Great Seal of the United States National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Fourth public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Statement of James Schlesinger before the National Commission Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
October 14, 2003

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chairman, and Members of the Commission:

I thank the Commission for inviting me to testify on the leadership, organization, and performance of the intelligence community. In my formal statement, necessarily brief, I could not address all the questions that the invitation has posed, so I shall limit myself to making some overall observations, and shall leave detailed responses to the question period. Since I have been urged to discuss some of the these issues in the historic context, I should mention that I have been studying intelligence issues for well over forty years, and have had direct responsibility going back some thirty-five years.

1. My initial observation is a caution. Intelligence is inherently a difficult business. Intelligence is not only supposed to gather facts, many of which others are eager to conceal or disguise. It is also expected to provide a coherent picture that helps to prepare us for future developments. To be sure, few of us are clairvoyant. When events throw the inherent limitations of intelligence into bold relief, we are surprised and frustrated because intelligence has failed to predict the future.

Intelligence is highly successful in dealing with routine developments. It is, however, particularly prone to failure at the turning points of history. It is perhaps obvious that the problems of intelligence become even tougher, when we deal with non-Western cultures, amplified when we are attempting to understand those who regard us as infidels.

Nonetheless, I believe that we can do better in responding to terrorism. Till now, we have not been sufficiently strategic and long term in our analytic efforts. We have relied too much on secret intelligence and too much on country expertise.

2. When events do throw the inherent limitations of intelligence into bold relief, the immediate response is to seek restructuring in organization and management. It is perhaps an American tendency to minimize inherent substantive problems, and to believe that failures are failures of organization, which can be prevented by the right organizational solution.

No one would question that management can always be improved, but major organizational change is not the salvation. I would submit that the real challenge lies in recruiting, fostering, and motivating people with insight-and, when necessary, bring about long term change in the ethos of intelligence organizations. (Remember that intelligence is produced by normal human beings with their preconceptions, habits of mind, associations, and the like.) Tinkering with the organizational structure can help, but by itself will not produce major improvement.

Ideas regarding organizational reform have a long history. Over the years, there have been dozens of studies. I, myself, produced a study in 1971 at the behest of President Nixon-at a time that it was felt that the benefits of intelligence were not commensurate with the costs, and that the central problem was the quality of analysis. I recommended against the creation of a Director of National Intelligence, because it would only dilute the role of the DCI without corresponding advantages. Instead, I urged that the DCI be given greater authority over the entire intelligence community, provide budgetary guidance and overall plan, much of which President Nixon subsequently ordered.

In 1982, I argued against proposed legislation that would have created an Intelligence Charter-intended to rein in the intelligence community. That legislation would have established, in effect, a Department of Intelligence that would combine intelligence assets scattered across the government. The point that I then made was that intelligence had to be oriented toward the consumers of intelligence, that agency heads and others needed to know and to trust the people that were providing intelligence, and that, if intelligence were centralized in the prescribed manner, inevitably and surreptitiously intelligence activities would be recreated in departments, agencies, and the several commands. Indeed, the widespread tendency to deplore duplication and to embrace the efficiency of centralization lasted only until one could see the consequences. Still, the urge to combine intelligence activities under central command and control continues to reappear. I urge this Commission to reflect on the long history involved and to refrain from recommending major surgery unless substantial improvement is to be obtained. It takes a while to settle down after surgery-and the disruptions that are inevitable are likely to distract us from the main goal-the improvement of the intelligence product.

3. My third set of observations involves performance. One must seek to achieve two somewhat contradictory things. On the one hand, one must seek to engage the policymakers in the intelligence process, so that they do more than read (if they do) the intelligence product or listen to the briefings. It is essential for good intelligence to understand the concerns of the policymakers so that both collection and analysis can focus on those concerns. At the same time, one must seek to avoid mixing intelligence and policy--even though in a complicated world that cannot be avoided entirely. Regrettably, that essential line frequently is crossed from either side.

In this connection, one must understand the distinct role of the policymaker. Once he has decided, he must explain (i.e., sell) that policy to the public, the press, and the Congress. Intelligence unavoidably deals with shades of gray, not with black and white. But leaders cannot dwell on the uncertainties, the fuzzy evidence, the equivocations of intelligence. Leaders have to decide. When decisions are made, they are regularly hyped in the quest for public support. One can cite notable examples in the Roosevelt Administration, the Reagan Administration, the Clinton Administration, if not in more recent years. All administrations will engage in the practice. In a democracy, administrations are obliged to seek public support.

At the other end of this dichotomy, analysts cannot be vestal virgins operating in an academic environment. If they want their product to be taken seriously by the policymakers, they must be prepared for some interaction. If the subject is relevant and the product is interesting, there should be questioning. Nonetheless, analysts all too frequently act like a bunch of college professors-"How dare they challenge me!"

The analytic fraternity varies between two moods. In one mood, it is said that the policymakers pay no attention to what I write; there must be more interaction. In that second mood, the policymakers are interacting and one hears the cries I am being pressured or even attacked. In politics, those cries will attack attention. But one must bear in mind that questioning is desirable. Yet, it will regularly be described as "pressure."

