The Intelligence Community

Intel03: Reassess Information Collection to Meet New Analytical Challenges


At its most fundamental level, the Intelligence Community (IC) exists to collect information of relevance to national security interests and to analyze its significance for policymakers. The President and other senior U.S. policymakers determine the requirements that establish what information is to be collected. Those requirements are then further refined by others further down the line. This goes all the way down to the level of the military officer in the field or the intelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the nature of old threats has changed and new threats have arisen. Intelligence requirements have changed accordingly. The proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is now a greater threat to national interests than the launch of strategic nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union. Many have argued that we should make better use of intelligence to support our international economic competitiveness.

An explosion in the amount of information available for collection and analysis is challenging existing information processing capabilities. Without an all-source workstation and sophisticated research and analytical tools, intelligence analysts run the risk of being swamped with information. The flood of information also raises questions about where collection efforts should be focused, both substantively and in terms of technical versus non-technical means. While collection by national technical means--imagery, signals intelligence, and other technical systems--remains vital to protecting our national security interests, the Gulf War highlighted its limits and underscored the need to increase human intelligence (HUMINT) collection. At the same time, technical collection will continue to require large budgetary allocations in order to meet the challenge of the development of ever-more-sophisticated technology worldwide.

Although the IC is best known for its collection of clandestinely acquired material, it also collects information overtly through the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). FBIS collects and translates information broadcast on foreign radio and television and published in foreign newspapers and magazines. Clandestine collection needs should be determined on the basis of gaps in the information available through "open sources." Open-source material includes information available to the general public or to a subset of the public through subscriptions or professional associations.

Some have argued that the IC should not be in the open-source collection business. Increasing budgetary constraints do not allow the Community the luxury of serving as a second-layer collector of open-source material that is already being collected by the private sector. Access to open-source material must be ensured, however, as its loss would damage analysis and potentially increase clandestine collection needs and costs.

The Community produces a myriad of products that inundate policymakers with more information than they could possibly process or need. The IC has come under pressure to eliminate duplication in its production. At present, five daily executive products are produced by the IC: the President's Daily Brief (CIA), the National Intelligence Daily (CIA with IC-wide input), the Secretary's Morning Summary (Department of State), National Military Joint Intelligence Center Daily (Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] with input from other IC members), and the SIGINT Digest (National Security Agency).

Part of the duplication problem is the result of a "publish or perish" system. In some parts of the Community, analysts are promoted on the basis of the quantity of their product, sometimes over the quality. Another part of the problem stems from the large number of analysts often devoted to working on the same issue. For instance, there are thousands of analysts at CIA, DIA, and the intelligence arms of the individual military services, many of whom are doing duplicative work in the military area. Worse yet, without a skills bank, the IC does not even know who is doing what.

However, efforts to eliminate all duplication risk eliminating competitive analysis. Opponents of one, giant IC-wide analytical agency point out that the present diversity "keeps all the players honest." This means that the risk of a single "cooked," or slanted, product misinforming policymakers is virtually eliminated. Thus, while redundancy should be eliminated in the interest of cost savings, care should be taken to maintain diversity.


1. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service and the Open Source Coordination Office should reexamine the mission of FBIS.

Its role as a collector of materials published or broadcast in foreign media should be maintained as the material collected is vital to analysis. However, it is time for a systematic review of its business areas and customer needs. FBIS has already begun this process with a review of its field collection network and its products.

2. The HUMINT program manager, in coordination with the National Intelligence Collection Board, should diversify HUMINT collection to cover new issues and areas where technical collection is becoming less productive.

The technical training of case officers should be improved to enable them to operate in a technologically advanced world. In addition, an effort should be made to accelerate diversity by recruiting a more ethnically diverse work force, which would blend better into non-European parts of the world. The CIA Directorate of Operations (DO) strategic plan addresses these concerns, but over the long term, IC risks significant intelligence gaps until the goals are achieved.

In certain parts of the world, where much information previously available only covertly is now available overtly, consider-ation should be given to decreasing the covert HUMINT and increasing the foreign service corps representation. Embassy reporting officers often are not able to devote as much time as they ideally should to overt collection because their time is occupied with administrative duties.

