Sen Pat Roberts has been making waves the last couple of days with his proposal to just eliminate the CIA altogether. I was going to write about this over the weekend but there’s a problem: nobody has seen this ‘plan’ except Republicans. Not knowing what it entails makes it hard–well, impossible, really–to evaluate, but I want to at least offer a word or two of caution.
First, Roberts is a long-time ally and follower of Newt Gingrich. In the early 90’s, Gingrich also proposed eliminating the Company–in everything but name. He was furious with John Deutsche’s CIA for debunking Laurie Mylroie’s fantasies of Saddam Hussein as the Professor Moriarty of MidEast terrorism–a theory in which he still fervently believes despite all the evidence to the effect that Mylroie is a raging loony whose ties to a reality anyone else would recognize are tenuous at best–and in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (where he later became a Fellow), he suggested a reform of the intelligence community that was, in outline, precisely what Gingrich-acolyte Doug Feith later set up with the OSP and C-TEG: stovepiping–sending raw data around Company intelligence analysts straight to the policy-makers.
Newtsie, you see, who fancies himself an intelligence expert (a self-inflicted fantasy that must have arisen from his fondness for Ian Fleming because he has zero actual intelligence knowledge or experience, though he did write a Fleming-ish spy novel that was so bad it was remaindered mere weeks after publication), was convinced that for political reasons Deutsche and the CIA were hiding the proof that Tinfoil-Hat Laurie was right, and he was determined to punish them by marginalizing them (a standard right-wing strategy for dealing with enemies). The ‘reforms’ he proposed would have shifted most if not all of the CIA’s responsibilities to other intel agencies (NSA, DID, NI, and so on) and put it all under the control of a new Intelligence Directorate where an ‘intelligence czar’ would pull all the pieces together and run the show just as Bill Simon had done with ATF, DEA and Customs as the ‘drug czar’ (sound familiar?)
The proposal never went anywhere but Newt never let it go, either, though he changed his approach. By the late 90’s he was pretending to be a CIA ‘supporter’, arguing for more funds, less oversight, and fewer restrictions on the illegal ops intel agencies, especially the Company, could engage in. Sounds like a booster, right? But hidden within his proposal for ‘expanding’ the CIA was the same old ‘reform’ plan: cut it up, spread its duties around, and join it to a ‘larger effort’ where it would be just another player in a welter of them, all responsible to an overall authority.
When I read the 9/11CR, I thought that, although there were key differences, their proposal was just Newt’s plan raising its ugly head again like the monsters in Binkley’s Anxiety Closet who never really go away, they just change their form as his fears change. The problems with both the 9/11C’s proposal and Gingrich’s is the same: first, they don’t solve the problem of politicizing intelligence, they exacerbate it, making the Company even less independent and more obedient to political forces than it is now; second, they don’t address the problem of the CIA’s culture at all.
I suspect (though I cannot, of course, know–I’m not a Republican) that Roberts’ unseen proposal is most likely Newt’s old plan in new clothes with one new wrinkle: getting rid of even the pretense that the CIA would survive the reforms.
The trouble with the Company is not now and never has been with its structure. As Deutsche correctly pointed out, the fault lies with the CIA’s culture–bureaucratic, insanely turf-conscious, slack, and above all, technology-crazed. Amazing amounts of money have been pissed away on satellites, cyber-toys, and increasingly complicated (and ineffective) listening devices while human intel–assets–have been downgraded to expendable accessories. So rare are they that many station-chiefs aren’t even trained in the tradecraft of running a nertwork any more, and couldn’t do a legitimate interrogation or debriefing of an asset if you put a gun to their heads.
Changing the structure may make everybody feel better because they think they’re doing something, but it isn’t going to solve the core problems of culture and politicization. It may dress the dummy up in the latest fashions from Bergdorf’s, but underneath it’s still going to be the same old dummy.
Update: According to the WaPo, Roberts’ plan is, in fact, almost identical to Gingrich’s from 13 years ago.
Under the plan, the CIA’s three main directorates would be torn from the agency and turned into separate entities reporting to separate directors. The Pentagon would lose control of three of its largest operations as well, including the super-secret National Security Agency, which intercepts electronic signals worldwide.
I don’t remember Gingrich taking anything from the DoD, and the czar is missing, oddly enough, but otherwise we’re in the same ballpark. Another terrible proposal.
[A] senior intelligence official said…the plan “makes no sense” and would cause more problems than it solves.“Rather than eliminating stovepipes, this will create more of them,” said the intelligence official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the political debate. “Rather than bringing intelligence disciplines together, it smashes them apart. . . . This proposal is unworkable and would hamper rather than enhance the nation’s intelligence operations.”