Papers & Studies

Prof. deGraffenreid discusses Reagan’s intelligence and security policies

Professor Ken deGraffenreid delivered the Second Annual Reagan Intelligence Lecture at IWP on April 20, 2012. Professor Charles Smith, IWP’s academic dean, provided a brief introduction, describing deGraffenreid as an “intelligence pro” and the “architect of our [IWP’s] strategic intelligence program.”

Prof. deDraffenreid began his lecture by pointing out that little has been written about Reagan-era intelligence policy, and he hoped to promote dialogue about it to inform current intelligence debates. One of the most lasting debates in intelligence policy is whether intelligence needs should be driven by policy, or whether intelligence should be independent to avoid the risk of politicization. In other words, should intelligence policy be set by elected leaders and their appointees, or by professional bureaucrats?  Prof. deGraffenreid noted that this conflict would be familiar to many of his students as the “Kent-Kendall Debate.” Reagan’s administration tended to believe that policy should drive intelligence; today, the prevailing view is that intelligence and policy should be separated.

The passage of time has given some perspective on Reagan’s intelligence policies. 30 years have given some “ground truth.” There has still not been much Cold War material released, however, and some former Russian government officials continue to dispute the true nature of events. Despite this, Reagan’s policies have largely been tested, and it is possible to make some judgments about them.

President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 governs intelligence policies. No President since Reagan has issued his own order covering intelligence activities; they have simply amended the Reagan order. Reagan’s policies as embodied in the order had four main components. The first defined the goals of the intelligence effort as informing policy, protecting against foreign intelligence, and helping decision-makers. The second component was the fostering of analytic competition among the agencies. Many proponents of competitive intelligence had participated in the “A Team/B Team” exercise years earlier, and believed that fostering different opinions and analytic approaches was the best way to arrive at the truth. The third component was a desire to balance technical means of collection with “other” means, like human collection or HUMINT. Finally, there was an emphasis on countering hostile intelligence against the U.S. government as well as private businesses.

Professor deGraffenreid then focused on three areas as illustrative examples: analysis, counterintelligence, and security. Starting with analysis, deGraffenreid argued for the value of competitive analysis. He noted, however, that analysis is dependent on collection, and the USSR posed a huge collection challenge. Prof. deGraffenreid wished to address two “canards” about the intelligence community. The first was that it failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union. He pointed out that this was a future event, not a secret that could be collected on. The second canard was that the USSR was a “paper tiger” or a “rusting tiger.” Prof. deGraffenreid points out that, in some areas such as biowarfare or nuclear strategic defense, the USSR was much stronger then believed. Moving on to counterintelligence, Prof. deGraffenreid pointed to Reagan’s experience fending off communist infiltration of actors’ unions as a defining experience for the President. Reagan saw counterintelligence as a strategic matter, and drove a study on hostile intelligence threats and how to fight them. Prof. deGraffenreid pointed out that this threat was actually much larger then previously realized, using the cases of Robert Hansen and Aldrich Ames to illustrate his point. Many of Reagan’s more strategic counterintelligence policies were not permanently implemented.

The third area Prof. deGraffenreid covered was security, as he believed that it is an area that is rarely discussed. He argued that security failures were a strategic threat, especially in the area of command and control systems. The Reagan-era policies foresaw that communication and computing systems would become increasingly integrated, which led to potential vulnerabilities. First, the government and national security apparatus have become increasingly dependent on these systems. Second, computing systems are potentially vulnerable to hacking or penetration. The Reagan policy tried to balance involvement in security without excessive regulation of the private sector. This approach was abandoned, however, in favor of a more heavy-handed approach. The TSA is a good example of this overbearing attitude towards security, where the main burden is on the individual citizen. These security systems are evaluated on their compliance with regulations, rather then their ability to prevent threats. A risk management approach could provide better, more efficient results.

Concluding his remarks, Prof. deGraffenreid argued that Reagan’s intelligence policies had a number of useful elements for today’s intelligence policy. The threats faced today are similar, but there are more of them, they come faster, and the weapons used are more extreme. The United States still has difficulty waging this kind of political warfare despite the experience of the Cold War. Necessary reform to intelligence policy can be done, but will not be easy.

Kenneth deGraffenreid is a full-time professor and Faculty Chairman at The Institute of World Politics, where he teaches courses on intelligence and counterintelligence.

From 2004-2005, Prof. deGraffenreid served as Deputy National Counterintelligence Executive to the President of the United States. He has also served as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Support at the Department of Defense, Senior Director of Intelligence Programs at the National Security Council, Senior professional staff member at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senior Fellow on Intelligence at the National Strategy Information Center.

He is a Retired Captain, U.S Navy Reserves, and a founding member of the IWP Board of Overseers. He holds a B.A. from Purdue University and an M.A. from The Catholic University of America.