Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Intelligence Reform

| July 2009

Memo in report <em>Confrontation or Collaboration? Congress and the Intelligence Community</em>

This originally apeared as an Issue Memo (pp. 56-61) in the report Confrontation or Collaboration? Congress and the Intelligence Community, a publication of The Intelligence and Policy Project of Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.


The Intelligence Community's (IC) failure to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks and inaccuracies in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program resulted in widespread calls for reform. In late 2004, Congress passed intelligence reform legislation that led to the most significant reorganization of the IC in decades. More than four years after passage of the legislation, members of the 111th Congress will likely need to assess the effectiveness of the reform legislation.

This memo provides an overview of intelligence reform efforts since 2004.

The Need for Reform

Prior to 9/11, the nation's intelligence agencies remained poised for a single, traditional enemy and needed to adapt to a post-Cold-War threat environment. It was only after al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. that intelligence reform became a top priority for lawmakers. Several bipartisan and independent commissions reviewed the state of the IC and identified several areas for reform:

  • Central Leadership: The Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) lacked the institutional or budgetary power to lead, direct, and coordinate efforts across the IC.
  • Information Sharing: Bureaucratic structures and complex policies impeded, even prevented, sharing of important intelligence among the IC and other government agencies, particularly law-enforcement organizations. This highlighted the need for these communities to transform from a culture of "need-to-know" to one of a "responsibility-to-provide."
  • Priority Setting: The IC did not sufficiently link and coordinate intelligence collection requirements to broader national security priorities.
  • Collection and Analysis: Multiple investigations revealed weakness in the IC's human intelligence (HUMINT) collection efforts and cited the need for greater integration of analysis and collection disciplines.
  • Human Capital: The number of people working in intelligence had atrophied since the Cold War. While well-positioned for an enemy like the Soviet Union, the profile of a generic intelligence analyst had not evolved culturally, demographically, or linguistically to target diverse threats in a new environment.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA)

The 9/11 attacks and concerns about the poor analysis of the Iraq WMD NIE created a sense of urgency for immediate, dramatic reform of the IC. In September 2004, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA). The IRTPA initiated the most dramatic reform of the IC since its creation. Reform efforts initially met some resistance from some members of Congress.

  • Some expressed concern that a national intelligence director with control of defense intelligence assets could interfere in the chain of command between the Secretary of Defense and field commanders.
  • Other members of the House Armed Services Committee opposed the IRTPA bill and sought to protect the authority of the Department of Defense over its national intelligence assets.
  • The Bush administration, however, supported the legislation and pushed for compromises that protected the Pentagon's authorities while still creating the needed national intelligence authority to focus, guide, and coordinate the IC.

The IRTPA addressed many areas of reform, including organizational and leadership reforms.

Organizational and Leadership Reforms

In an effort to improve the organizational effectiveness of the IC, the IRTPA established:

  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI): The new cabinet-level DNI replaced the ‘dual-hatted' Director of Central Intelligence as the independent leader of the nation's intelligence enterprise, designed to set policy and priorities, promote collaboration, and leverage the total capability of the IC to serve the nation.
  • IRTPA established interagency centers, aligning analysis, collection, and operations from IC entities together under one roof to foster collaboration.
    • The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC): NCTC coordinates and integrates analysis of terrorism threats to the United States and its interests overseas.
    • The National Counterproliferation Center (NCPC): NCPC coordinates the strategic planning of intelligence support to monitor and stop the spread of nuclear weapons and related technologies worldwide.

Information Sharing

Recognizing the value of information sharing to promote national security objectives, the ODNI created:

  • Information Sharing Environment (ISE): This partnership between all levels of the U.S. Government (including law enforcement), the private sector, and foreign allies, bridges the gap between foreign and domestic intelligence responsibilities and fosters sharing of timely and actionable terrorism information. Rather than creating a new information sharing system, ISE aligns and improves existing structures and facilitates integration through initiatives such as state and local fusion centers.
  • Collaborative Technology Tools: ODNI continues to develop online applications to foster a culture of collaboration and improved information sharing. The use of classified encyclopedia-style webpages that any person with a clearance can modify (termed ‘Intellipedia'), social networking sites like A-Space, and searchable databases such as the IC's Library of National Intelligence, capitalize on today's technology to encourage greater community collaboration and virtual integration.

Priority Setting

To organize and lead the IC into the post-9/11 threat environment, the ODNI initiated overarching efforts to identify, articulate, and align priorities for the IC, including:

  • National Intelligence Strategy of the United States of America (NIS): Based on the National Security Strategy, this document outlines objectives directed toward transforming the IC.
  • The 100 and 500 Day Plans for Integration and Collaboration: These task-oriented documents serve as a roadmap for implementation of the NIS, focusing on initiatives such as transforming collection and analysis, implementing best business practices, and enhancing information sharing and collaboration.
  • Mission Managers: These high-level intelligence executives serve as the manager of intelligence efforts focusing on key hard targets like Iran, North Korea and terrorism. The mission managers identify key information requirements and then design strategies to improve collection and analytic efforts to answer those requirements.

