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How 9/11 Transformed the Intelligence Community
It's no longer about 'need to know.' Our guiding principle is 'responsibility to share.'
By James R. Clapper
Wednesday, September 7, 2011 – The Wall Street Journal – Page A15
It has been a decade since our nation suffered the greatest strategic surprise on American soil
since the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the aftermath of September 11, as the country sought to
understand how such a complex attack could go undetected, much attention was focused on
the intelligence community. Pundits, scholars, commentators and others quickly labeled 9/11
an intelligence failure.
Some suggested that on 9/11 the intelligence community was still operating in a Cold War
mindset with too much of its attention and resources focused on threats from nation-states.
Others argued that intelligence agencies were resistant to change and unwilling to work
together. The belief that intelligence agencies failed to link critical fragments of information
that could have revealed al Qaeda's plot, and prevented the attacks, began to take hold.
The criticisms hit the intelligence community hard. Piecing together shards of information to
gain a better understanding of our adversaries' capabilities and intentions is a mission-critical
function of the intelligence community, and a core competency of intelligence professionals.
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the community had recognized that reorganization, integration of
intelligence activities, and a shift in intelligence culture was necessary to adapt to evolving
threats. But progress on these initiatives came slowly - too slowly to impact the events of
The intelligence community got the message.
Ten years later, we have made great strides in addressing the shortfalls that plagued us that
tragic day. We now collaborate on intelligence collection and analysis in ways that were
unheard of 10 years ago. We've made significant progress in reducing the cultural,
information technology and policy barriers to sharing information among agencies, and we
continue to explore new strategies for integrating our intelligence efforts.
We no longer operate largely on the principle of compartmentalization, that is, sharing
information based on "need to know." We now start from the imperative of "responsibility to
share," in order to collaborate with and better support our intelligence consumers - from the
White House to the foxhole.
The operation against Osama bin Laden on May 1 was enabled by the focused, coordinated
efforts of multiple elements of the intelligence community. And as remarkable as that
mission was, it was just the most visible example of numerous successes achieved through a
renewed emphasis on the thorough integration of intelligence.
Today's intelligence community is innovative and capable of evolving to meet the challenges
of an increasingly complex security environment. We study a range of state and nonstate
threats - to our own security and interests around the globe, as well as those of our friends
and allies. In the realms of counterterrorism and counterintelligence, the demands are great
and the stakes are high. Every day, intelligence professionals are aggressively monitoring,
preventing and disrupting potential acts of terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, and cyberwarfare.
Regional issues pose challenges that no single agency can address without collaboration.
Consequently, we work as an integrated community to address issues such as how best to
understand and respond to opportunities presented by the Arab Spring, how to constructively
engage unstable and unpredictable regimes, and how to deal with poverty, poor governance
and instability in Africa and South Asia.
So whether confronting al Qaeda affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula or supporting law
enforcement efforts against transnational criminal organizations on our southwest border, our
intelligence agencies now integrate, coordinate, and aggregate information and capabilities
more thoroughly than ever before.
We can't know with absolute certainty if any of these changes would have led to a different
outcome on 9/11, but the tangible benefits of vertical and horizontal integration are
indisputable. Today we are unquestionably better positioned to provide the kind of full-scope
information that leaders need to make informed decisions about how to protect our nation.
The current state of the al Qaeda organization is a striking example of the benefit of
intelligence reform and integration. We have vigorously attacked the group's leadership,
striving to keep it off balance and cut off from resources. We deny it any sense of security
and undermine its ability to plan, train and recruit, and we will continue to apply pressure at
every turn until the terrorist organization is incapacitated.
Yet despite significant progress, challenges still remain. Not all of our systems and networks
are fully integrated. Differing organizational practices complicate joint efforts, and some
bureaucratic impediments remain among the intelligence community's 16 members.
Moreover, in an era of greater fiscal austerity and limited investment in new programs, we in
the intelligence community understand that we must find efficiencies, eliminate duplicative
efforts, and focus on the nation's core needs. The hard fact is that we must accomplish these
objectives under the constant threat of another terrorist attack. It is a reality that highlights the
need for congressional leaders to continue to take great care when considering cuts to
national security programs.
The intelligence community exists to provide political and military leaders with the greatest
possible decision advantage. We understand, now more than ever, that the best way to
accomplish our goal is thorough integration of all national intelligence capabilities. And with
the continued support of Congress, we will remain steadfastly focused on our mission. We
owe that much to our president, to the American people, and to the family members and
victims of 9/11.
Mr. Clapper is the director of National Intelligence.
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