Empowering the National Counterterrorism Center

By / 1.12.2010

The following is an excerpt from Jordan Tama’s article in

In the wake of the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing, some intelligence officials are sharpening their knives, planning to lay the blame for the failure to detect this plot at the feet of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). President Obama “knows where to look” when assessing blame for the government’s inability to connect the dots prior to the attack, claimed one anonymous intelligence official quoted in the Washington Post. In particular, the CIA, which opposed the 2004 reorganization that transferred some of the agency’s responsibilities to the ODNI and NCTC, “has barely restrained itself from shouting, ‘We told you so,’” the Postreported.

This chest-thumping is not surprising. The CIA has felt vastly underappreciated since 9/11, having been faulted by senior officials and blue-ribbon commissions both for the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks and the intelligence community’s inaccurate prewar assessments of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities. Some CIA loyalists clearly relished the opportunity to affix blame to another part of the intelligence community after the Christmas attack.

But the charge that we would be better off without DNI and the NCTC is more than self-serving — it is also wrong, and dangerously so. The real lesson of the failure to keep Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab off a U.S.-bound flight is that intelligence reform has not gone far enough. Rather than restoring the CIA to its pre-9/11 role as king of the hill in the intelligence community, the administration should further empower the NCTC, in particular by bolstering its analytical and technological capabilities so that it can more effectively lead the government’s counterterrorism intelligence efforts.

Ultimately, the Christmas attack presents an opportunity for President Obama to put his own stamp on intelligence reform. As the Obama administration prepared to take office in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Rahm Emanuel commented, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Now, we need to use the sense of crisis generated by the near miss on Christmas to give the NCTC the authority, resources, and technology necessary to inventory, analyze, and act on all of the information that washes through the intelligence system.

To read the full article, click here. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the Progressive Policy Institute.