EunuchBomber report: a return to 9/10

After reading through the report of the failures in the intelligence community to “connect the dots” before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab put on his suicide underwear, one gets a certain sense of deja vu.  Many of the passages sound similar to the 9/11 Commission report on how the system should have been lit up like a Christmas tree, but that the focus went elsewhere and leadership didn’t know that the system was not keeping up.  Dana Milbank also got that sense of deja vu from the press conference held by John Brennan and Janet Napolitano that announced the report:

The confessions evidently satisfied the reporters, for they didn’t press the pair on their initial statements about guns and systems. But there was a problem with the first change Obama recommended: “I’m directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively, not just most of the time but all of the time.”

Um, you mean we weren’t doing that already?

“It just seems like that would be the basic premise of any intelligence system,” NBC’s Savannah Guthrie pointed out. “I’m sure people wonder: ‘Really? That’s the reform we need?’ “

Apparently so, but it goes beyond just the focus of the people involved.  We would do well to remember that these are largely the same people who kept the homeland safe for the past eight years.  They didn’t just get suddenly 9/10ish, as in reaching an expiration date of some kind.  The same people who missed this attack caught at least four attack plots in 2009 — but also fumbled the Nidal Hasan-AQ connection, which led to 14 deaths at Fort Hood.

The report itself describes the same kinds of failures that led to 9/11, but for different reasons.  The NCTC and the CIA are both tasked with the same mission, which is to conduct “all-source analysis,” a review of all data streams for all threats.  Supposedly, this redundancy — which was a deliberate part of the 9/11 Commission recommendation in creating the DNI — is supposed to act as a check on blind spots in both groups.  Instead, both groups wound up focusing less on homeland threats than on threats developing against assets and allies abroad, even though that’s really more the bailiwick of the CIA.  The NCTC director chairs the task force that focuses on homeland threats, but apparently the NCTC didn’t have that focus in mind.

What does this tell us?  Adding redundancy to “all-source analysis” doesn’t fix the basic problems of focus and dot-connecting.  Although the report rejects the idea of turf fights and gaps as part of this problem, one has to wonder whether the NCTC figured the CIA was dealing with a Nigerian traveling abroad and the CIA figured the NCTC was tracking the issue of a Nigerian possibly becoming a threat to the homeland.  Even apart from that, the system has gaps in both analysis and communication, which the Fort Hood shooting made excruciatingly clear.

That’s why the big part of reform at the moment seems to be a reminder that national security is a 24/7 job.  It’s also the reason that the redundant systems need to “begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats,” because clearly the redundancy has some people confused.  It’s yet another argument that we took intelligence reform in the wrong direction in 2005, and should have focused on streamlining, bureaucracy reduction, and flexibility instead.