As one director of Central Intelligence exits and another one faces confirmation hearings, National Review Online asked some experts to chime in on two broad questions: What do we need from the intelligence community that we haven’t been getting? And what should the next chief–and those he has to answer to–be weary of?
Reuel Marc Gerecht
To all of your questions, well, I’ll answer one, and through that I suspect you can find answers to the others. New chief should be John Bolton, but meaner.
Clifford D. May
A number of commentators have been saying that whoever takes over the CIA must make it his priority to improve morale. Is that not like saying a teacher’s most important job is to improve students’ self-esteem?
Morale at the CIA should improve when performance improves. The hard fact is that the United States needs better intelligence than the CIA has been able to provide–not just in recent years, but in recent decades. For the professionals at the CIA to acknowledge that is surely a necessary pre-condition to meaningful change.
Recall, for example, that the CIA failed to foresee such historic events as the Khomeini revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In that 1980s, the CIA didn’t know that Saddam Hussein was close to developing nuclear weapons. Discovery of that fact was an unintended consequence of the first Gulf War–a war which, ironically, was not waged to destroy Saddam’s WMD capability.
Until 1994, the CIA had been penetrated for nearly a decade by Aldrich Ames, a KGB mole who revealed to the Kremlin the names of every “human asset” the U.S. had in the Soviet Union. All are believed to have been executed. He also compromised scores of U.S. intelligence operations. The CIA was slow and clumsy in pursuing and capturing him.
In the 1990s, the agency underestimated the threat posed by a growing global militant Islamist movement. It gathered little useful intelligence on al Qaeda, Saddam’s regime, or the ruling mullahs of Iran.
Astonishingly, CIA analysts failed to imagine terrorists using hijacked passenger planes as guided missiles. Or, if they did, they failed to persuade the Clinton administration to take such obvious precautions as reinforcing cockpit doors, arming pilots, and more effectively screening passengers.
Emblematic of the CIA’s fogginess: Two months before the 9/11/01 attacks, former CIA operative Larry C. Johnson wrote in the New York Times that “Americans have little to fear” from terrorism. Johnson today is a frequent commentator on intelligence issues for the mainstream media.
The CIA failed to keep of track Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence community is still uncertain as to what he did with his WMDs: Did he secretly destroy them, hide them or transfer them to another country at some point before the American-led invasion of 2003? Not knowing has contributed to the myth that Saddam never had WMDs.
The next CIA director needs to reorganize and reprioritize. He needs to establish metrics for success. He needs a short-term plan to bring in more information and develop better analysis of what is obtained. He needs a long-term plan to prepare the CIA to become better than it is today and better than it’s perhaps ever been.
Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.
James S. Robbins
Do we even need a new CIA director–or a CIA? As the name implies, the CIA was created in 1947 to centralize foreign-intelligence functions that had previously been handled by the Army, Navy, State Department, and the FBI. But in the nearly 60 years since, the CIA has diminished in relation to the other organizations, particularly the Department of Defense. DOD currently controls around 80 percent of the total intelligence budget, through organizations such as the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA), as well as the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSD/I), and the intelligence components of the separate armed services. Before the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) the CIA still played some important functions, most notably preparing National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) and the Presidential Daily Briefing. But with DNI Negroponte taking over direct contact with the White House and Congress, and with his office assuming key coordinating roles with the numerous intelligence agencies it supervises, one wonders why we need to retain the CIA at all. The Directorate of Operations (that is, the spies) could be made into a separate organization, while the directorates of Intelligence and Science and Technology could be placed directly under the DNI, or distributed to other organizations that duplicate what they do. That type of streamlining might be too much to hope for, but is definitely in the spirit of the original CIA mandate. General Hayden will have to understand that the post isn’t what it used to be. It is now just a waypoint for intelligence products headed for the decision makers who use them, with primary responsibility being personnel management. If the president had chosen to leave the office vacant, would anybody notice?
James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, a trustee for the Leaders for Liberty Foundation, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.