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Meet Senator Thompson

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Weekly Column 01-17-01

U.S. Intelligence in the 21st Century
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN)
January 17, 2001
On August 31, 1998, North Korea test-fired a missile with the potential of striking U.S. territory. Though our intelligence community was aware of a possible missile launch, it was surprised when the missile sported a third stage, allowing it to travel much farther than expected. Our intelligence analysis on the missile's capabilities had been woefully incomplete. Most recently, the terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole was a tragic reminder of the need for detailed and timely intelligence of current threats. These failings put our nation at risk and demonstrated the need for reform within our intelligence community.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, many believed that the United States, as the world's sole remaining superpower, could afford to cut back on its intelligence gathering operations. In fact, some went as far as to propose dismantling several of our intelligence agencies. Beginning in 1993, the intelligence community was forced make serious budget cuts, which limited their recruitment of new sources, restricted their analysis of intelligence information, and postponed the modernization of their surveillance and communication systems. These shortfalls resulted in an overall decline in our intelligence capabilities.
The end of the Cold War, however, has not brought a decrease in assignments for our intelligence services. Rather, they have experienced an unprecedented growth in their responsibilities. During the last half of the twentieth century, our intelligence agencies focused primarily on monitoring Soviet military power; today, we focus on numerous threats---the rogue states and others---and on a wider variety of issues. The intelligence community is now required to report on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by supplier states, the development of ballistic missiles by rogue nations, the activities of terrorist groups, and the smuggling of illegal drugs. And intelligence officials provide critical information on diplomatic negotiations, regional conflicts, and impending crises. These new assignments have required the intelligence community to reinvent itself with new goals, purposes, and means.
Over the last five years, Congress has expressed considerable concern about the erosion in our country's intelligence capabilities. In particular, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which is one of two congressional committees responsible for overseeing our intelligence agencies, has worked hard to reverse this trend. In the past, the SSCI has taken the lead on reforms that have improved our intelligence agencies' collection and analysis capabilities, improved the protection of classified information, eliminated the duplication of work, and streamlined costs. Most recently, the SSCI advocated increased funding for modernization and investments in intelligence gathering resources; the restructuring of some of our more convoluted agencies; and the reduction in government waste.
I am honored to the have opportunity to join the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the 107th Congress. This new assignment will build upon my experience as a former member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and now, as the Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. And it will be provide an excellent opportunity to keep working on tightening U.S. export controls, enforcing sanctions laws, responding to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and developing a National Missile Defense.
This year, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is expected to look at new ways to further enhance our nation's intelligence capabilities. As a member of the committee, I look forward to working with my colleagues to secure additional funding for more human intelligence; the modernization of our electronic surveillance assets; and the purchase of advanced communications systems. On the policy side, we'll look at ways to help the intelligence community increase its support for military operations; upgrade security at our weapons facilities; better protect its classified information; and implement more effective management, accountability, and reporting standards.
As we enter the twenty-first century, the United States is, without a doubt, the world's preeminent economic, military, and political power. While few countries will risk a direct confrontation with the U.S., there are many that seek to challenge us indirectly through terrorism, espionage, and cyber-attacks. Our intelligence agencies are our first line of defense against such attacks. As the North Korean missile launch clearly demonstrated, and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole reminded us, there is still much that must be done. Our intelligence agencies need a boost, and it is time to provide it.

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Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson
Former U.S. Senator (R-TN)