Clean house at the CIA

October 11, 2001|By Melvin A. Goodman

WASHINGTON -- A week after the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told the news media, "This isn't Pearl Harbor." It's worse.

In the past eight years, Osama bin Laden has attacked the United States repeatedly: the World Trade Center in 1993, U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000. A plan to use commercial airlines as weapons in the mid-1990s (including the CIA headquarters building as a target) was aborted.

It is mind-boggling, therefore, that the CIA and FBI could not provide urgent warning of the possibility of terrorism in the United States.

Unfortunately, our perception of national security has led to a false sense of security about intelligence. There is no intelligence community, no director of central intelligence, no Central Intelligence Agency. Instead, we have a gaggle of competing intelligence bureaucracies, and conflicts between them, particularly between the CIA and the FBI, have contributed significantly to the warnings failure.

Intelligence can have no overall director when he must deal with key agencies that are staffed and funded almost totally by the Pentagon and are responsible to it, not to him. Tom Ridge must learn from CIA Director George Tenet's experience that the new Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security will not preside over key agencies unless it has control over funding and personnel.

Mr. Ridge will require the capability that Mr. Tenet lacks -- an all-source intelligence shop that analyzes raw operational intelligence from both the CIA and the FBI. If Mr. Ridge lacks such capabilities, his position will be no different from Mr. Tenet's.

So what's to be done?

The CIA must re-emphasize strategic intelligence. The directorate of intelligence requires analysts with strong backgrounds in area studies and the languages of critical regions. The directorate of operations needs to put agents on the street in the rough neighborhoods of the world. They also must have language skills and be under "non-official cover," which is riskier than diplomatic cover but the only way to gain access to sensitive information on terrorism.

These directorates must be placed in separate agencies so that the politics of clandestine operations does not compromise the process of intelligence analysis. The CIA will try to strengthen its analytic cadre on terrorism, but it will take years for the agency to hire and train professional analysts.

There's no doubt that the United States has the will and resolve to win the war against terrorism. But such a victory will demand accurate and objective intelligence analysis, both tactical and strategic. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently said the role of intelligence is more important than military operations in the war against terrorism.

The CIA will have to install a new leadership team to replace the current director and his chief of staff, who are former staffers from Capitol Hill and not intelligence professionals. The CIA also must replace those individuals who politicized intelligence in the 1980s and thus missed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

This long list of careerists includes the current deputy CIA director, the deputy director for intelligence, the national intelligence officer for Russia and Europe, the national intelligence officer for warning, the chief of legislative affairs and the head of the school for the study of intelligence.

They carry the message that the CIA still favors a management style that puts personal ambition ahead of solid intelligence analysis.

Melvin A. Goodman is a professor of national security at the National War College, a senior fellow at the Center for Intelligence Policy and an expert with Foreign Policy in Focus. He served at the CIA from 1966 to 1986.

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