Security Studies Program Seminar

Intelligence Transformation and the Impact on Counterterrorism Programs

John Brennan
President and CEO, The Analysis Corporation

October 18, 2006

The Imperative Challenge of Transformation in the Intelligence Community

•  The intelligence community (IC) was a constellation of individual entities without a lot of orchestration. It was developed in order to deal with the Soviet threat, and it evolved in happenstance fashion. This went pretty well, but it formed on its own without an overarching framework. A number of significant gaps and redundancies developed during that time. Without integration and orchestration, pockets of talent were not brought together and optimized.

•  There was no effort after the Cold War to reconfigure the IC in a more efficient and effective way. Why? Bureaucratic inertia. Once money and responsibilities are allocated, it is hard to move things around—despite calls for reform.

•  But, in Washington, crisis prompts action, and 9/11 was a galvanizing event. Calls for heads to roll and claims of an intelligence failure were shortsighted. There were systemic issues that undercut the efficiency of the CIA, but political winds demanded change.

•  A number of intelligence-related initiatives—legislative, investigative, and organizational—took place in the aftermath of 9/11. After the Homeland Security Act (November 2002) and the FBI's initial attempt to incorporate an intelligence function (2002-03), the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, or TTIC, was established (of which Brennan was the founding director) in May of 2003.

•  The idea behind TTIC was that we needed to have someplace in the government where all counterterrorism information would reside. Eventually, information from all 26 classified and unclassified networks flowed into TTIC; they wanted voyeuristic capability. The good news and the bad news: they had more access to more information than anywhere in the government.

•  Then came the 9/11 Commission in 2003-04 and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) that followed. The Commission did a superb job on the 9/11 narrative, but in Brennan's view did not spend enough time on recommendations that formed the basis of the legislation. The Director of National Intelligence was created, and increased funding and staffing thrown at the problem, all along with the expectation that the community will work in a more collaborative way. But how were we going to address the problem that was the root of 9/11? What was lacking?

•  The IRTPA was rushed through in 4 months time has done a disservice. Negroponte was a novice to an intelligence community, and this is asking a lot of a person coming from the outside. Goldwater-Nichols took 4-5 years to get through the legislative process, and reconfiguring the IC is a more complicated process. Reform was and is being done in a very piecemeal, individual way. We need to take a step back like Goldwater-Nichols to understand what is being done. The business architecture needs to be understood.

•  A business architecture should reflect a system of systems approach. What does this mean? This means that the CT architecture must be a part of the IC architecture, which must in turn work within the federal government, and furthermore interoperate with the federal, state, local, private, and international arenas. And the IT architecture should reflect the business architecture. Unfortunately, the various commissions didn't provide an architecture; they didn't say what we were trying to build.

•  We need a non-partisan, experienced, multi-year panel to think about what the U.S. national architecture should look like in 2020 and transform the governance structures accordingly.


Closing Thoughts on Transnational Terrorism

•  The rubric of terrorism is now used to capture all violence against the United States and its friends. It has become intertwined with traditional definitions of insurgency and civil strife. There is a lot of mislabeling going on.

•  Violent Sunni extremism poses the most serious transnational terrorist threat to the United States. A lot of credit to national security apparatus for bloodying the hierarchy of al Qaeda. But now we face an evolving threat that has moved beyond its foundational core to include Zarqawi and his heirs in Iraq, affiliated groups in Central, South and East Asia, and freelance sympathizers throughout the world, but especially in Europe (i.e. the “Lads from Leeds” phenomenon). In the case of the latter, these people exist in a lot of tight ethnic neighborhoods, so local law enforcement is key. In that vein, the NYPD is doing a good job.

•  Terrorism is like pollution; we are focusing more on the downstream effects than the upstream causes. U.S. public diplomacy efforts have had no traction whatsoever.

•  Finally, we should not use the term jihadist; jihad is a legitimate pillar of the faith. We don't want to lend credibility to their cause. Al Qaeda has hijacked that term; we should take away their control of it.


Rapporteur: Stephanie Kaplan

back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2006