In principle, the necessity of a cautious interaction between intelligence and policy making has long been recognized. In practice, there has been less success. In 1971, for example, President Nixon ordered the creation of the National Security Council Intelligence Committee (NSCIC) to provide guidance and assessments of the intelligence product. The Committee met on a few occasions and then fell into disuse. In 1975, the Murphy Commission urged a better interface between the policymakers and intelligence, but the recommendations of that Commission were largely disregarded. In the final analysis, if the intelligence product is to have an audience, it needs to be a reactive audience.

One final consideration, I have earlier mentioned that motivation is critical in generating good intelligence. Yet, in moments of controversy, when there is widespread criticism of the intelligence community, it may have a chilling effect on both analysts and human intelligence collectors. One needs to have the best judgment of the analysts, stated forcefully. When they become risk adverse, they may just send forward all information without serious evaluation. Also, one must take into account the criticism of the fragmentation of the intelligence community and its unwillingness appropriately to share information. But one must also remember that it was the hearings and the legislation of the middle 70's which both imposed and fostered these inhibitions.

4. Finally, we all recognize that priorities must be adjusted over time. Particularly this is so when there is a major change of the international scene, such as there was after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, subsequently, with the rise of terrorism. Yet, what is conceptually easy to accept, remains difficult to somewhat difficult to implement in practice. Intelligence organizations are large bureaucracies; they do not adapt immediately. Particularly this is the case, when there is little budget leeway, and resources must be wrested away from others in the organization.

In the late 1990's, for example, intellectually it was recognized that we were at war-with the terrorists. Nonetheless, resources did not stream into counterterrorism to the degree that one might expect for a nation at war. The reason, of course, those resources had to be pried loose from other entities in the intelligence establishment, which stood ready to resist such loss of resources. After 9/11, we readily, if belatedly, recognized that more resources should have moved, in accordance with the indicated change in priorities. That was easy to recognize in retrospect-though, even now, we are not creating a strategic framework for a long term war. We must recognize that large bureaucracies do tend to become inbred-and that inevitably there is resistance to new ideas-particularly those that come in from the outside. Though we cannot simply acquiesce in such behavior, we must recognize the difficulty in adaptation in large organizations. That is why we must protect and foster competition in analys is.

I thank you for your attention. I shall be happy to respond to any questions.

Chairman, Board of Trustees, The MITRE Corporation Senior Advisor, Lehman Brothers
Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Chairman of the Executive Committee, The Nixon Center

Current Activities
Consultant, U. S. Department of Defense
Member, Defense Policy Board
Commission on National Security/21st Century
Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear Stockpile
Threat Reduction Advisory Committee, Department of Defense
Global Position System Independent Review Team, U.S. Air Force
Member, Advisory Committee, National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Energy

Education and Academic Career
Harvard University: AB summa cum laude, (1950), AM (1952), Ph.D. (1956)
Assistant and Associate Professor, University of Virginia 1955-63

Prior Positions
Secretary of Energy, 1977-79
Assistant to the President, 1977
Secretary of Defense, 1973-75
Director of Central Intelligence, 1973
Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, 1973
Bureau of the Budget (later OMB), Acting Deputy Director, and Assistant Director, 1969-71
Director of Strategic Studies and Senior Staff Member, RAND Corporation, 1963-69
Consultant, U. S. Bureau of the Budget, 1967-68
Consultant, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1962-63
Academic Consultant, U.S. Naval War College, 1957

Other Activities
Publisher, The National Interest
Director, BNFL, Inc.
Director, Peabody Energy
Director, Sandia Corporation
Director, KFx Inc.
Fellow, National Academy of Public Administration
Member, American Academy of Diplomacy
Fellow, Phi Beta Kappa Fellows

Trustee, Atlantic Council, Center for Global Energy Studies, and Henry M. Jackson Foundation
Served on the President's Commission on Strategic Forces, 1982-83; the Governor's Commission on Virginia's Future, 1982-84; President's Blue Ribbon Task Group On Nuclear Weapons Program Management (Vice Chairman), 1984-85

Editor, Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son, Regnery, 1995; America at Century's End, Columbia University Press, 1989; The Political Economy of National Security, Prager, 1960; and numerous articles.

Honors and Awards
National Security Medal
Five Department and Agency medals
Winner of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Medal, the George Catlett
Marshall Medal, the H. H. Arnold Award, the Navy League's National Meritorious Citation, the Military Order of the World Wars Distinguished Service Award, the Jimmy Doolittle Award, and the William Oliver Baker Award.
Phi Beta Kappa, Senior Sixteen, 1949
Frederick Sheldon Prize Fellowship, 1950-51
Eleven Honorary Degrees

Current News

The Commission has released its final report. [more]

The Chair and Vice Chair have released a statement regarding the Commission's closing. [more]

The Commission closed August 21, 2004. [more]

Commission Members

Thomas H. Kean

Lee H. Hamilton
Vice Chair

Richard Ben-Veniste
Fred F. Fielding
Jamie S. Gorelick
Slade Gorton
Bob Kerrey
John F. Lehman
Timothy J. Roemer
James R. Thompson

Commission Staff

Philip D. Zelikow
Executive Director

Chris Kojm
Deputy Executive Director

Daniel Marcus
General Counsel