THE BLOG
09/09/2010 04:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nine Years After 9/11: Keeping America Safe

The 9/11 attack revealed structural flaws in the US intelligence community that were addressed in the intelligence reform and terrorism prevention act of 2004. Two of the most important initiatives of this legislation were to create the position of the Director of National Intelligence, and to give the FBI responsibility for domestic security.

How are we doing?

On my report card, I am convinced that the concept of a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was unnecessary and has generated another layer of bureaucracy. I also believe that the creation of a new, a British style "MI-5 "domestic security organization would have been preferable to trying to turn the FBI into an intelligence organization.

But that is water under the bridge. It would be counterproductive to revisit those decisions, for two reasons. First, it would be harder to undo what has been done, than to see it through. Second, substantial progress has been made that can be built upon. However, in order to achieve success, the intelligence leadership must ensure that every officer in the community understands that the DNI is here to stay, and that the FBI requires their full support. Internal dissonance and institutional rivalries are the surest ways to leave holes in our nation's defenses.

The main problem with the DNI concept is that it is widely perceived as not representing sufficient value added by the men and women in the intelligence community. In all likelihood, newly appointed DNI Clapper will listen to them, because I think he understands their message: don't try to do our job - help us do it better.

The DNI should take advantage of this opportunity to reshape his role by greatly reducing the range of activities that he supervises and downsize staff, accordingly. The DNI could do this job with a staff of a hundred officers, if he had the full support of the President and Congress to do so. The sweet spot for the nation's top intelligence officer lies in handling strategic national problems and in resolving disputes between the sixteen organizations of the intelligence community. He should stop being the daily briefer-in-chief for the President. He should divest himself of tactical management by turning over day to day decision-making to agency heads, subject to broad guidance and direction.

The DNI should instead focus on re-establishing reliable foresight and warning on emerging threats; giving thought to long term, intractable problems is not a priority in the reactive, intense work environment of officers who are fighting on the front lines of terrorism and two wars. Unless the DNI addresses it, this lack of attention on tomorrow's problems will surely come back to haunt us.

To date, the FBI is falling short in becoming as good in intelligence as it is in law enforcement, not because of a lack of desire, or competence, but due to the complexity of the undertaking--and a culture that gets in the way. To be fair, the bureau's investigative-centric culture is grudgingly giving way to the conflicting priorities and modus operandi of intelligence work, but the transition process has been laborious, and too slow. And although the FBI is wisely increasing its footprint abroad to catch threats on the front end of planning, the bureau's domestic home base continues to constrain the kind of deep situational awareness that is necessary to identify and eliminate foreign-based threats that are imported into the US.

Despite strong leadership from FBI Director Mueller, the old guard hasn't fully embraced the idea that the crucial work of intelligence analysis must be placed on equal footing with the status of special agents. Field agents still avoid being assigned certain tasks, such as preventing proliferation and terrorism of weapons of mass destruction. The reward system should be changed to ensure officers who are promoted to the most senior ranks of the bureau have served in such critical, new capacities.

But the FBI is not in this fight alone. The US intelligence community as a whole must be prepared to identify the subtle clues of a Muhammad Atta-like plot of the next 9/11 attack. Recent scares, notably the Times Square and Christmas day plane bombing attempts, should have convinced the American people that the standard for success and failure must not be measured by our ability to prevent every terrorist attack. Rather, we must prevent an attack that might again cause us to question ourselves, thereby serving the darkest ambitions of our enemies.

What matters most is to deny terrorists another chance to change the world. Even if the popular view that al Qaeda is too weak to pull off another 9/11 turns out to be true, for which I harbor grave doubts, we must expect the worst in order to be prepared for the worst.

The standard we must set for ourselves must include a psychological dimension; we must ensure terrorists understand that nothing they can do will provoke fear or dictate events to us. If all Americans do not stand united in such a shared sense of purpose, measures to prevent terrorism will always remain insufficient.

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