High-Level CIA Officers: "Reform" of Intelligence Agencies Has Made It MORE DIFFICULT to Stop Terrorism → Washingtons Blog
High-Level CIA Officers: "Reform" of Intelligence Agencies Has Made It MORE DIFFICULT to Stop Terrorism - Washingtons Blog

Friday, January 8, 2010

High-Level CIA Officers: "Reform" of Intelligence Agencies Has Made It MORE DIFFICULT to Stop Terrorism

Two former high-level CIA officers have said that the government's recent "reform" of the intelligence services has made it more difficult to fight terrorism.

Specifically, Jack Rice - a former CIA field officer - told Keith Olbermann yesterday that the Bush administration's reforms of the intelligence community have made it more difficult to prevent terrorist operations.

Rice says that the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center and the office of the Director of National Intelligence in the years after the 9/11 attacks means that information is being shuffled around too many different offices and agencies.

"The problem with that is sometimes you may not get the context of that information," Rice said. "So they only get pieces of it. When you break this up into so many moving parts -- and there are already incredible numbers of moving parts -- you sort of misunderstand how the entire process works. So now they're having to cobble it back together, and try to come up with an answer, and they're still failing at that."

And Ray McGovern - a 27-year CIA veteran, who chaired National Intelligence Estimates and personally delivered intelligence briefings to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, their Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many other senior government officials - says the same thing.

As McGovern wrote Wednesday:

The creation of the post of Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the 170,000-person Department of Homeland Security was the mother of all misguided panaceas.

Bear in mind that the general election of 2004 was just a few months away when the 9/11 report was published, and lawmakers and administration functionaries desperately needed to be seen to be DOING SOMETHING. And, as is almost always the case in such circumstances, they made things considerably worse.

The 9/11 Commissioners had been fretting over the fact that, in their words, "No one was in charge of coordination among intelligence agencies." That was true, but only because George Tenet much preferred to cavort with foreign potentates and thugs, than to do the job of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

It was not a systemic problem, but one of personal irresponsibility. Ignoring that, a new systemic "solution" was sought, and implemented, where none was needed.
By law, the Director of Central Intelligence was responsible precisely for coordinating the work of the entire intelligence community, as the principal intelligence adviser to the President (National Security Act of 1947).

This, indeed, was the main reason why Truman created the Central Intelligence Agency and not only put the DCI in charge of the CIA but also gave the DCI wider--and equally important intelligence community-wide responsibilities.

The idea was to prevent another Pearl Harbor, where bits and pieces of intelligence lay around with the code-breakers, the Navy, the Army Air Corps, the FBI, Embassy Tokyo, the people monitoring Radio Tokyo, etc., etc. with no central
place where analysts could be in receipt of and consider all the evidence. It was abundantly clear to Truman that, had there been such a place in 1941, adequate forewarning of the Japanese attack would have been a no-brainer.

As for the situation obtaining in the Washington bureaucracies in mid-2004, the following personal vignette, I believe, speaks volumes: On July 22, the day the 9/11 Commission Report was issued, BBC TV had scheduled me for comment on it, just minutes after its release, at the BBC bureau in Washington. During my ten minutes before the camera I focused mostly on the curious fact that NO ONE, NO ONE, NOT ONE SOLITARY SOUL WAS BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE!

As I left the TV studio for the outer room, in walked 9/11 Commissioners Jamie Gorelick and former Senator Slade Gorton (R, Washington) to present their own commentary to BBC viewers. Gorelick went right into the studio; I took advantage
of being one-on-one with Sen. Gorton.

"Sen. Gorton," I asked, "I don't quite understand all this talk alleging that "No one is in charge of the intelligence community." You are surely aware that, by act of Congress, there is such a person, and right now that happens to be Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet."

The avuncular Gorton tiptoed up to me, put his right hand around my shoulder, and with a conspiratorial whisper said, "Yes, Ray, Of course I know that. We all know that. But George would not take charge; he would not do what he was supposed to." ...

The new Director of National Intelligence? This position, created by the post -9/11 "reforms," was/is totally unnecessary--and counterproductive. This was entirely predictable. As my former CIA colleague Mel Goodman has written, the DNI superstructure has actually been very destructive of good intelligence" in more ways than I have space to go into here...

The fact that no National Intelligence Estimate has been completed on Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, is, at this stage, unconscionable. Were Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal able to head off an NIE, lest its conclusions brand their plans for Afghanistan the "march of folly" that it is?

Ever since President Truman set up the CIA, the preparation of a National Intelligence Estimate has been de rigueur before important the President would make important decisions on foreign, and particularly military, policies. Was the new layer-laden intelligence bureaucracy unable to get its act together in time to give this customary support to the President?

The National Counterterrorism Center?

Also unnecessary; a benighted idea. The recent attempt by Mr. Abdulmutallab to bring down a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight speaks volumes about the NCTC's effectiveness and the kind of leadership exercised by John Brennan--a clone of George Tenet.

We are told that Brennan is supposed to coordinate things at the National Security Council...or is Director of National Intelligence Admiral Blair supposed to do that?".or Panetta? ...or the Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security? ...or maybe the FBI?""" Ugh...

As for the Department of Homeland Security"just look, if you will, at what has happened to the Secret Service and to the Transportation Security Administration--not to mention FEMA and Katrina. Double ugh.


  1. I'm reading Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner. It's a history of the CIA from its inception. He is a reporter for the New York Times and he does not come across as a wingnut.

    Any recent criticism of CIA performance is part of a long history of trainwrecks at the CIA. While the CIA was originally supposed to be an intelligence gathering service, the covert operations part of the agency (of dubious legality on a good day) has often been out of control, unsupervised, and poorly thought out.

    It's a horribly depressing and enlightening book. I have no connection to the author or any connection to the book, I'm just reading it.

  2. Anyone who reads Weiner's book needs to know that the reason it didn't win a Pulitzer is that it was discovered that he made up a critical scene and cherry-picked his evidence throughout. Google "CQ" and "Jeff Stein" to read a fair expose of the matter.


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