Holding the Government Accountable

The CIA's Existential Crisis

Immediately after Porter Goss resigned on Friday, many in Washington were wondering if ongoing revelations and questions about Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo—and Foggo's history with Goss, Brent Wilkes and Duke Cunningham—was the impetus for Goss officially-unexplained departure. At most, Foggo-related matters merely sped up the inevitable; while more shoes are likely to drop in that realm (stay tuned), Goss' departure is best understood as the inevitable result of the combination of poor intelligence reform and poor staffing choices (by the White House, and by Goss). The real question for the next act: How much longer will the CIA exist?

Let's rewind to the days before the "reform" scheme that's given us our current intelligence community was unveiled. Amongst intelligence community career professionals, rough consensus held that the smartest reform package would be one that created an Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI); gave it unfettered budget and appointment authority; gave it the CIA's analytic Directorate of Intelligence (DI), since DI analysts prepare, among other things, the President's Daily Brief (which the DNI now gives); and would take the high-tech strategic agencies (National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaisance Office ) out of the Department of Defense (DoD) and put them under ODNI's control as well. In this iteration, a highly mission-oriented CIA would do nothing but espionage and other covert operations; the Pentagon would keep the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the armed services would retain their individual intelligence elements.

What we got, courtesy the Congressional grinder, was far from this vision. The Defense Department still controls the high-tech strategic agencies (and woe to those who point out the wisdom of moving any of them out from under DoD's control). Far from sticking to the battlefield, the Pentagon's Intelligence Undersecretariat under Stephen Cambone has moved rapidly to expand into more strategic-type human intelligence (HUMINT) (including, disturbingly, on the home front), despite a long history of Defense types not doing so well in that area. In Porter Goss, CIA got a White House toady accessorized by political cronies from central casting, all distinguished by their alacrity in purging the Agency's ranks of those whose talent and institutional knowledge outweighed their perceived deference to presidential prerogative.* And in town where budget and staff matters, ODNI got little of both—and a head who was far from the top choice and not an intelligence specialist.

Thus, what Congress effectively engineered is a situation in which the Pentagon has had great latitude to expand its intelligence portfolio--which it has, arguably becoming the dominant pole in the intelligence community. The only way the ODNI can hope to have anything resembling actual intelligence czar authority is by first establishing itself as the other pole--civilian intelligence--opposite the Pentagon.

ODNI is on the verge of achieving that critical step. The only real question now is whether or not Hayden (provided he gets confirmed) will be cast as either the new, tight linchpin between CIA and ODNI—or as the figure tasked with the Agency's total dismemberment (hints here). Since last year some in the intelligence community have been regarding the latter as an eventual certainty. "I think that the Agency is eventually going to be broken up," one of our sources told us, summing up a common sentiment. "DI goes to ODNI. The National Clandestine Service, backed up by support and technical elements, goes too, and ends up reporting directly to the Deputy DNI for Collection. Whatever's left gets scattered to the wind, and CIA Headquarters becomes a GSA [General Services Administration] leased building or something."

In other words, whether CIA becomes an ODNI "vassal agency" under Hayden, or CIA gets broken up with the DI and/or NCS boxes-on-the-organization chart moving from CIA to ODNI, we're looking at the very real possibility of the Director of National Intelligence being, albeit indirectly, Director of the CIA as well--the two functions that everyone agreed needed to be severed in the name of post-9/11 "reform".

*"A lot of people talk about Goss the way they talk about Stansfield Turner," one old hand told us last week, "but I think the better comparison is something from the other side during the Cold War in the 70s, when Moscow decided the Cuban intelligence service wasn't sufficiently 'on-side,' and sent a team of 'advisors' who effectively took over and purged the place."