Advancing a Free Society

Eyes on Spies

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ten years after 9/11, the least reformed part of America’s intelligence system is not the CIA or the FBI, but Congress. The September 11 terrorist attacks sparked major efforts to transform executive branch intelligence agencies such as the CIA and the FBI. These include the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the most sweeping intelligence restructuring since the establishment of the CIA in 1947; the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which combined twenty-two agencies and two hundred thousand employees to provide “one face at the border”; dramatic initiatives to transform the FBI from a law enforcement to a domestic intelligence agency; and the proliferation of more than seventy regional, state, and local terrorist fusion centers to integrate terrorist-threat reporting across the country.

Although reforms have generated some major successes—including the killing of Osama bin Laden this year—not all intelligence improvement efforts have actually produced improvements. Some reforms have failed. Many have not gone far enough or fast enough. Others have proven counterproductive, creating more red tape and fatigue than results. Recent terrorist plots, including the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, the 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber, and the May 2010 Times Square car bomb plot, remind us all too well that serious weaknesses remain in the American intelligence system.

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