Ten years after 9/11: intelligence failures, successes and the need for better governance

Mr Patrick Walsh, a former transnational security analyst and now-senior lecturer in criminal intelligence at the Charles Sturt University (CSU) Australian Graduate School of Policing in Manly says the tragic events of ‘9/11’demonstrated in a truly awful way a new kind of tactic by terrorists which the West hadn’t seen before.
“It fuelled a great deal of interest by policy-makers and terrorism experts about other possible new ways global terrorists may wish to wreak havoc on innocent people,” Mr Walsh said.
“But on this 10th anniversary, we also need to be reminded that citizens, policy-makers and academics were not just horrified by the method of the attack, they were also wondering, ‘Why did this happen?’, ‘Didn’t we know something?’, or, ‘Why didn’t we know this was coming?’.
He says a lot of official ‘navel gazing’ followed, particularly by the US government, but also by its allies, such as Australia, Canada, The Pentagon, Washington DC; source Associated Press.the United Kingdom and New Zealand, about to what extent their intelligence services may have been caught short leading up to the events of 9/11. The US 9/11 Commission Report released in 2004 was probably the best known of these official reviews. It identified serious deficiencies ranging from human error to problems with information collection, sharing and analysis.
“In a sense, however, they were the same issues that had been picked up in at least 14 major studies on intelligence reform from 1995 to 2002,” Mr Walsh said. “So what was different this time?
“I think after 9/11 the activities of intelligence agencies in the West had become increasingly in the public spotlight, and friends and families of victims lobbied their local congress members and the White House for more meaningful answers and deeper reform of the US intelligence apparatus.”
With the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, many of the deficiencies in the intelligence capabilities in Australia, Canada, the UK and New Zealand remained and were complicated again, particularly in the US, by a hyper-politicised policy-making environment in which intelligence was being used.
Source: Associated Press“But the poor intelligence that was used in part to go to war in Iraq was a catalyst for more reform initiatives in these countries,” Mr Walsh said. “It could be argued that the radical surgery option that the US went for in creating two new super departments – the Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI), and the Department of Homeland Security – has only further served to fracture an already fractured and overly bureaucratic intelligence capability in that country. This is not to suggest significant improvements haven’t been made in the US, but with 18 intelligence agencies and 18,000 law enforcement agencies, reform takes a long time to get traction.”
Mr Walsh says that in stark contrast, in Australia, following the Smith Review of 2008, the Australian government, wisely as it turns out, went for a more micro- reform approach to our intelligence community.
“A decade since 9/11, this has served us well and a more energised and focused coordinating response from the National Security Advisor and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has brought about improvements across the community in areas such as educating intelligence officers and managers, improvements in information technology solutions to secure IT systems, and more fused and integrated multi-agency responses to complex security threats such as terrorism or organised crime.
“But how well have we been doing since 9/11?” he asks. “The government contracted an Independent Review of the Intelligence Community (IRIC) in late 2010 which was recently completed by Mr Robert Cornall, AO, former Secretary of the Attorney General’s Department, and Associate Professor Rufus Black, from Melbourne University. The IRIC has been completed recently and will feed into the next National Security Statement/Strategy due for completion probably in early December. Given the report submitted to government is classified, nothing is known about its contents. It is hoped a public version of the report will be released prior to December.
“But the IRIC’s six  terms of reference, which were available earlier in the year on the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website, provide useful insights into areas  of the intelligence community that the Cornall and Black report examined. The first term of reference relates to how well the intelligence community is positioned to support Australia’s national interests, now and into the future, and might well form the summary of their report given other issues they examined would have answered this question. There is also a term of reference to ‘resourcing’, though barring a major catastrophic national security incident in Australia, its not likely that intelligence agencies in the current fiscally-constrained environment will receive large increases in their budgets following this review.”
Mr Walsh says the potentially most interesting part of their report may well be ‘terms of reference 3, 4 and 5’. These relate to how well different Australian intelligence agencies are working together, and what further needs to happen to ensure they can improve working relations?
“My recent research across select national security and policing agencies in Australia, Canada, the US, the UK and New Zealand, suggests that it is in this area ‘of improving working relations’ where further work is needed. While clear progress has been made, particularly in a closer integration of intelligence resources across the community, a lot of the current issues with different agencies working together more effectively can be summed up in one word – ‘governance’.
“Governance is the most important and often missing key enabler for better intelligence practice within agencies and across intelligence communities. Governance in the intelligence context consists of attributes such as strong sustainable leadership design, doctrine design, evaluation, effective coordination, cooperation and integration of intelligence processes.”
Governance has an external and internal dimension to it, according to Mr Walsh. Externally, it must be driven by a sustained government focus on things like what should be the strategic intelligence priorities, not just now, but in 10 years time? Internally, governance must come from the leadership within and across intelligence communities. This internal leadership needs to be of a quality where the needed organisational reforms will get traction before the leader moves out of the agency.
“Without the attributes of governance I’ve noted, other key enabling activities that are also needed to improve intelligence –  better information technology, better trained intelligence staff, effective legislation and research to improve practice – will also falter, and intelligence failure can occur again.
Source: Associated Press“Governance will also be increasingly important when national security and policing agencies try to work with other newer and emerging intelligence practice areas such as the private sector, corrections, and biosecurity.

“Historically, most intelligence failure has occurred at either the political or organisational level rather than at the collection or analytical level. So, improving all aspects of governance will reduce the likelihood of catastrophic intelligence failure,” Mr Walsh said.


Author: Bruce Andrews

Publication Date: 05 Sep 2011

Media Officer : Bruce Andrews
Telephone : 02 63386084

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Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Mr Patrick Walsh.
Mr Patrick Walsh is a senior lecturer in criminal intelligence at the Australian Graduate School of Policing, Charles Sturt University. Prior to becoming an academic in 2003 he was an intelligence officer with experience in both national security and policing intelligence. He has taught and written widely on a range of intelligence-related topics. His most recent book, Intelligence and Intelligence Analysis, released in June 2011, was based on interviews with senior intelligence leaders in the US, Canada, the UK and New Zealand.