Opinion Columns & Blogs

Gathering, sharing of intelligence improving

The following are edited remarks by Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence, at the Alfred M. Landon Lecture Series on Public Issues last week at Kansas State University:

Here we are, a little more than 20 years since the end of the Cold War, well into the information revolution, eight years since 9/11, and almost five years since the establishment of the director of national intelligence. How is it going?

Have we made the necessary changes to integrate the intelligence community, to provide timely and full intelligence support to our policymakers and to our officers in the field — military and civilian? Are we on top of developments in China, Iran and Afghanistan, as well as al-Qaida, the Sinaloa drug cartel and global warming? Can we both enable wise policies in these areas and support effective action?

My answer, after one year on this job, is that we are doing well, but we are not satisfied, and we must continue to evolve and improve.

Let's start with the integration of the community — the sharing of information and teamwork.

Overall, we're a more integrated community than we were five years ago. We do a better job of sharing intelligence, and we build mission teams to work on problems that bring together the skills of the different agencies.

While there are still instances in which intelligence is not shared with other agencies, they're fewer than before, and they're the exception, rather than the rule.

Our preliminary investigation of the unsuccessful bombing over Detroit on Christmas Day of last year was not that information was not shared — it was. In fact, the National Counterterrorism Center can access more than 50 different intelligence data sources. But that we were unable to put the different pieces of information available in the system together into a specific threat warning. We are now fixing that problem.

What about the agility of the intelligence community? Are we able to flex our resources, as new threats and priorities arise and as world events ebb and flow?

I believe we can.

Last year when the swine flu epidemic was a frightening threat that we didn't understand well, the intelligence community mobilized to gather the best information available on it. We had experts make sense of it, and we provided solid assessments to national decision makers on the potential extent of the epidemic under various conditions.

Although we did not keep Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab off the flight into Detroit on Christmas Day, last year we stopped Najibullah Zazi from an alleged plan for an attack in this country; arrested David Headley, who was involved in planning attacks on our friends and allies; and arrested several other Americans inspired by radical ideologies, who were planning to make attacks in this country.

Last September, years of painstaking work by the intelligence community led to an announcement by the president, along with the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the president of France, that the Iranians had been constructing a secret centrifuge facility to enrich uranium, and had been concealing it from the International Atomic Energy Commission.

These are a few examples of the excellent work being done by the intelligence community in new areas. But I can assure you that none of us believes we can rest on our oars — there is much work still to be done.