Latest from Mel Goodman, drawn from his recently published book, Failure of Intelligence. We’ll have a link up soon for you to purchase a copy if you are interested.
By Mel Goodman
The time for serious soul-searching regarding the role of the CIA and the intelligence community is long overdue. The recent intelligence failures regarding the unanticipated collapse of the
Myth Number One: The Central Intelligence Agency is the central intelligence organization in the intelligence community, which consists of 15 intelligence agencies and departments. This has always been a myth, although it was President Harry Truman’s intention to create centrality for the CIA. But the agency met with opposition from the Pentagon, which opposed the objective and balanced intelligence estimates and assessments of the CIA, as well as from the FBI, which did not want any competition in the field of counter-intelligence. Under the Bush administration, the CIA has been steadily weakened, with a director, Michael Hayden, who is a four-star general, and the creation of the post of director of national intelligence, currently Admiral Mike McConnell, who has taken charge of national intelligence estimates as well as the daily briefings of the president. By placing the position of the DNI in the hands of the military, the Bush administration has completed the militarization of the CIA and even the intelligence community itself, where active-duty and retired general officers run the Office of National Intelligence, the CIA, the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. The Pentagon is responsible for nearly 90% of all personnel in the intelligence community and 85% of the community’s $50 billion budget. The absence of an independent civilian counter to the power of military intelligence threatens civilian control of the decision to use military power and makes it more likely that intelligence will be tailored to suit the purposes of the Pentagon. This is exactly what President Truman wanted to prevent.
Myth Number Two: The Intelligence Community is a genuine community that fosters intelligence cooperation and the sharing of intelligence information. The intelligence community has never functioned as a community. With the exception of the production of the National Intelligence Estimates, which are indeed a corporate product of the community, there is limited sharing of the most important and sensitive documents collected by the various intelligence agencies, and very little esprit de corps within the community. There have always been deep rivalries between the civilian and military agencies with the CIA and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research often lined up against the Defense Intelligence Agency and the various intelligence branches of the four military services. This division was particularly profound during the debates over Soviet military power and the verification of Soviet and American arms control agreements, with military intelligence consistently exaggerating the strength of the Soviet military and opposing the disarmament agreements of the 1970s and 1980s.
Myth Number Three: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence offers a genuine possibility for exercising central control over the intelligence community. The creation of the DNI has worsened the malaise and the capabilities of the CIA without assuring any reform for the Agency or the intelligence community. The sudden departure of the first DNI in December 2006, John Negroponte, for a lesser position at the State Department, meant that the reform process would start over under a new, less experienced DNI, Admiral McConnell. The veto power of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence over the ability of the DNI to transfer personnel from individual agencies into joint centers or other agencies will undermine any legitimate reform process. McConnell himself spends far too much time preparing for his daily briefing of the president, which should be in the hands of the CIA, and the issue of cyber-security, which should be in the hands of the NSA. Instead of reform, Negroponte and McConnell have built a huge, lumbering, and bloated bureaucracy that includes a principal deputy director, four deputy directors, three associate directors, and no fewer than nineteen assistant deputy directors. The DNI has a huge budget (over $1 billion) and has taken its management staff from the CIA and INR, thus weakening the overall intelligence apparatus. There has been no real accountability of the DNI, with congressional intelligence oversight committees failing to monitor the DNI’s hiring of independent contractors with extravagant salaries.
Myth Number Four: The CIA is not a policy agency, but is chartered to provide objective and balanced intelligence analysis to decision-makers without any policy axe to grind. This is possibly the greatest and most harmful myth of all, because CIA’s covert action, which has registered a series of strategic disasters over the past sixty years, is part of the policy process, and most clandestine collection of intelligence is designed to collect intelligence in support of administration policy. The CIA was unfairly described thirty years ago as a “rogue elephant out of control.” In fact, the CIA is part of the White House policy process with various presidents authorizing regime change in
Myth Number Five: The 9/11 intelligence failure was due to the lack of sharing intelligence collection. The conventional wisdom is that the 9/11 intelligence failure was caused primarily by the failure to share intelligence, particularly the failure of the CIA to inform the FBI of the presence of two al Qaeda operatives in the
Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, and author of the just released “The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.” He was an intelligence analyst at the CIA from 1966-1990.