Human Capital

Per requirements levied in the intelligence reform legislation, the ODNI initiated several initiatives to improve and streamline the IC's use of human capital:

  • Quantity and Quality: The 2006 ODNI Five Year Strategic Human Capital Plan outlined several initiatives to broaden the IC talent pool and compensate employees according to performance. This enterprise initiative was followed by the establishment of the National Intelligence Civilian Compensation Program.
  • Interagency Exchange: To further collaboration and a culture of integrated enterprise in its workforce, ONDI created the Joint Duty Program. Mirrored after the Goldwater-Nichols concept of "jointness" in the military, the IC Joint Duty Program requires IC employees to complete a 12-month rotation in another agency as a prerequisite for promotion to senior ranks, demonstrating an emphasis on interagency cooperation in the IC's future leadership.
  • Security Clearance Improvement: Because the process of obtaining security clearances was complicated and redundant, the IRTPA called for reciprocity between clearances at the same level and established entities to manage the clearance process and conduct clearance investigations. For example, the Joint Security Clearance Process Reform Team, an ODNI-DoD team, works to modernize the reciprocal security clearance recognition between the IC and the military.

Collection and Analysis

Some in the ODNI recognized the need to organize and make more efficient the collection and analysis process of the IC in the post-9/11 threat environment through:

  • HUMINT Collection: To address the evolving and transnational nature of today's security environment, the IC is trying to upgrade its HUMINT capabilities.
  • Increased Integration of Collection and Analysis: Linking collectors and analysts to further refine information requirements is an IC priority. Such closer collaboration fosters not only a greater sense of community and information sharing but also increases precision and clarity in analytic assessments for policymakers because analysts better understand limits in collection and information.
  • Alternative Analysis: The 9/11 and WMD Commissions identified "devil's advocate" and alternative analyses processes to be essential to improving the IC's ability to critically analyze information and anticipate unexpected future threats and challenges for policymakers.

Nevertheless, the ODNI Inspector General in early 2009 publicly released a report faulting the ODNI for failing to achieve its longstanding goals of integrating the IC and sharing information. The report stated:

  • "The majority of the ODNI and IC employees (including many senior officials)... were unable to articulate a clear understanding of the ODNI's mission, roles, and responsibilities with respect to the IC."
  • The ODNI sends conflicting tasks and messages to the IC, "...thereby undermining the ODNI's credibility and fueling assertions that the ODNI is just an ‘additional layer of bureaucracy.'"
  • The ODNI staff's authorities are unclear, encouraging some agencies " go their own way, to the detriment of the unified and integrated intelligence enterprise envisioned by IRTPA." Compounding this issue is that IC computer systems are "largely disconnected and incompatible."

Issues for the 111th Congress

Challenges with the IC remain; in particular, Congress should assess:

  • Organizational and Leadership Reforms: Some agencies resisted the creation of the ODNI because of concerns that it would infringe upon their roles and responsibilities and add another layer of bureaucracy.
  • Bureaucratic Bloat: While most experts agree that a central leader dedicated to managing the whole of the IC is valuable, the ODNI may have grown too quickly and too large. Members of Congress should continue to review the size, structure, and effectiveness of ODNI.
  • Information Sharing: While a marked improvement since 9/11, information sharing between law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies remains a challenge. For example, a 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report assessed the U.S. still lacks effective policies and processes for sharing counterterrorism information and cited inconsistent classification rules as an impediment to exchanging intelligence.



Cumming, Alfred, FBI Intelligence Reform Since September 11, 2001: Issues and Options for Congress, CRS Report 4 August 2004. Accessed at

Fingar, Thomas, "Intelligence Reform," Council on Foreign Relations, 18 March 2008. Accessed at

Graham, Bob, et al "World at Risk: The Report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism," Vintage Books: New York.

Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (H.Rpt. 108-796 -)

National Intelligence Strategy for the United States of America, October 2005.

"Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project Based on Consultations With Nongovernment Experts Around the World." National Intelligence Council. December 2004.

Progress of the DNI in Implementing the IRTPA May 2006. Accessed at

Report to the President of the United States, The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. 31 March 2005

Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq. 19 March 2009.

Walker, David M., Comptroller General of the United States United States Government Accountability Office GAO Testimony.

"GAO Can Assist the Congress and the Intelligence Community on Management Reform Initiatives." 29 February 2008. 19 March 2009

White House Fact Sheet: Reforming and Strengthening Intelligence Services, 8 September 2004. Accessed at


Read and download the full report:

Confrontation or Collaboration? Congress and the Intelligence Community

Download this memo:

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rosenbach, Eric and Aki Peritz. "Intelligence Reform." Memorandum, "Confrontation or Collaboration? Congress and the Intelligence Community," Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, July 2009.

The Authors

Eric Rosenbach