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NIC Chairman: Challenges to US Intelligence

John Gannon, Chairman, National Intelligence Council
"Challenges to US Intelligence"

October 13, 1997

Good evening. It’s a pleasure to be here in Syracuse to participate in this National Security Management Course. Of course, you prayed to get LTG John Gordon, our soon-to-be Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. So, I’m not what you prayed for, but I am the answer to your prayers. I know you’ve had a full day talking to Rich Haver about the Intelligence Community’s work. It’s always tough being the after dinner speaker after a long day. I’ll try to keep you awake...I don’t mind if you look at your watches when I’m speaking--as long as you don’t start shaking them to make sure they’re working!

As some of you may know, I was formerly Deputy Director for Intelligence--head of CIA’s analytic arm. Managing an organization of that size on a tight budget with changing priorities was quite a challenge. Last month DCI Tenet asked me to become chairman of the National Intelligence Council, or NIC. The Council consists of senior officials and experts from throughout the Intelligence Community, the military, academia, and private industry. We draw together analysts from throughout the Intelligence Community to produce studies--National Estimates, or NIEs--on issues critical to US national security. So I’m now wearing a different hat and looking at intelligence challenges from the perspective of the overall Intelligence Community rather than just from the CIA perch. In my previous job--where I had to make some tough decisions about resources, funding, and positions--you might say I wore a hard hat. As Chairman of the NIC, I’m still making tough decisions, but since I now have a broader focus, I guess I’m now wearing a sombrero. Make that a wide- brimmed steel sombrero...

It should come as no surprise that, for intelligence professionals, there is life after the Cold War, albeit a changed life. The Clinton administration has looked at the post-Cold War world and set new intelligence priorities in a way that confirms the continued need for a strong US intelligence service. The debate will continue, of course, on how much of an intelligence service we need, on what its role should be in a fast-changing word in technological revolution, and on how much the American people are willing to pay for this service. And, I should add, we also are having a useful discussion on how best to do strategic intelligence estimates in this new era. This, I firmly believe, is as it should be in a healthy democracy.

There is no debate, however, that there is a continuing need for good intelligence on key states, regional conflicts, and transnational issues such as terrorism, organized crime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, chemical, and biological. We have to understand that new developments can, in ways different from during the Cold War, threaten vital US interests. The threats to our nation’s physical and economic security are more complicated, more dispersed, more difficult to detect, and tougher to defend against than in the past.

Let me highlight for you five general categories of challenges:

  • First, there are the great powers in transition: Russia and China. Each unique, both nuclear armed, both undergoing major economic transformations, both of concern to their neighbors and to us.


  • Second, there are those non-democratic states whose hostile policies undermine regional stability and threaten, directly or indirectly, our interests abroad, including Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.


  • Third, there are transnational issues that transcend country and region and could strike any of us at home or abroad with little notice: terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international organized crime and drug trafficking, and threats to our information and computer systems.


  • Fourth, there are regional hotspots, where tensions between nations can erupt into conflict, cost lives, and take unpredictable turns: the Middle East, the South Asian subcontinent, Bosnia, and the Aegean.


  • The fifth category we can just call humanitarian crises. From Bosnia to Burundi, there are states and regions immersed in ethnic conflict, civil war, natural disaster, forced migration, refugees, disease, and starvation. These crises have resulted in heavy demands on US intelligence, diplomacy, and military capabilities.





Providing American policymakers, warfighters, and negotiators with good intelligence on each of these issues is a complex and difficult undertaking. But it is just as important to our security and well-being as ever. Failure to collect and analyze information on these issues today only risks a heavier diplomatic or military price to pay down the road.

The Role of the NIC

The National Intelligence Council has a special role to play in preparing policymakers for the challenges ahead. The NIC produces intelligence products that look beyond today’s horizon--from six months to a decade or more--and point out potential potholes. National Intelligence Estimates are coordinated--and agreement does not always come easy--by the heads of the various intelligence agencies--CIA, DIA, the State Department, the military services, Treasury, Energy, and sometimes the FBI--so that policymakers get the views of the entire Intelligence Community in a single document. When agencies disagree about a major judgment, we say so. And we believe the end-product is worth the sometimes heated battles at coordination meetings, even though we need to reduce the time it takes to capture such debate in a finished draft.

In the last year or so, the NIC has produced NIEs and a variety of other papers on a wide range of issues--including weapons of mass destruction, humanitarian emergencies, narcotics trafficking, the environment and critical regions and countries all over the globe.

