WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2011 – The 9/11 attacks on the U.S. homeland forged a bond between the Defense Department and national-mission intelligence agencies that has never been stronger and that grows with each new challenge, defense officials said in the days before the tragedy’s 10th anniversary.
„The biggest change in intelligence capabilities since 9/11 has occurred within intelligence organizations … and not across them,“ Michael G. Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told American Forces Press Service.
„Improved intelligence is more about focus, priorities, additional capacity and new capabilities,“ he added.
Four of the five big national intelligence agencies are part of the Defense Department, Vickers said. These are the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.
The CIA is an independent agency whose primary customer is the president of the United States.
The need for improvement among intelligence agencies was addressed in the 2004 report of the National Commission of the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, called the 9/11 Commission.
According to the report, legal, policy and cultural barriers among federal agencies, including intelligence agencies, seriously impeded the kind of information sharing that might have disrupted the 9/11 attacks.
This month, in a „Tenth Anniversary Report Card“ to the nation on how commission recommendations have been implemented, 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton said key intelligence community relationships seem to be improving and moving in a constructive direction.
„Information sharing within the federal government and among federal, state, local authorities and with allies, while not perfect,“ the report authors said, „has considerably improved since 9/11.“
Part of the improvement results from an intelligence budget that has risen to more than $80 billion, more than double what was spent in 2001, they added, and federal, state and local authorities investigate leads and share information in 72 fusion centers and 105 joint terrorism task forces.
„The FBI, CIA and the broader intelligence community have implemented significant reforms,“ they said, „disrupting many plots and bringing to justice many terrorist operatives.“
In response to commission recommendations and to unify and focus the community, in 2004 Congress created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which assumed many functions of the positions of director and deputy director of Central Intelligence.
At the same time, Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the ODNI, with experts from the CIA, FBI, Defense Department and other agencies.
Creation of the Office of the ODNI and DNI „lets the CIA director focus on the core business of running the CIA and its many activities and operations,“ Vickers said.
The ODNI has provided more depth on such jobs as oversight of intelligence resources, he added, noting that managing the intelligence community was one of three jobs for the former director of central intelligence.
But new positions and centers do not drive the depth of integration occurring among DOD and national-mission intelligence agencies, he said.
Today, many „intelligence agencies are embedded in each other’s organizations,“ Vickers said, “ … and a lot of the integration has been horizontal and driven by mission and not imposed top down“ by the DNI.
„The analytical community had generally been pretty integrated,“ Vickers said, adding that there has been much more integration among those who perform operational intelligence functions.
„So [signals intelligence] and [geospatial intelligence] and others are embedded in each other’s organizations, we have more CIA representatives around in the commands, and there’s just a lot more organizational integration than there’s been in the past,“ Vickers added, noting that he speaks daily with the CIA acting director and the permanent deputy director.
These organizations, the undersecretary said, „have common cause like they’ve never had before and they need each other’s capabilities to get the job done.“
In Vickers‘ current position, he said among his top priorities are „to make sure we have even tighter integration between defense and national intelligence and between our special operations forces and intelligence, as demonstrated by the bin Laden raid.“
In the face of declining budgets, the undersecretary added, the intelligence community must maximize its capabilities.
„As we decide which technologies or resources to invest in, and how much structure to keep, it’s important that we do this across the intelligence community,“ Vickers said.
„The DNI, the secretary of defense and in my position as exercising authority, direction and control on behalf of the secretary,“ he added, „it’s very important that the three of us work that very closely.“
At the Defense Intelligence Agency, Deputy Director for Analysis Jeffrey N. Rapp said integration among DOD, DIA and the rest of the intelligence community is „one of the really big success stories for DIA.“
Collaboration with DOD sister agencies such as NSA and NGA has been „superb,“ Rapp said, and has improved with other agencies in the intelligence community, including CIA.
„Our analysts certainly work very well together,“ Rapp said. „On a daily basis they interact and collaborate on production,“ including products that go to the president.
The deputy director for analysis said he and his CIA counterpart meet regularly and work together in several intelligence forums, and that the organizations jointly host analytic conferences.
„They attend our conferences and we attend theirs,“ he added, „so they’re full-blown members and collaborative partners on a wide variety of topics and production areas for us.“
Internally, Rapp said, DIA has become an expeditionary combat support agency.
„We’ve got almost 150 analysts deployed forward right now,“ he said. „I don’t think that was the pattern pre-9/11. In certain niche areas we’d deploy an analyst here or there, but DIA in my view really stepped up to the plate in terms of providing subject matter expertise and analytic capability.“
As DIA has engaged over the past decade in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Rapp said, information sharing with coalition partners has improved dramatically.
„The agencies have realized a need to do this to enable mission accomplishment at the front end, so you see highly integrated efforts on the battlefield where information has perishability, it’s operationally focused and it’s needed to conduct operations,“ he said.
„Everybody’s come to the table on that,“ Rapp added. „When you go forward, you find CIA, NSA, NGA, DIA — everybody working together right there on the floor in a tactical operations center or supporting a command. It’s really pretty remarkable the kind of collaboration and integration that’s going on to enable operations.“
As far back as Desert Storm, he said, there was sharing but it was clunky — stovepiped in some places, pro forma in others.
„Today it’s much more enabled because leadership at the highest levels in the ODNI, in the agencies, have gotten behind it and figured out a way to do it without compromising sensitive material and sources,“ Rapp said.
Joint duty has also helped foster integration, the deputy director for analysis said.
In 1986 Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act, mandating that promotion to high rank in the military services required duty with a different service or a joint command.
In 2007, then-DNI Mike McConnell signed implementing instructions for the intelligence community’s Civilian Joint Duty Program, a civilian personnel rotation system.
„That’s starting to make a difference as we send our personnel out to work in other agencies and within the community in other positions,“ Rapp said.
„They come back with a different understanding of how those agencies [and those cultures] work and how they do business, and … other agencies send folks here and get that same understanding.“
All over the intelligence community, Rapp said, leadership at all levels stresses collaboration.
„If leadership isn’t … demanding that it be made a part of the culture, it doesn’t happen,“ he said, „And leadership is truly committed at many levels to try to make this work better.“
Perhaps the most visible result of the increased integration among defense and national-mission intelligence agencies was the successful assault this year on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden.
„Having been at CIA on the day of the Bin Laden operation, that was for me a crystallizing moment,“ George Little, who served as director of public affairs during Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s tenure as CIA director, told American Forces Press Service.
„It wasn’t about what uniform you wear or what badge you wear or what organization you work for,“ said Little, who is now press secretary for the Defense Department.
„Both the U.S. military and the CIA were one team, one fight, and in this case one operation,“ he added. „It’s a vivid and obviously high-profile example of the cooperation that can take place and I think that’s going to continue.“
On the 9/11 Commission’s description of barriers to information sharing among intelligence agencies, Little said the important point to realize „is that on 9/12, both organizations immediately went to work to protect the nation and have been at a wartime ops tempo ever since.“
In the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Little said, „a sign hangs to this day that says, ‚Today is 9/12.‘ And I think both the CIA and the U.S. military are operating with that kind of sense of purpose.“
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)