Albion Monitor /News

Spy Agencies Loathe Change

By Frank Sietzen, Jr.

Congress prodding intelligence agencies to work together

(AR) WASHINGTON -- In this city where federal agencies often place their interests and survival over the shape and direction of national policy, the central players in the U.S. intelligence community are finding themselves facing a "new world order" where cooperation with each other may replace the age old pattern of turf warfare. For the nation's civil intelligence agencies such as the CIA, FBI, and once super secret National Security Agency, these lessons are proving hard ones to learn.

This week Congress continued a process that has spanned several years and several congressional committees as well as their chairs: prodding the intelligence agencies to work together, and to use technologies more defined by cost effectiveness than cutting edge. The record on both, however, remains mixed.

Avoiding one of the players feeling its role was usurped or not given credit for its achievements

As an example, it turns out that the Justice Dept. has repeatedly sought data on organized crime in the former Soviet Union. Naturally, it turned to the CIA for some of that material. It does exist inside the secret agency's computers, of course. But it took months of pleading, begging, and memo writing to finally get the spymasters to open up their files. In fact, in testimony given to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Wednesday in Washington, the CIA at first rejected the request outright.

Deputy U.S. Atty. Gen. Jamie Gorelick told the Senate that the CIA said flatly that it had more important matters to attend to than responding to such requests and to another group's information needs. It took three months of bureaucratic war games to finally get a cooperative exchange effort underway.

CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith admitted to the Senate his agency's stalling, but pledged that the spychiefs have finally got the message. "We are learning how to work together (with other federal departments) within the limitations of the law, and other national security arenas, and the law enforcement community is starting to take advantage of our system" of collecting foreign intelligence data.

The CIA and Justice Departments are now finishing work on a first-ever interagency plan, Smith said, that will structure future data exchanges, define roles and responsibilities, and in the process make certain that cooperation can take place without one of the players feeling its role was being usurped, or not being given credit for its achievements in cases or research. Gorelick said that the process will also lead to an exchange of staff for joint task forces on terrorism, arms control, and drug trafficking. If that pact is successful in breaking down the bureaucratic barriers, it may become a model for crafting other agreements between the CIA and other intelligence organizations, in the military and elsewhere. Elimination of duplication of resources among such departments in the executive branch as well as DoD have long been goals of the Senate committee, under both Democratic and Republican majorities.

Military reluctant to use smaller, cheaper spy satellites

Winning the technology war may prove tougher. A conference committee of both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees failed to finish work this week on the FY96 intelligence budget when it encountered a major hurdle in the size and scope of the next generation of spy satellites.

The National Reconnaissance Office, the DoD agency that has jurisdiction over the nation's fleet of secret spaceships, is seeking more funds for its traditional constellations of huge satellites, which look down at ground targets with increasing precision. It has been said that such satellites can photograph the business card of a tourist standing in Red Square in Moscow from orbit. But now, technology has evolved to the point where much of these capabilities can be achieved by smaller, less expensive spacecraft -- so-called "smallsats."

The smallsat idea has a strong supporter in Rep. Larry Combest, (R-Texas), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Combest believes that billions can be trimmed from the spy budgets if the agencies and DoD moved to use the smaller craft. Billions more would be saved by switching to smaller -- and cheaper -- space boosters to loft them into orbit. But Combest's Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Washington) is concerned that a switch to the as yet unproven smallsat technology might be too risky, and put U.S. space intelligence gathering activities in danger.

The result has been an internal struggle within the House that burst out in the open last week. DoD tech chief Paul Kaminsky seemed to side with Dicks, saying in a House hearing that the smaller spacecraft needed more of a flight history before they could replace their bigger and more costly counterparts. So as the Congress works to craft the intelligence budget, the battle on how much to spend for spy spaceships remains unresolved. With several larger satellites -- and their huge $450 million apiece Titan IV rockets -- in storage waiting for those craft still in space to reach the end of their service life, the issue might be deferred for another year while Nasa and DoD fly smallsats for other tasks, gaining more experience with them in the process.

One thing remains clear, though. In the world of intelligence gathering, as well as so many others in Washington, old habits, both bureaucratic and technological, are hard to break.

Frank Sietzen, Jr. is military correspondent for The American Reporter.

Albion Monitor October 30, 1995 (

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