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Vappala Balachandran | 19 MARCH, 2015

CIA Reorganisation Plans Run into Controversy

Cleaning up the CIA?


CIA Director John Brennan is reported to be a very close associate of President Obama. New York Times said on Dec 14, 2014: “… in the 67 years since the C.I.A. was founded, few presidents have had as close a bond with their intelligence chiefs as Mr. Obama has forged with Mr. Brennan. It is a relationship that has shaped the policy and politics of the debate over the nation’s war with terrorist organizations, as well as the agency’s own struggle to balance security and liberty”.

The occasion for this remark was the part release of the scorching enquiry report on the CIA’s detention and Interrogation techniques on December 9, 2014. The bipartisan Senate Select Committee of Intelligence had started this enquiry on March 5, 2009. During the Committee’s deliberations Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein alleged on March 11, 2014 that the CIA had illegally searched the Intelligence Committee's computers to determine how they had obtained CIA documents. Following this even some Democrat members of the Congress had wanted the President to fire the director.

In such a background it is not illogical to assume that the much publicized CIA reorganization plan, said to be the “most sweeping in history”, would go unchallenged. Brennan had initially unveiled this to his staff on March 6. Later he eloquently justified it on March 13 during his address to the Council on Foreign Relations: “Rising instability leads to a growth in ungoverned spaces, a spike in humanitarian crises, a surge in refugees, weapons and fighters across borders, and an emphasis on security over democratic principles among conflict-weary publics”. His plan is to target global digital espionage and terrorism by having 10 “Mission Centres” where operational and analysis officers would work together. In this he wanted to replicate the “Bin Laden Unit” of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Centre of the 1990s where he had worked. Washington Post said (March 6) that his idea was to have a “seamless” coverage of all events affecting the security of USA, eliminating the present geographical and functional divisions. “CIA should be in position to cover the entire universe, regionally and functionally, and so something that’s going on in the world falls into one of those buckets.”

Secondly he wants to set up a new directorate (5th) focused on researching advances in computer technology and communications. The Directorate of Digital Innovation will be an important department along with the agency’s operations and analysis branches. It will be responsible for combating cyber-espionage and also overseeing CIA’s internal communications system. US Media has assessed that these changes would affect thousands of employees, changing their departments and the lines of authority.

In order to pre-empt Congressional objections, CIA spokespersons also that the changes would be managed within the Agency’s budget.

However this is not going to be that easy considering the traditional mood of the Congress in minutely scrutinizing CIA’s plans and actions. Already a group of CIA ex-employees (Veterans) have appealed to the President on March 9 opposing the new scheme. Their objections are mainly against the abolition of the present division between analysts and operational officers. Traditionally CIA had believed in segregating analysts from operations so that the leadership would get independent and unbiased views on the necessity and effectiveness of their operations. They feel that this is the basic insurance in a democratic society to ensure that intelligence agencies did not violate law and trample upon civil rights. In particular the veterans have made a direct accusation: “The ‘former senior officers’ whom Brennan asked for input on the restructuring plan are a similar closed, blinkered circle, as is the ‘outstanding group of officers from across the Agency’ picked by Brennan to look at the Agency’s mission and future. He did not include any of the intelligence community dissidents and alumni who fought against the disastrous politicization of intelligence before the attack on Iraq. Nor does Brennan’s plan reflect the lessons learned from that debacle…. You are fully aware, we trust, that our analysts’ vaunted ethos of speaking unvarnished truth to power was corrupted by Director George Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who outdid themselves in carrying out the instructions of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney…”.

Politicization of intelligence is a very sensitive subject in USA. The debate started in 1949 when Prof. Sherman Kent, a former Yale academic who had long service of 25 years in Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and its successor C.I.A, advocated total distancing of intelligence from policy in his seminal piece “ Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy”. He wanted intelligence to be detached to make it objective. However Wilmore Kendal, another Yale professor who was also working in C.I.A rejected this and wanted intelligence to work alongside the policy makers to influence the course of events. Former CIA Director and later Defence Secretary Robert Gates gave a further boost to this debate through his article in Foreign Affairs (Winter 1987-88) advocating a lead role for intelligence in recording explicit implications for US policy makers and highlighting the opportunities or threats such policies faced. However at that time President Herbert Walker Bush (The Senior) rejected any role for intelligence in policy making. He made this clear in his book “A world transformed” (1998) co-written with Gen.Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser.

Yet USA had used operational information for short term political ends or for political up man ship, regardless of the consequences. Nothing illustrates this better than the Korean KAL 007 incident in September 1983. In this case, transcripts of intelligence intercepts were given to Secretary of State George Shultz to publicly condemn the Soviet Union for shooting down a passenger plane even after knowing its real identity. CIA’s simultaneous intelligence that the Soviet Union might have mistaken KAL 007 to be US RC 135 reconnaissance plane which was in the vicinity for monitoring a Soviet ICBM test was not revealed . But Shultz was in terrible embarrassment when the New York Times published a story on Oct 7, 1983 that the CIA had also reported this possibility of misidentification. He felt that the CIA had deliberately leaked this to embarrass him!

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