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Research Questions

  1. What challenges does the IC face in today's environment?
  2. What would current and former U.S. and foreign intelligence leaders, practitioners, and scholars change about the IC's approach to all-source analysis if they could?
  3. Have the goals of previous intelligence reforms been realized in all-source analysis, and, if not, what barriers exist that need to be lifted?
  4. Where do the greatest opportunities for meaningful improvements to all-source analysis in the IC reside?

Foreign attacks against the United States occur frequently, but the American people, U.S. policymakers, and even some intelligence analysts have become inured to the rising temperature of these national security threats. Although changes have occurred in the structure and organization of intelligence agencies, the intelligence community (IC) continues to face long-standing challenges related to collaboration, the use of open sources, analytic tradecraft, and the risk of politicization.

The current environment demands prompt consideration of changes to intelligence structures and authorities that would enable intelligence analysts to become aware of foreign interference and disinformation campaigns sooner; ensure the dissemination of unclassified intelligence assessments to everyone who needs access to them, including private sector organizations; and protect against politicization.

This exploratory study sought to address these needs by proposing Big Ideas—game-changing ideas that, while bold and audacious, are also implementable without requiring major intelligence reform.

Drawing from an extensive review of previous intelligence reforms and scholarly literature to understand earlier proposals and 17 interviews with current and former U.S. and foreign intelligence leaders, practitioners, and scholars, the authors identify evidence-based ideas to stimulate debate and meaningful changes in the IC that could meet today's challenges and strengthen U.S. national security against adversaries who are exploiting U.S. enterprises.

Key Findings

Many signs indicate that the IC is failing in its role to advise leaders and protect U.S. national security interests while ignoring the intelligence needs of national security stakeholders in the private sector

  • The IC has been slow to take notice of Chinese and Russian disinformation campaigns surrounding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and its vaccines.
  • The IC has taken a reactive stance regarding persistent, large-scale attacks on U.S. cyber infrastructures and intellectual property.
  • The IC has neglected domestic threats, such as its failure to issue a threat assessment warning of potential violence targeting the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Both the literature and interviewed U.S. and allied intelligence experts broadly agree on where the greatest opportunities for meaningful improvements reside

  • The IC does not adequately use open-source intelligence (OSINT).
  • Guardrails against politicization offer insufficient protection against the influence of political bias on intelligence analysis and dissemination.
  • Nongovernmental sectors—the commercial sector, academic and scientific sector, and the American public—are increasingly the "attack surface" on which foreign adversaries wage their attacks, and these nongovernmental sectors are making decisions that affect national security without the benefit of intelligence threat assessments.
  • U.S. structures and organizations for protecting the homeland by warning against such attacks are inadequate.

Recommendations

  • A new organization should be created with responsibility for unclassified data (collection) and open-source intelligence (analysis). This new organization should serve as the functional manager of OSINT, subsuming the entire mission of the current Open Source Enterprise.
  • The Director of National Intelligence should expand the IC's "duty to warn"—a directive to warn people of potential violence against them—to include nonviolent threats, such as cyberattacks, intellectual property theft, and manipulation through disinformation campaigns. This change would create a policy environment to provide intelligence as a service to the American commercial sector and public.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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