Building Leverage in the Long War: Ensuring Intelligence Community Creativity in the Fight against Terrorism

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Intelligence is often cited as a critical element inthe war against terrorism and, indeed, it is. TheU.S. intelligence community has a golden opportunityto develop the capabilities that will make adecisive difference in a war that may last a generationor more. The adversary will not disappear asthe campaign to root the al-Qaeda out ofAfghanistan winds down. It is essential that intelligencemake the transition to the longer-term fight,and the time to begin that transition is at hand.

The adversary is what some call self-organizedterrorism. It grows out of a struggle within theIslamic world between secularism and old traditions.With grassroots origins, the adversary willmorph and adapt, regroup, generate new leadership,shift geographic locus, adjust tactics, andevolve into a collection of cells and networks differentfrom the ones we have engaged fairly successfullysince September 11. The goal should beto minimize the frequency and scale of futurebattles against terrorism before their onsetrather than merely to enable the intelligencecommunity to support policy and military operationsonce crises are in full swing--a reactivetask it already does well.

In the war ahead, the adaptable nature of theadversary will demand an equally agile U.S. intelligenceeffort. More resources and better humanintelligence will help. But an agile intelligencecommunity will require something else: that theintelligence community at last dispense with theinternal barriers that stifle communications andcollaboration. Building an agile intelligencecapability will require that internal communicationsimprove, that robust and perhaps formalalliances with external centers of expertise beconstructed, and that a genuine multidisciplinaryanalytic effort blossom and achieve a creativeflair that is not typical of bureaucraticenterprises.

Metrics will be needed for measuring progressin the effort. They should include measures ofimproved communication within the intelligencecommunity, structures that connect theintelligence community to the best and thebrightest outside the world of intelligence, andindicators of true analytic innovation. Intelligentrisk taking and the ability of individual initiativeto overcome bureaucratic caution would be centralthemes in a successful effort.

James W. Harris

James W. Harris is senior analyst for Centra Technology and was formerly chief, Strategic Assessments Group, Directorate of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency.