, including covert action.

Finally, the report said that efforts to fix the nation's eavesdropping laws have not been matched by adequate instruction to the employees engaged in that work.

--

greg.miller@latimes.com

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