Disband the CIA: Start all over
Last week, Washington was chattering about the unclassified version of the latest National Intelligence Estimate or NIE. These days, the NIE is the product of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Like the committee appointed to improve upon the horse and comes up with the camel, the NIE offers an ungainly, something-for-everyone.
Those who want vigorous prosecution of our defense against attacks by radical Islam, found support for their views because the NIE says our armed forces have, post-9/11, done serious damage to al-Qaeda. Those who take the position that fighting back in Iraq and Afghanistan causes al-Qaeda to gain more jihadist recruits, found support for saying: “I told you so.”
Having served our nation for a time as a “spook,” it is painful to assert the need to disband the CIA and start all over. But that’s what is needed.
Yes, we need “spooks” to gather information about both enemy and friendly capabilities and intentions. Yes, we need analysts to process that information and produce intelligence to be presented to the President and his national security staff for their consideration.
Stop. That’s it. We do not need personnel in the CIA or the State Department who think it is their job to determine national foreign and defense policy. Article II of our Constitution clearly assigns the decision-making role to the President, not to the Congress, not to the Judiciary and certainly not to intelligence agencies not even mentioned in the Constitution.
Unfortunately, civil service rules (no one can be fired without an act of God) and government whistle-blower protections have spawned individuals within the intelligence community who, if their views do not become national policy, go leaking their pet ideas to certain members of Congress and/or to selected media outlets.
Moreover, the CIA intelligence personnel pyramid is inverted. Instead of a broad base of field agents at the bottom and a small cadre of field-experienced analysts and managers at the tiny, pointed top of the pyramid, we have just the reverse.
Each morning, some 20,000 non-covert CIA employees (a la Valerie Plame) pour onto the CIA’s 258-acre, college-like campus in Langley, Virginia. Out in the field at diplomatic posts or under non-official cover, are another 20,000 or so CIA case officers and agents.
The Armed Services have their own intelligence branches. The Pentagon has its Defense Intelligence Agency. The National Security Agency (NSA) provides vital communications data. Another agency provides satellite and other high-altitude over-flight data. All of those agencies provide useful raw information.
But the truth is that every major piece of world-shaking intelligence the CIA should have reported to the White House was either not reported or, if so, was ignored by the Presidents who could have acted upon it. Here are just two examples:
1. Well prior to the erection of the Berlin Wall in August, 1961, tons of intelligence were sent to the Kennedy White House that the East Germans were about to erect a concrete and barbed-wire curtain around and through Berlin. President Kennedy failed to act on solid intelligence and then acted surprised when the Wall went up. (He even muffed his grandstanding speech to the Berliners he let be walled-off when he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” (I’m a jelly donut). He should have said, “Ich bin Berliner,” meaning he declared himself a fellow citizen of Berlin).
2. In 2003, President Bush was told by then CIA Director, George Tenet, that Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD was a “slam-dunk”, he could, “take to the bank.” Ultimately, history will rule if Bush was correct or incorrect in deposing Saddam. But he did so based, in part, on faulty WMD intelligence.
The best chance to reform the CIA came when President Bush appointed former CIA case officer and former Congressman, Porter Goss, to be CIA Director. But the CIA bureaucracy undermined Goss and, to his discredit, President Bush asked Goss to step down.
Until the CIA is fixed, we are, as we used to say in South Korea, “In deep Kimchi.”
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He is also the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2007. William Hamilton.