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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Intel in the dumps

Opinion Journal has an interesting piece by Bret Stephens in which two former high-ranking Mossad officers discuss the problems at the CIA and what, if anything, a new director can do to fix them.

Efraim Halevy, who headed Mossad from 1998-2002, notes that he started his job during a crisis situation. He says the new CIA chief, whether it's General Hayden or someone else
"must first work quickly to repair the image of the organization by producing results. He must re-establish credibility at the political level, and this isn't going to be easy because political leaders will be wary of intelligence judgments. He must pass a message of confidence in and respect for the troops. He has to stand up for his people, and not take a back seat while someone else takes the rap. And he has to be creative and allow creativity and courage to show themselves."

Not long into his tenure, a Turkish newspaper claimed--falsely, according to Mr. Halevy--that the Mossad had been involved in the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish leader of the terrorist PKK. The report, which put Israelis at risk of PKK reprisals, had to be discredited in a way that would be believed. Rather than issue a public denial, Mr. Halevy circulated a memo within the Mossad disavowing any link to the Ocalan operation. The memo then "leaked," achieving the desired impression.

Stephens see a lesson in this:

[I]t helps to run an organization where leaks, when they happen, are authorized and purposeful. In recent years, the CIA has lost that ability, in part because of a deep-seated ideological animus to the Bush administration (witness the careers of anti-Bush partisans Valerie Plame, Paul Pillar, Michael Scheuer and Mary McCarthy), but also, it seems, as payback from careerists who felt rudely handled by Mr. Goss. If you want to plug leaks--and manage change--try getting the troops on board.

All of this is true enough, but Stephens doesn't explain why this "deep-seated animus" exists in the first place, something that it seems to me would be deserving of exploration. (Could it have anything to do with the administration throwing the CIA to the wolves over pre-Iraqi war intelligence?)

Halevy has kind words for the CIA's quality of work, saying that in the nearly four decades that he's had dealing with it, he "has not seen a decline" in its intelligence gathering capabilities. To this, Stephens throws in a snarky, "It isn't clear if he's only being polite."

Uzi Arad (maybe we need an intelligence chief whose first name is Colt or Wesson?), who once ran Mossad's intel division, paints quite a different picture.

"My impression," he says, "is that rather than galloping ahead to compensate for years of absenteeism and lagging behind, you have a kind of vegetating system."

Mr. Arad compares this to what's happened to the U.S. military in recent years. "The field of intelligence has been going through a revolution analogous to the revolution in military affairs," he says. Yet while the Pentagon is devising new technologies and strategies to cope with a new geopolitical landscape, the CIA is adapting "retroactively, as one mishap follows another."

An instructive example: "In the past," Mr. Arad says, "secrecy and compartmentalization were considered to be virtues in the intelligence community, often at the expense of synergy. That made sense during the Cold War, when the U.S. was confronting an enemy capable of penetrating the system. But al Qaeda and Iran probably aren't capable of penetrating the system the way the KGB was. So perhaps we need to tilt away from the culture of secrecy and bring more jointness, more synchronization, more pooling of scarce resources."

Nor is this the only problem Mr. Arad sees. "Despite the current reforms," he says, "the American system is very big, very complex, with many redundancies to protect institutional interests rather than security interests." The Mossad employs an estimated 2,000 agents and officers. The CIA is perhaps 10 times that size, and it's just one of 16 American intelligence agencies. Yet the quantity of resources has done little to improve the quality of U.S. intelligence. On Iran's nuclear program, for instance, last year's Robb-Silberman Report suggests America knows frighteningly little.

The whole idea behind the establishment of the Director of National Intelligence position was to deal with these "redundancies" and institutional biases, but, as Stephens point out:

Instead, under John Negroponte, the office has become yet another player in the broader intelligence bureaucracy, trying to impose its will on a recalcitrant (but weak) CIA and an even more recalcitrant (and strong) Defense Intelligence Agency. How a CIA director can find his way through this maze is anyone's guess; it certainly defeated Mr. Goss.

So instead of making things run more efficiently, we've got an office of the DNI that apparently does nothing but add yet another layer of bureaucracy to a system already choking in it. This is good for our national security how? This makes us safer how?

Will we ever get serious about this country's intelligence apparatus? Why does every solution that comes out of DC involve the creation of more bureaucratic bullshit? Will the boys and girls at the CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA, SOG, and all the other alphabet agencies ever learn to work together? It seems to me that this last is what Negroponte and his people - with General Hayden in the number two slot - were supposed to be working on. If so, they've so far failed, and failed miserably.

This country doesn't need any more alphabet soup; instead, we need some clear chicken broth.

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