WASHINGTON — Stephen Cambone, the Defense Department’s undersecretary of intelligence, refused Friday to call inspectors’ inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq an “intelligence failure,” but outlined restructuring plans for the process.

“It wasn’t an intelligence failure,” Cambone said. “What constitutes an intelligence failure?”

Regardless, ongoing efforts to uncover the suspected weapons, the existence of which was used by the Bush administration as the reason to go to war, must be “allowed to run their course,” he said, adding he couldn’t set a time line for how long it will or should take.

It’s not like looking for missile silos, he said. Iraq former President Saddam Hussein’s weapons and capabilities, if they exist, are well-hidden and will take time to unearth.

Inspectors have been searching Iraq for roughly seven months, looking for chemical and biological weapons.

What was lacking and is greatly needed is human intelligence, Cambone said. And to correct that, Cambone’s office is working to get the services to boost human intelligence assets, drastically cut in the 1990s. That shortage hinders the nation’s Global War on Terrorism, Cambone said.

Assets are stretched, much like the rest of the military, as intelligence personnel and technology operate in Iraq, Afghanistan and some 60 other countries in efforts to find and counter terrorist cells, he said.

On the long-term radar screen, his office also is working to develop capabilities that would give the intelligence community “universal situational awareness,” or the ability to track over a long period of time and around the globe elements of foreseeable threats to the security of the nation, it’s allies and assets, he said.

Cambone hopes to establish a strategic warning system. “Without a doubt, strategic warning is the hardest thing to do,” he said of a system that could have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for example, by allowing the intelligence community to have known in advance of the terrorists’ plans.

And intelligences needs to better support the warfighter on the front line.

“It needs to be more continuous, without gaps,” he said of getting information from the planners and “melding” it with orders trickled down to troops.

Improvements of this scope will take years, if not decades, he said.

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