Copyright 2000 U.P.I.The CIA's new annual report to Congress says the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999 was "a painful wake-up call."
United Press International
May 15, 2000, Monday
Secret CIA Document Spelled Out Intelligence Failuresby Pamela Hess
What the report does not say is CIA Director George Tenet himself had sounded the alarm a full two months before the bombing.
Tenet issued a secret document in March 1999 outlining the weaknesses of American intelligence and setting a course for improvement. One of his top concerns was getting intelligence databases in shape for the military's day-to-day use, rather than updating them when a major crisis hits.
"To support these operations on a more-or-less continuous basis, the Intelligence Community must develop accurate and current databases - not just post-warning surge," stated Tenet in his "Strategic Intent for the United States Intelligence Community."
Exhaustive post-mortems by the Defense Department of the May 1999 bombing during the Kosovo war revealed a series of mistakes, but none more critical than the intelligence communities' failure to update a targeting database. When the database was checked against the Air Force's target list, it failed to identify the building that would be in the bomb's cross hairs.
A B-2 bomber dropped two 2,000 pound satellite-guided bombs on the building at midnight May 7, 1999 - killing three and plunging U.S.-Chinese relations into a deep freeze.
"The accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was a painful wake-up call. It reminded us of the critical importance of keeping our data bases current," Tenet states in his new 1999 Annual Report to Congress this month.
"We were reminded this year that we must maintain our vigilance in areas that are considered routine or can fall into neglect," he says.
In November 1999, a senior intelligence official spoke to Pentagon reporters about the errors that led to the bombing.
"The bottom line is: these (data bases) that were used to do verifications of the targeting were not up to date, and we need to find out why," he said.
The Strategic Intent, now a year into implementation, paints a pretty clear picture why.
It portrays an intelligence apparatus caught by surprise by technological advances and falls short of having key capabilities, but one that recognizes the need to shed its Cold War insularity if it is to keep up with the myriad new threats to U.S. national security.
In rare instances, the largely bureaucratic tone of the 18-page glossy document gives way to frank admissions of the intelligence agencies' failures.
"Some (recipients of the intelligence product) say that they get more out of the open press than from our intelligence reporting," the report states, adding the "processes that served us in the past have not kept pace with the new information age."
The intelligence communities' traditional sources and methods no longer equip it to meet the demands of a new world order where terrorists and transnational groups pose as great a threat as hostile nations, according to the secret document, a copy of which was obtained by United Press International.
The changing nature of the threats to the United States "suggests that we need to focus our resources against hard target countries and cover the rest of the world - and we do not have the depth or breadth to do this today."
"As the boundaries between foreign and domestic threat become increasingly blurred and transnational threats post new challenges, we will be called upon to perform new roles, take on new missions and adapt our capabilities," the document states.
"Traditional sources and methods will be of limited use in penetrating terrorist cells, providing evidence of biological or chemical weapons programs, and giving precise indication and warning of impending crises in countries where non-state actors are as influential as the government."
With dramatic increases in funding unlikely, intelligence agencies will probably never be able to keep close tabs on everything critical, Tenet admits in "Strategic Intent."
"It means that we will have to take calculated risks in some areas of the world," the document states. Tenet also warns that enemies are getting better at hiding their intentions.
"Potential adversaries are becoming increasingly adept in deception and denial operations, further reducing the effectiveness of current collection and analysis," he writes. "Development of new, innovative techniques will be critical to future success."
Congress has taken note of these limitations.
"We have, as a nation, yet to meet the challenges we are facing around the world. The static lines of the Cold War have fallen away and left us facing pop-up targets that threaten our national security," stated Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on May 10. "In this new and fluid environment and after years of being hollowed out, we are woefully short on having the eyes and ears that can peer into the dark corners and pick up the plans of rogue regimes, hostile leaders, terrorists, narco-traffickers, and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction."
The committee approved a bill that increases modernization funding for the National Security Agency, extra money for the CIA's overseas operations and more funding for technological improvements at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA).
But there is an "up" side to the dilemma facing the increasingly overworked and arguably under funded intelligence agencies, including the CIA, Defense Department, National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, NIMA and elements within the Justice, Commerce and Energy Departments. It provides the incentive for the disparate agencies to pool their resources and share their work, with the hoped for result more accurate and timely intelligence.
"Some organizational autonomy will have to be sacrificed at times for the greater good of the community," Tenet warns in the document.
It's not a new idea, according to Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy, sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank and advocacy group.
"Every once in while something manages to push it higher up on the agenda and make the so-called intelligence community into an actual community with mutual interests," Aftergood told UPI.
"There's a constant tension between independence and protection of turf on the one hand and an impulse toward greater coordination on the other. The creation of the CIA itself was an attempt to integrate intelligence across various bureaucratic boundaries.
"They are all competing for budget share and each of them wants to make its name and justify its existence as a separate component. It creates a natural tension," Aftergood said.
Aftergood offered the Indian and Pakistani nuclear blasts in 1998 which the CIA failed to predict as a reason why the agencies have to relinquish their traditional fiefdoms.
"It's a major and continuing embarrassment," Aftergood said. "But because in retrospect there was evidence available of the intention to test, available even in open sources, there are grounds to suspect that there was inadequate coordination. Information didn't get to where it needed to go," he said.
The bombing of the Chinese Embassy was similarly preventable. Officers at several agencies knew the location of the embassy but at no time during the targeting approval process in the military, the CIA and the White House was that information offered.
A senior military intelligence official told UPI on the condition of anonymity he has seen a slight improvement in the way the intelligence agencies are working together since "Strategic Intent" was published but said there is a long way to go.
Tenet apparently agrees.
"Our strategy . . .will not provide remedies for every deficiency," he notes.
Tenet envisions developing a cadre of intelligence officers that moves fluidly across the agencies and services, bringing to the job an overview of the wider mission.
And at a time when the Energy and State Departments are clamping down on foreign access to information and facilities, Tenet wants more foreign input into intelligence work.
"We will need to work more frequently with outsiders in industry, academia, other government agencies and allied countries who can help us," the document states. "With expanded global communications, we can collaborate better with our allies across national bordersbenefiting from foreign expertise and access."
Tenet wants an intelligence apparatus that relies more heavily on technology and untraditional sources and methods, moves quickly and provides more intelligence to the military than ever before.
The CIA in particular has long seen its mission as providing strategic information to top policy makers, while the military services provided their own battlefield intelligence. Yet one of the "desired outcomes" of Tenet's program is to provide "real-time availability of intelligence to the military during crisis and conflict."
Aftergood says that is a reflection of a change in priorities on Capitol Hill.
"It's a combination of factors -- pressure from congressional leaders and the weakening of civilian diplomacy. The State Department begs for (money) from Congress while the military is on an upward slope. Intelligence is thinking military is where the action is, not support to diplomacy," Aftergood said.
"Strategic Intent," has been scrubbed of classified information and is now available publicly as "Strategic Direction," according to a CIA spokesman.