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Publication Date: April 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33539

Topic: Military and defense (National security)


To address the challenges facing the U.S. Intelligence Community in the 21st century, congressional and executive branch initiatives have sought to improve coordination among the different agencies and to encourage better analysis. In December 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (P.L. 108458) was signed, providing for a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) with substantial authorities to manage the national intelligence effort. The legislation also established a separate Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Making cooperation effective presents substantial leadership and managerial challenges. The needs of intelligence "consumers" -- ranging from the White House to cabinet agencies to military commanders -- must all be met, using the same systems and personnel. Intelligence collection systems are expensive and some critics suggest there have been elements of waste and unneeded duplication of effort while some intelligence "targets" have been neglected.

The DNI has substantial statutory authorities to address these issues, but the organizational relationships will remain complex, especially for Defense Department agencies. Members of Congress will be seeking to observe the extent to which effective coordination is accomplished.

International terrorism, a major threat facing the United States in the 21st century, presents a difficult analytical challenge. Techniques for acquiring and analyzing information on small groups of plotters differ significantly from those used to evaluate the military capabilities of other countries. U.S. intelligence efforts are complicated by unfilled requirements for foreign language expertise.

Intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was inaccurate and Members have criticized the performance of the Intelligence Community in regard to current conditions in Iraq and other situations. Improved analysis, while difficult to mandate, remains a key goal. Better human intelligence, it is argued, is also essential.

Intelligence support to military operations continues to be a major responsibility of intelligence agencies. The use of precision guided munitions depends on accurate, real-time targeting data; integrating intelligence data into military operations will require changes in organizational relationships as well as acquiring necessary technologies.

Counterterrorism requires the close coordination of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but there remain many institutional and procedural issues that complicate cooperation between the two sets of agencies. This report, which replaces Issue Brief IB10012 of the same name, will be updated as new information becomes available.