A Crying Shame for the Spying Game

Commentary | July 26, 2010

Writing for livemint.com, W. Pal Sidhu points out major flaws in the U.S. intelligence system and calls for a radical transformation to begin addressing them.

Sidhu points to four recent intelligence-related news stories – the resignation of intelligence tsar Admiral Dennis Blair, the exposure of a Russian spy ring, the case of Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri and the revealing Washington Post series on the U.S. intelligence apparatus – and argues that they all reveal fundamental flaws in the way the U.S. gathers and analyzes intelligence.

First among these flaws, Sidhu suggests, is that U.S. intelligence agencies' ability to collect data has outpaced their ability to make use of it. "While the National Security Agency intercepts and stores 1.7 billion pieces of communication—emails and phone calls—every day, it does not have the wherewithal to analyze all of it," he writes. "'As Gen. James R. Clapper Jr, the latest aspirant for the post of DNI, confessed: 'There’s only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all (top secret programmes)—that’s God.'"

Second, Sidhu argues that the intelligence system too focused on technology and not enough on human intelligence. "Most analysts are inexperienced college graduates with little or no knowledge of the country they work on or its language, especially Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan," he writes.

Third, Sidhu suggests that the system does not pay sufficient attention to non-state actors. "Since [9/11], the effort to protect the U.S. from terrorist groups has led to some change in the system, but not necessarily in the attitude," he writes.

"Finally, while spying is a necessary instrument of statecraft, the vast, complicated and stove-piped system that Washington has developed is defeating its very purpose," Sidhu concludes. "It is time for a radical transformation—at least to ensure that the money invested in the system is well spent."

Click here to read Sidhu's article on livemint.com