Panel debates future of U.S. intelligence agencies

by Matthew Abbott | 11/8/05 6:00am

A number of panelists clashed in front of a large crowd in Filene Auditorium Monday night over the path intelligence agencies should take in protecting the United States.

The panel, entitled "The Future of U.S. Intelligence and National Security," was moderated by Kenneth Yalowitz, director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

Panelists included government professor R. Ned Lebow, former deputy director of central intelligence John McLaughlin and Laurence Silberman '57, co-chairman of the Silberman-Robb Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Silberman is also a federal appeals court judge.

All of the panelists opined on the problems the intelligence community faces in the coming century and offered suggestions for streamlining intelligence gathering and analyzing capabilities.

Lebow, who worked as a scholar-in-residence at the Central Intelligence Agency during the Carter and Reagan administrations, blamed many of the problems facing intelligence agencies on political influences.

"What I observed at the outset of the Reagan administration was the politicization of the agency," Lebow said.

Lebow blamed the Bush administration for further politicizing the CIA and only being interested in intelligence supporting certain predetermined policy objectives.

"What they have committed is not an intelligence failure but a fundamentally criminal act," Lebow said.

Lebow suggested that intelligence agencies need to be receptive to White House requests but also not be afraid to tell officials what intelligence priorities should be.

While Lebow's attacks on the Bush administration drew some applause from the audience, the other panelists were critical of his speech.

"I can remember a time at Dartmouth when college professors -- government professors -- didn't make political speeches," Silberman said.

Silberman said terrorist groups like al Qaeda present the most immediate threat to the United States and that greater integration and better leadership within the intelligence community is needed to counter these threats.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence should not become another level of bureaucracy, Silberman said, and the Director of National Intelligence should focus on tasks other than briefing the president daily.

"From what I hear, we may well be disappointed," Silberman said, referring to the new organization of intelligence agencies.

McLaughlin agreed with many of Silberman's points and added that significant changes are in store for the intelligence community in the coming years, citing differences between intelligence-related issues during the Cold War and today as an example.

"While America is now the world's only superpower, there is no certainty that this will be an American century as the last one surely was," McLaughlin said.

The central challenge for the intelligence community will be searching for meaningful data and fusing the information collected by various agencies, McLaughlin said as he argued for a better sense of community among the agencies now under the umbrella of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

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