The NIC also brings experts from outside the Intelligence Community to get their perspectives--and this will be an increasingly important value added by the NIC for an Intelligence Community that is relying on outside expertise more than ever before. For example, in Fall 1996 the NIC and the Institute for National Strategic Studies held a series of conferences at National Defense University to identify key global trends and their impact on major regions and countries. The exercise was designed to help predict and assess major features of the world in the year 2010. Participants in the conferences were drawn from academe, journalism, business, the US Government, and other professions. Following the conference, the NIC published a document outlining likely global trends in the year 2010. I’d like to mention a few of the findings.

Over the coming decades, the United States will face six global trends that will help shape its national security policies:

First, population will increase by 1.2 billion to over seven billion by 2010. About 95% of this growth will be in developing countries. This growth will be accompanied by increased urbanization: about half of the world’s population will live in cities compared with one third today. There will be many more mega-cities with populations in excess of 8 million, mostly in developing countries. Countries such as Mexico and Saudi Arabia that hold key geopolitical positions will be among those heavily affected by population pressures. In some societies a “youth bulge”—the growing number of people between 15 and 24—will strain educational systems, infrastructure, and the job market. Population growth will also fuel migration pressures—Haiti’s population, for example, is expected to double over the next 20 years.

For the industrialized world, the population problem will not be associated with growth but with increasing life spans and decreasing birth rates. The “Social Security-Medicare” debate already reverberating throughout the developed world will become even more acute. Governments will struggle to provide social welfare and health services to an aging population, while the labor force—the pool whose taxes help finance these services—shrinks.

In the Former Soviet Union the issue is not buttressing a safety net, but creating one to cope with a wide range of economic and social problems, the solutions to which will take many years of concerted effort in health, environmental, and economic policies. The extent of Russia’s demographic ills is reflected in a sharp and unprecedented decline in male life expectancy.

Second, the NIC study points to a growth in per capita income. The study projects real growth in per capita income of over 2% per year between now and 2010. Growth will be uneven; not every state, nor every citizen in every state, will benefit equally. Some will not benefit at all, or may lose out. The pace of technological change will be rapid and the fear of being left behind will lead to tensions between countries— and within them— as income gaps widen. More winners will be in East Asia and the West; more losers will be in Africa and the Middle East. Among relative losers will be those states that, unwilling to accept the consequences of their failure will resort to force to alter their status.

Growth will increase demands on infrastructure— such as water, energy, communications, waste disposal, urban transportation, public health, housing, and education. Failure to accommodate these demands will trigger disaffection with government, emotional backlashes against modernization— and clashes against Western policies, philosophies, and presence.

The third trend will be the problem of feeding a burgeoning population. According to the experts who drafted the NIC study, the problem is not agriculture or science, but rather political stability, transportation and distribution. Indeed, food production is likely to keep pace with overall demand. The authors anticipate genetic engineering fueling a fourth agricultural revolution by the end of this time span. As in the past, shortages will be man-made. Serious pockets of poverty will put people in developing countries— particularly in Africa— at risk of death from disease and starvation.

The fourth trend is that the continued digital data and communications revolution will shrink distances and weaken barriers to the flow of information. Communications technology will become so inexpensive that most countries will be able to pay the cost of connecting to the global information infrastructure. Optical fiber will add enormous capacity for data transmission among nodes around the globe. The United States, Europe, Asia, and Latin America will be in the forefront of this communications revolution. To compete, businesses will continue to move beyond regional or national perspectives to optimize global trade. Governments will benefit from the success of these businesses. However, communications will also thwart their efforts of government to control the flow of information, which will undermine authority over time.

The fifth trend is that growing populations and per capita income will drive the demand for more energy, particularly as the Chinese and Indian economies expand. By 2010 the world will require added production of petroleum on the order of what OPEC produces now. Technological advances, however, can meet this demand. Problems will arise not out of overall shortages but out of short term disruptions in the flow of oil stemming from political-military instabilities. Improvements in the efficiency of solar cells and batteries will result in greater use of these and other renewable energy resources, but they are unlikely to significantly affect global reliance on fossil fuels during this time period.

The sixth and final trend outlined in the study pertains to military technology & deterrence. Precision-guided munitions and information technologies will be the hallmarks of the revolution in military affairs. Other countries will have technologically advanced military equipment at their disposal, obtained from arms merchants and other governments. However, no power will be able to match US battlefield technological capabilities at lest up to 2010, and potential adversaries are unlikely to repeat Iraq’s mistake in challenging the United States via set-piece conventional warfare.

