Intelligence and Counterintelligence - Intelligence issues in foreign and national security policy

Intelligence can have great value in foreign policy and national security, but good intelligence is difficult to come by. Among the leading foreign policy dilemmas posed by intelligence is the need to frame relations with nations as affected by certain aspects of the spy business. The desire to maintain ground bases for certain technical collection means, or for covert operations, may drive decisions on economic and military assistance. General bilateral relations can be affected by nations' spying against one another, particularly when major agents are caught and revealed or ships and aircraft crash or are captured. A desire to recruit agents may dictate waiver of human rights concerns that should be upheld, with the consequent danger of difficulties should such relationships surface. The desire to preserve a stream of intelligence sharing may be threatened by friendly nations spying on one another, or by fears of secret information leaking to third countries. In addition, bilateral relations can be directly affected by intelligence covert operations, while the general image of the United States in the world can be influenced by impressions of how ready the United States may be to resort to covert operations.

In theory, intelligence represents a disinterested purveyor of unbiased information to the president and other leaders. This ideal remains an ideal because presidents are people—they ask for help and advice, recommendations on anything from policy to politics. Directors of central intelligence can be pulled into the policy fray even if they would prefer to avoid it. In addition, the notion that intelligence does not have any real policy interests of its own is flawed, for directors of central intelligence may also be drawn into policy issues due to their responsibility to protect sources and methods. The policy versus intelligence question remains a live issue in America.

Finally, there are issues that may require policy decisions that are directly intelligence matters. Most obvious is the budget—how much should the nation pay for intelligence, and are the data worth the outlays? Related budgetary issues include the distribution of funds among technical collectors, agents, development programs, analysts, support functions, and the rest. Information issues include the emphasis to be placed upon current reporting versus that devoted to long-range prediction. Also vital is the packaging of intelligence—what kinds of reports of what types are the most useful? An information issue that persists is the relative emphasis to be given to secret, as opposed to open source, information. Then there is the technical issue of the tension between the need for high-security counterintelligence and the desire for the most efficient intelligence community. At the apex is the community role of the director of central intelligence—how much leadership can or should the director exercise, and can or should Department of Defense and other players in the intelligence field be brought under the director's authority?

These are not the only recurring issues regarding intelligence and American foreign policy, but they are among the most salient. Each of the issues is relevant to structuring intelligence to best support American policy. All of the issues can confidently be expected to arise in the future, whatever their status may be in the present context. For this reason alone, they should be carefully considered.

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