3. The new Intelligence Community Systems Board should create a multimedia information handling architecture for the IC to facilitate real-time communication between analysts and collectors here and abroad in the interest of pin-pointing collection gaps and weaknesses.

Collectors cannot operate in a void. While the requirements process is designed to provide a collection framework, it must be fine-tuned on a regular basis to keep up with a rapidly changing world. This fine- tuning is best achieved through regular contacts between the field and home.

The best way of improving communication is through electronic connectivity. For example, the barriers to communication between the DO and the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) at CIA are defined primarily by technology. At present, instant communication is limited to secure telephone links. A system must be designed to permit electronic communication between the DI and the DO; the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) in the Department of State and embassy political and economic officers; and DIA and Defense attaches. A recom-mendation for such a communication channel between INR and the embassies was made in the Department's State 2000 report, but has not been implemented.(1)

Improved communication would sharpen reporting and eliminate redundancy. On occasion, there is an overabundance of reporting on one issue and a lack on another. Rectifying such a problem in a timely manner is difficult under the current system. Better connectivity would help.

4. The IC Executive Committee should act on recommendations of ongoing reviews of classification policies and source identification.

The IC Joint Security Commission and Presidential Review Directive (PRD) 29 are looking at problems that arise from over-classification. Problems with over-classification abound in the Community. On a related issue, to the extent possible, sources should be identified with sufficient clarity to make the information they relay valuable to analysts and policymakers. Intelligence is more valuable to users when they know who the source is and can then account for biases that individuals may have.

5. The National Intelligence Council (NIC) should take the lead to integrate political, economic, and military analysis. Cross-fertilization should be increased by bringing IC analysts together to work on a particular issue more frequently, as is done on National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs).

Integration and cross-fertilization would improve the quality of analysis and decrease redundancy in production. Theoretically, the coordination process should ensure that integration occurs both within the individual agency and at the Community-wide level. Political, economic, and military analysis are often done in exclusion of each other. This results in extra products being written to correct faulty analysis in a previous product.

Cross-fertilization is important to eliminating redundancy and ensuring that the entire Community's views have been conveyed to policymakers. More products should identify the entire spectrum of IC positions. This would ensure that policymakers do not receive finished intelligence that has been skewed on the basis of the biases of one agency or watered down to accommodate the views of all. Such analyses would present the facts, followed by the divergent interpretations, when they exist, identified according to agency. All IC products also should state where there are gaps in intelligence.

6. The NIC should strengthen its role in conceptualizing analytic issues facing the Community, encouraging the development of alternative analyses, and improving the perception of it as a Community body rather than CIA.

Changes should be made in the NIC's structure. Although it brings together analytical assets from all intelligence agencies to prepare major intelligence estimates, it is perceived as a CIA institution. The NIC should have a core support staff similar to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made up of those assigned from the agencies to serve the entire IC. It should bring into its organization specialists in banking, immigration, disease, climate, and law enforcement procedure. It should also move away from its emphasis on political-military issues. As a group com-posed of insiders from and outsiders to the IC, the NIC is able to inform policymakers of the value intelligence brings to analysis.


The proposed recommendations would better enable collection to evolve with changing requirements and technological advances, better serving the customer. Integration would improve across the Community-- between collectors and analysts, across the "INTs," and among analysts--helping to reduce redundancy and duplication and to produce a better product. A restructured, strengthened NIC would help the Community work through new analytical challenges facing it.

The intensity of focus on collection systems over the past several decades has not been replicated by research and development of analytic tools and new database capabilities. Billions of bits of information are disposed of each day without ever being processed for possible value. There are capabilities being developed that could enable the extraction of valuable information, and more importantly, the development of user-friendly databases, without requiring human interaction. More resources must be expended in this arena, even at the expense of new collection systems.

Fiscal Impact

Savings would accrue from reductions in redundancy in production and subsequent downsizing of personnel in analytical and collection areas. There also could be savings if HUMINT collection were increased at the expense of technical systems. Endnote

1. U.S. Department of State, State 2000: A New Model for Managing Foreign Affairs (Washington, D.C., 1992), p. 68.

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