For our adversaries, of course, technological inferiority will not mean acquiescence. Our enemies will attempt to blunt our military superiority in other ways: improving capabilities relative to their neighbors, and using unconventional and often asymmetric means—ranging from the increased use of terrorism to the possible use of weapons of mass destruction. Because of the high cost in developing a nuclear capability, these countries will focus more on chemical and biological weapons. Their aims will be to threaten our allies, undermine our presence in their respective regions, and weaken US public support for use of the US military abroad. In sum, our military technological prowess will not be enough to guarantee that our interests will be protected, and we may find what some would call a “doctrine of massive technological superiority” as limited in the future as the doctrine of massive retaliation was forty years earlier.

Some governments will have the capacity to manage change, others will be overwhelmed by it. Yet even those who successfully manage transitions cannot remain immune from the consequences of those who do not.

The Challenges for US Intelligence

To be better prepared for the challenges, US intelligence must look ahead to where we want to be in five to 10 years. We will need a flatter, leaner, more agile Intelligence Community that continuously exploits the most recent advances in technology. We must have the right mix of skills, tools, and organization to get the job done in an increasingly competitive environment. The tools we need include secure communications, networked computer systems, and an electronic database that currently contains 28 million classified and unclassified documents.

Our vast information holdings and ability to tap new sources help us to address the most sensitive issues--such as indicators of war on the Korean Peninsula and the status of Iran's nuclear program. Increasingly, we need to tailor our products to meet policymakers’ needs for precise, actionable intelligence. We’re asked questions that range from, “Where-- precisely at what geographic coordinates--are weapons of mass destruction buried in Iraq?” to "What is the width of the drainpipe at a certain Sarajevo brewery?" It happens all the time.

Dwight Eisenhower once said “Things are more like they are today than they have ever been before.” Some Americans may have found comfort in this forty years ago. But no more!

To quote science fiction writer Arthur Clark, “the future ain’t what it used to be.” Advances in technology have made intelligence faster, more efficient, and often more valuable to the customer. But it has also forced us to take a hard look at how we organize ourselves to harness available technology and position ourselves for new technologies. Over the past several years, we have begun a process of collapsing, consolidating, and reorienting programs to help us use scarce resources more effectively in the years ahead.

We have also taken steps to ensure our professionals are close to our customers and their agendas. Likewise, we have formed partnerships with our counterparts responsible for collecting intelligence. Busy decisionmakers should not have to wait passively for vital information from spies, satellites, and other collection platforms; we want to help them to get the answers they need quickly and effectively.

This leads me to our final, and most important, area of emphasis: getting the right people for the job. As they say, “it isn’t the number of people employed in a business that makes it successful, it’s the number working.” By consolidating our structure, we will be better positioned to support career-long learning by allowing a certain percentage of our work force to go "off line" for training and professional development. At a time of downsizing and tight funding, the Intelligence Community must work harder than ever to ensure that our people--some of the most talented and dedicated people in government and industry--have the training, tools, and resources they need to perform this vital mission. We know we need resources for new initiatives, and we recognize that they must come out of hide--especially to meet our need for expertise building. We also know that adaptation to change must be continuous in today’s world.

And part of that learning must come through deeper and more regular interaction with experts outside government. We are encouraging our employees to reach out and develop stronger contacts with academia and business. In a world where American investment, technology, and trade is spreading at a rapid clip, the more interaction we have with experts outside the government, the better equipped we will be to inform policy. A continuing dialogue with the American people can only make us better.



Clearly, we’ve got our job cut out for us. In the intelligence business, yesterday’s formula for success could be tomorrow’s recipe for failure. How will we--and the policymakers we serve, and the American people-- measure our success? You can't put a precise number on this because our work is often measured in American lives saved, conflicts averted, or market niches opened. Consider the value of good intelligence for our troops in Bosnia; the early warnings against terrorist acts; the interdiction of dangerous weapons technology to a hostile country; the arrest of drug kingpins in Latin America, or the prevention of violent regional conflict.

I am confident that top policymakers, who often do know how good we are, will continue to appreciate the constructive role intelligence plays in their work. I also believe that by engaging Congress and the American people, we will have public support from citizens who, while not knowing all we do, will understand that we are fighting real threats to their democracy.

And now--to those of you who are still awake--I look forward to hearing your questions and comments.

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:56 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 07:58 AM