But this is not to say that the status quo is acceptable -- far from it. The White House's review of the Christmas attack reveals that the reforms proposed by the 9/11 Commission have not been fully implemented. In discussing how the NCTC should operate in a hypothetical case, the 9/11 Commission described the new agency's role as tasking collection requirements and being accountable for tracking progress on the case. Yet lines of responsibility have remained unclear since the NCTC was formed. Obama's order that the intelligence community assign specific responsibility for investigating all leads is therefore a necessary corrective. It will also be necessary, as Obama directed, for intelligence reports involving threats to be distributed more rapidly and widely.
Yet the most critical and potentially transformative work is yet to come. Obama has asked Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and the President's Intelligence Advisory Board to examine ways to improve the processing and integration of intelligence information. As the Christmas attack shows, this challenge should be the focus of the next phase of intelligence reform. Ironically, this challenge has been made greater by the marked improvements in intelligence collection and sharing since 9/11: The intelligence community is now passing along so much information that the NCTC's staff of roughly 500 people cannot thoroughly digest and assess all of it.
Ultimately, the Christmas attack presents an opportunity for 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, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel commented, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Now, the administration needs 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.