Former intel officials: Information sharing still not good enough

Nearly 10 years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. intelligence agencies are still functioning at below par levels when it comes to sharing information and acting as a seamless anti-terrorism unit, former intelligence officials have told Congress.

The officials, testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the wake of this month’s killing of Osama bin Laden, said that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was imperative to creating the high-functioning intelligence apparatus that spans multiple agencies and pools thousands of sources and analyses of information.

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But neither President Obama nor George W. Bush have used the DNI as Congress intended when it created the position in 2004 to act as the overseer of U.S. intelligence gathering agencies in an attempt to prevent the failure in communication that occurred on 9/11, the officials said.

As a result, the U.S. is vulnerable, they said.

“The authority that the Congress intended for the DNI to exercise is not now intact,” said Dennis Blair, the former DNI who served under both Obama and George W. Bush. 

“Currently, a portion of it has migrated back to the director of CIA on the one hand, and some to the National Security Council staff on the other hand. The result is a confusion of responsibilities, bureaucratic friction, but more important, potential gaps in intelligence that our adversaries can exploit.”

Blair called on Congress to push the White House to rely more heavily and strengthen the role that the DNI plays in providing a center fusion point for all U.S. intelligence.

“The success against Osama bin Laden should not cause us to rest on our oars,” said Blair. “We are a long way from an integrated intelligence community smoothly interacting with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, with integration being driven by a strong DNI and a competent staff, and I believe congressional action is indispensable to this goal.”

Former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who served for eight years on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that instead of looking to the DNI to be his principle intelligence advisor, President George W. Bush trusted Vice President Dick Cheney. And President Obama has turned to Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, she said.

“Neither president has adequately valued the DNI role, nor has either president made an adequate effort to support the mission,” said Harman, who resigned from Congress earlier this year to take over as the head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“This is something that I think Congress and those of us who agree with Congress should push harder on.”

Former deputy director of the CIA John Gannon said the DNI may need to have additional authority granted to it, in order to strengthen the position and role to the extent Congress envisioned when it passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

“Most importantly…the incumbent must have the visible and sustained backing of both the White House and the Congress, and it is questionable whether the DNI has this now,” said Gannon. “And this, in my judgment has been a major obstacle to progress. The DNI may need additional authorities.”

“I don't believe the DNI has adequate analytic resources to serve him in that critical role.”