No Excuse

It is impossible to know what is really going on behind the scenes at the CIA, the Office of National Intelligence, or for that matter, in the White House or the halls of Congress. But if a single person pays attention, he or she can glean enough information from articles, statements and actions to make an informed decision about what is probably happpening at our national intelligence agencies.

That said, it appears that the recent departure of Porter Goss from the CIA is a sign that once again the CIA bureaucracy has defeated attempts at reform. The new number two at the agency was one of Goss’s biggest critics. Democrats in congress, the natural allies of the bureaucracy, are happy with the appointment. The leaks continue, attempts to build the human intelligence capabilities are said to be in disarray, and the Agency’s general antagonism toward the Bush administration has not changed.

It also appears that President Bush and Ambassador Negroponte are in the process of breaking up the agency, rather than reforming it under its old structure. Reports are that Negroponte forced Porter Goss out because he was unwilling to transfer the agency’s analysis function to the Office of National Intelligence, Negroponte’s oversight group. It seems Bush and Negroponte feel that the CIA is simply too far gone, and the only remedy is to force the CIA into a lesser role focused solely on collecting foreign intelligence.

And then, of course, there is the plain truth that the CIA hasn’t performed particularly well over its sixty some odd years. According to Reuel Marc Gerecht, a long time CIA operative, bureaucratic incentives at the CIA have long misdirected operatives and created an organization that is particularly poor at securing foreign intelligence assets. The mere fact that we have no useful assets on the ground in Iraq or Iran speaks volumes. Church Commission and Clinton era “reforms” restricting agents from hiring “bad guys” may have contributed greatly to this problem, but a “quantity over quality” incentive scheme is more to blame for the lack of productive assets, according to Gerecht.

All considered, one has to wonder whether it is possible for a free society to effectively infiltrate closed societies to gather actionable intelligence. Take, for example, the issue of WMD and Iraq. After interviewing tens of high level generals and politicians now sitting in Iraqi jails, researchers concluded that most of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle themselves believed that Iraq possessed WMD. It appears that had the CIA been able to place an operative at the table of Saddam’s inner council, our intelligence forces would have come to the same conclusion.

Should the American people be concerned that our national intelligence agencies appear to be in constant disarray? Yes and no. Information is important and useful and we should continue to do everything we can to understand the threats around us. But our intelligence agencies are simply tools and will inevitably be pulled and pushed by the crippling forces of bureaurocratic infighting. At the end of the day, it is our elected officials who are accountable and we cannot allow them to use less than top form intelligence agencies as an excuse for not addressing hard decisions.