The CIA’s involvement in internal American politics causes it to be featured on the front pages of newspapers almost daily. Recent statements from the CIA confirmed that it had briefed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on interrogation/torture methods back in 2002. These statements embarrassed Mrs. Pelosi, who has been using the interrogation issue as a political tool for years.
Mrs. Pelosi and other partisan Democrats have always taken at face value anything the CIA has leaked that has put Republicans on the defensive. The CIA’s leaks on interrogations, the Plame incident, and its faulty intelligence on Iraqi WMDs may have contributed more to Democrats’ electoral victory than any other single interest group — more than ACORN, more than the teachers’ unions. Until now, Pelosi has thrived upon CIA dysfunction, and she has ignored the need for broader systemic change at the CIA, change that is necessary to protect the lives of Americans and our allies.
In Mrs. Pelosi’s defense, CIA managers do not give fist-pounding briefings. They mumble, they dissemble, and there’s a lot of “on the one hand . . .” Its enormous numbers of employees have led to briefings being handled by groups, with vague chains of command, so that it may have been difficult to pin down what was said, when it was said, and who was in charge.
In recent years, CIA bureaucracy has appeared to favor the Left, while in the early decades of its existence it was perceived as a group of right-wingers dedicated to toppling communist dictators. In reality the CIA is loyal only to itself. As long as Mrs. Pelosi supported its bureaucratic lifestyle, it supported her, but when she attacked it, it fought back. The CIA may not be able to conduct efficient intelligence operations, but it knows how to survive.
The CIA should be systemically changed so that it becomes an effective force for the defense of Americans, and not a political special-interest group. It needs to get its officers out of the United States and operating in foreign countries. (President Obama visited CIA Headquarters in April, where he was greeted by throngs of cheering CIA employees. With 90 percent of its employees now living and working within the United States, it is easy for the CIA to gather a rock-concert crowd.) The CIA needs to establish accountability for taxpayer funding — no whistle-blower system currently exists at the CIA to prevent fraud. Most importantly, the CIA must shift its focus to gathering critical intelligence on foreign threats such as Iran and North Korea, and stop engaging in political fights in Washington, D.C.
The real challenge to Mrs. Pelosi’s political power will come not from these latest revelations, but in the fallout from the next intelligence failure, when America is taken by surprise, or when President Obama makes a crucial decision based on false or nonexistent CIA intelligence.
– “Ishmael Jones” is a former deep-cover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He is author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published last year by Encounter Books.