Housecleaning time for the CIA

The Baltimore Sun

U.S. presidents have been reluctant to reform the Central Intelligence Agency. Often, their first decision, naming a CIA director, guarantees there will be no meaningful change. Presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush named CIA directors who either were unfit for the job or politicized intelligence - or both. Three decades of mediocre appointments have created huge bureaucratic woes at the CIA that will be difficult to fix.

The next president needs to address three major problems that have weakened the intelligence community: militarization of intelligence; absence of oversight; and illegal activity by the CIA's National Clandestine Service. It is unconscionable that a senior CIA lawyer, Jonathan Fredman, could tell military and intelligence officials that torture is "basically subject to perception" and that "if the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong."

*Demilitarizing the intelligence community. The Bush administration has boasted of a "marriage" between the Pentagon and the CIA, ignoring President Harry S. Truman's warning to keep the intelligence community outside of the policy process. President Bush has firmly placed the CIA and other agencies under military influence. General officers hold the key positions of director of national intelligence; director of CIA; director and deputy director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center; undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and the directors of the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office.

The Department of Defense is essentially the chief operating officer of the $60 billion intelligence industry, with the Pentagon controlling more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget and more than 85 percent of all intelligence personnel. The Bush administration has deputized the military to spy on law-abiding American citizens, with military officers attending anti-war and peace rallies, and staff sergeants engaged in NSA's warrantless eavesdropping of American citizens. The Bush administration favors using Pentagon spy satellites to conduct surveillance on U.S. targets.

*Reviving oversight. The decline of the CIA over the past 20 years coincides with the reduced role of oversight by the Senate and House intelligence committees as well as the executive branch. The committees were established as elite, bipartisan panels and behaved that way initially. The next president must understand that the oversight committees have failed to make the CIA accountable for its transgressions and have become advocates for the CIA. The next president must prod the committees to be more aggressive in getting sensitive intelligence information that has a bearing on policy decisions, and committee staffers must be more zealous in scrutinizing intelligence for signs of politicization.

In addition to bolstering the oversight mission of the intelligence committees, it is necessary to strengthen the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and to revive the Intelligence Oversight Board, both under attack from the Bush administration. The White House issued an executive order in March to strip the advisory board of nearly all its powers to investigate and check illegal intelligence activities. In addition to virtually eliminating the oversight process, the Bush administration has ignored legislation passed in 2004 to create a civil liberties board to offer some protection against the recent surveillance bill to wiretap U.S. citizens and to use Pentagon spy satellites for domestic purposes.

*Ignoring the myths of clandestine operations and covert action. A new president will not be able to restore the CIA's moral compass until he becomes familiar with the myths of the CIA. First, the intelligence community rarely functions as a community. With the exception of the production of National Intelligence Estimates, there are deep bureaucratic rivalries between civilian and military agencies that contribute to distorted intelligence. Second, the office of the director of national intelligence does not provide leadership over the intelligence community. The undersecretary of defense for intelligence has veto power over the ability of the DNI to transfer personnel from individual agencies into joint centers or other agencies and has significant power over the largest intelligence agencies such as the NSA, NGA and NRO.

What the CIA should be, what it should do, and what it should prepare to do are less clear than at any time since the beginning of the Cold War. The end of the Cold War and the absence of an existential threat to U.S. interests have produced an unparalleled opportunity for change and reform, but the White House up until now has evaded the challenge and the need to start anew. Congress and the American people must demand better of the next president.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow and director of the national security program at the Center for International Policy, is author of "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA." He was a senior analyst at the CIA and the State Department for 24 years. His e-mail is

A Commentary article Thursday, "Housecleaning time for the CIA," incorrectly stated that the director and deputy director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center are military officers. The Sun regrets the error.
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