Now what?

CIA, R.I.P.

May 16, 2006|By HAVILAND SMITH

The CIA is finally dead.

It started with President Bill Clinton's "peace dividend," declared after the fall of the Soviet Union, which brought bipartisan underfunding and inattention to the CIA for over a decade.

It continued with recriminations from the Bush administration for its putative failures to predict 9/11 and White House anger at and retribution for what it believed to be the CIA's lack of support for its foreign policies.

It is now ending with the 20-month disaster of Porter J. Goss, which clearly demonstrated the Bush administration's desire to punish the CIA and reflected its proposition that the CIA is no longer needed.

So we now have the skeleton of an organization that once contained the government's pre-eminent intelligence analytical component plus its unequaled espionage, covert action, paramilitary, counterespionage and counterintelligence capabilities. What remains is the new National Clandestine Service (NCS) - the old Operations Directorate, or Clandestine Service, by a different name.

Analysis and the counterterrorism center have gone to the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, making him responsible for presidential briefings and thus diminishing the CIA's role.

Espionage, paramilitary operations and covert action are expanding unilateral enterprises in the Pentagon, challenging even the CIA's proposed new NCS role.

The FBI, which never has had organizational understanding of, or commitment to, counterespionage, counterterrorism or counterintelligence, continues as the lead organization on all those disciplines.

What appears to have been lost in rearranging the deck chairs after 9/11 is the unavoidable fact that the U.S. desperately needs a functioning human intelligence-collection component to conduct operations against its enemies abroad. Only the new NCS has the potential to provide this capability.

That the NCS does not have the personnel, experience or linguistic talents to successfully conduct on-the-ground spying is the fault of those in Congress and the White House who should have been supporting and funding this country's intelligence operations from 1990 to 2006 but did not do so adequately.

Running intelligence operations abroad, which is based on breaking the laws of other countries, is tricky. It requires that the NCS be pre-eminent in running spies. For both the NCS and the Pentagon to be conducting uncoordinated spy operations in the same geographic area would be an invitation to disaster. In addition, the NCS, in order to maximize and protect its operations, needs to be in charge of liaisons with foreign intelligence services and responsible for overseas counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

Finally, NCS will need unfettered access to the best government analysts. It is the interplay between intelligence collector and analyst that moves any operation toward its optimal results.

The NCS as a spy operation will function better without responsibility for covert action, which is defined as operations intended to manipulate foreign groups or governments to take actions favorable to the United States. The ability to mount and run such operations was always viewed by CIA directors as a plus in the old Washington power game. It was a capability that many presidents could not and did not refuse.

But covert action operations in the Clandestine Service complicated its role as intelligence collector and diverted resources. It was always easier to place a pro-American, anti-Soviet article in the local press than it was to run a complicated recruitment operation against a Soviet official, and it got people promoted.

Since the CIA has been all but destroyed and because the spy activities it formerly undertook remain even more tactically critical today than during the Cold War, everything needs to be done to regain and improve the capabilities that existed before the dismemberment of the organization.

Clandestine operations need to be kept clear of the existing bureaucracies and remain under independent leadership. Human intelligence is not a job, it's an art form. A bureaucratically managed spying effort working under some other bureaucratized government component such as the Pentagon or the director of national intelligence will never get the job done.

In that respect, it's difficult to understand, assuming that the White House wants to bolster our human spy capability, why Gen. Michael V. Hayden, with only a technological background, would be nominated to head an organization in which experience in conducting human intelligence should be the first requirement for employment. This is a dangerous time for our country to have a CIA director with a steep learning curve.

Haviland Smith, who retired from the CIA as a station chief in 1980, served in Europe and the Middle East as chief of counterterrorism and as an executive assistant in the CIA director's office. His e-mail is twopond@adelphia.net.

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