Perspectives on Collection, Retention, and Dissemination of Intelligence

In this new Policy Outlook, Institute Policy Advisor Daniel Gallington reviews how the U.S. government collects, retains, and uses intelligence information.  Gallington, a former Deputy Counsel for Intelligence Policy at the Department of Justice and Legal Adviser for Intelligence Oversight in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), brings a deep understanding of the roles and responsibilities for collection, use, and oversight of the government’s intelligence agencies and activities.

Reflecting on the move to “reform” these efforts in the wake of the Snowden revelations, Gallington argues that: “Lost in most recent discussions of the NSA and reforming its practices is an understanding of how the intelligence oversight system functions, its internal checks and balances, and, perhaps most importantly, how the intelligence agencies and policymakers have handled “reform” before.”

To that end, the piece reviews the structure of the system and how it is to be overseen.  Gallington claims that the U.S. is unique among world powers in that it has opted for “a strong preference for very closely managed intelligence activities.”  When that basic premise is forgotten or discounted, he observes, reform of the intelligence system is not far behind.  Such a situation appears to exist today.

Nevertheless, as policymakers work towards a new set of reforms, Gallington cautions them to keep a fundamental point in mind.  He concludes: “While technology is often blamed for our loss of privacy, it has also worked to protect us from the insidious threat of terrorism.  This is also a balance that we must keep in proper perspective.  The “secret” is always the same: We must be able to “look” at all of the “threat relevant” information; however, how we handle it – i.e., collect, retain and disseminate it  – is just as important, sometimes more important, than the information itself.”

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