Politics & Policy

CIA Run Amok

The reasons for Porter Goss’s abrupt departure as CIA director are shrouded in mystery. But its effect is not. It gives the impression that there has been a coup by the CIA insiders who have waged a covert policy war against the Bush administration for five years. The White House must act quickly to correct the impression that the renegades have won.

The CIA is supposed to work for the president. It was created in 1948 to be the president’s civilian, non-partisan, non-policy intelligence arm. Its job is to provide an accurate picture of facts and trends so that decision makers can formulate good policy. Too often the agency has performed that job miserably, the greatest example being its gargantuan miscalculations about the Soviet Union. In retrospect, this is perhaps unsurprising. The CIA has always had a leftist bent, well represented in its upper echelons even under directors of staunchly anti-Communist and pro-national-security orientation.

During the Bush presidency, however, the agency has not been content with subtly pushing its own agenda while underperforming its nominal mission. It has run amok. In fact, it worked assiduously–though unsuccessfully–to depose the administration in the 2004 election, and since then has continued brazenly undermining Bush’s foreign policy.

Having failed to detect the 9/11 plot and predicted that the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a “slam dunk” certainty, the CIA has been in blame-shifting mode since 2001. Amazingly, it authorized the head of its most important counterterrorism group, the unit responsible for targeting al Qaeda, to write a book attacking the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s foreign policy. That analyst, Michael Scheuer, who published Imperial Hubris anonymously, later acknowledged publicly that “as long as the book was being used to bash the president, [the CIA] gave me carte blanche to talk to the media.”

By then, of course, the agency’s not-so-covert operations against the Iraq war were in full swing. When the administration posed questions in 2002 about intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium yellowcake (a potential nuclear precursor) in Niger, Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA analyst who thought these reports were “crazy,” helped arrange to have her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, sent on a CIA fact-finding mission. Though the assignment was classified, the CIA permitted Wilson to author a New York Times op-ed ripping the administration for purportedly misstating intelligence in the run-up to the war and suggesting–disingenuously, it turned out–that Joseph Wilson had found no evidence that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. A coterie of current and former agency officers demanded the prosecution of administration officials when Plame’s status as a CIA employee–a matter that appears to have been widely known, and whose leak caused no damage to national security–was mentioned in the media. Yet this clique has been silent about damaging leaks by agency operatives who have outed themselves to serve the higher cause of attacking Bush.

Meanwhile, the CIA used its funding clout to underwrite Bush’s opponents. From 2001 through 2004, the agency’s Counterterrorism Center provided more than $15 million for various studies led by former Clinton officials (such as Richard Clarke) and Bush critics (such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). The resulting products, according to a CIA spokeswoman, were aimed to bolster “our analytic product.” A 2004 investigation by the Washington Times found that the Counterterrorism Center had not funded any research by organizations supportive of the administration’s foreign policy.

Most damaging of all, however, has been the CIA’s incorrigible leaking. Again and again, it has demonstrated that it is more dedicated to harming the Bush administration’s war effort than to protecting its own secret activities. On the eve of the 2004 presidential debates, for example, the CIA selectively leaked a report claiming that it had warned in early 2003 that a joint Baathist-jihadist insurgency would follow a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The report–which turned out not to have said much of anything about an insurgency, and to have been wrong in its core prognostications–was written by Paul Pillar, who has been happy to rip the Bush administration in the press, identifying himself as “a top national intelligence officer.”

In May 2005, CIA officials leaked to the Washington Post details of a covert operation in which airplanes owned by CIA front companies were being used for various activities, including the renditions of top al Qaeda operatives. Six months later the Post, again relying on agency insiders (among others), reported that the CIA was using secret prisons in Eastern Europe to detain and interrogate high-level al Qaeda prisoners. This leak gravely jeopardized the cooperation of allied governments, whose own security and intelligence gathering were imperiled by the disclosure.

On the eve of a critical congressional vote on Patriot Act renewal, the New York Times sensationally broke a story it had been sitting on for a year: According to intelligence-community sources (which almost certainly included CIA officials), the NSA had, since 9/11, been intercepting international communications between suspected al Qaeda terrorists and persons stationed inside the United States. Aside from delaying the Patriot Act’s extension for months, the NSA leak has taught the enemy about our methods and submerged a vital program–an effort to create an early-warning system to avoid another 9/11–in a sea of legal controversy.

“It is crucial that the administration and Hayden

 make clear from day one that, while Goss is gone,

the CIA purge is far from over.”

Porter Goss, a former Republican congressman who once served as an official in the CIA’s clandestine service, was named by President Bush to head up the agency 19 months ago. His primary task was to end its bare-knuckles insurrection and policy interference, and return it to the business of intelligence collection and analysis. His tenure was marked by non-stop turmoil and bickering, as he moved to root out the insurgents and they fought back with a vengeance.

Goss’s sudden ouster is, at best, ill timed. He had merely scratched the problem’s surface. Further, the lack of a clear explanation for his departure is extremely harmful. It is certain to be spun as a coup by the insurgents. Such a perception will only embolden them, laying the groundwork for more leaks–and more damage to national security.

The president has named Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and current deputy to national intelligence director John Negroponte, as Goss’s successor. It is crucial that the administration and Hayden make clear from day one that, while Goss is gone, the CIA purge is far from over. Those who are using the agency to undermine the war effort must be rooted out, no matter who is in charge.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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