John Stokes

Where’s the accountability?<br />

Where's the accountability?<br />
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The verdict is in and just about every part of the US intelligence community failed to perform. The Solomonic decision of President Obama is that no individual is at fault - no systemic leadership problems here - and so nobody will be held accountable. Instead, there will be improved processes and better technology.

This was exactly the response after 9/11 when 3,000 people died. At that time, the man in charge of US intelligence, George Tenet, stayed in his job and was later given the Medal of Freedom - America's highest honor.

This week's verdict was over the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian boarding a flight in Amsterdam destined for Detroit, over Christmas, with explosives concealed in his underwear. As we all know, the bomb failed to go off properly and so the flight and its passengers survived. However, it has emerged (and the President's review has confirmed) that all the intelligence information was available to stop the man boarding the plane if anybody had bothered to connect the dots.

Funnily enough, this review highlighted the same shortcomings that were revealed after 9/11: Poor data management, weak analysis, ineffective communication and a lack of urgency in bringing data together.

If the US intelligence community were in the private sector, and a competitor had brought a killer application to market that stole massive market share, heads would have rolled throughout the organisation. But US intelligence operates in a very different universe. For example, Mike McConnell who ran the National Security Agency in the run up to 9/11 was widely seen as an amiable but ineffective leader. Yet, he was brought out of retirement to become the first Director of National Intelligence as part of the 9/11 reforms. Mike Hayden, his successor at the NSA was considered such a poor manager that Congress took away his authority to buy anything. Yet he was promoted to run the CIA.  Bob Mueller, who currently runs the FBI, has presided over the Bureau's efforts to update its information technology, a debacle that is years behind schedule, hundreds of $millions over budget and central to securing the Homeland. Yet he remains in place.

The President's review revealed that the CIA failed to effectively analyse the threat, that the National Counter Terrorism Center failed to bring together relevant data, that there was no effective way of getting people on the No Fly list, and that coordination between different government departments is not up to the job. Perhaps most important of all, the intelligence community, yet again, is being shown as unable to keep up with the volume, velocity and variety of data that flows in every day despite having spent billions of dollars on new IT systems.

The bottom line is that US intelligence has become a risk averse haven for ineffectual leaders who know that however badly they perform, they will continue to be promoted. The culture unwittingly encourages intelligence loopholes terrorist to exploit - and will continue to do so until someone, somewhere is held accountable for something.