Analysis: Should the CIA kill less and spy more?

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
The Central Intelligence Agency’s awkward silence about the recent resignation of its Director, General David Petraeus, is indicative of an organization that remains distinctly uncomfortable with publicity. The added layer of the sexual nature of Petraeus’ impropriety has increased exponentially the degree of unease at Langley. Yet sooner or later the news media will move on to something else and General Petraeus will fade into the distance. For seasoned intelligence observers, however, the question of the CIA’s future will remain firmly in the foreground. In an interview earlier this week with Wired magazine, former CIA Director General Michael Hayden (ret.) opined that Petraeus’ resignation presents the Agency with the opportunity to return to its operational roots. Hayden, who led the CIA from 2006 to 2009, said that the Agency has been “laser-focused on terrorism” for many years. Consequently, much of its operational output “looks more like targeting than it does classical intelligence”, he said. His views were echoed by the CIA’s former Acting Director, John McLaughlin, who told Wired that the most significant challenge for the post-Petraeus CIA “may be the sheer volume of problems that require [good old-fashioned] intelligence input”. Yesterday, meanwhile, saw the publication of two opinion pieces by two of America’s most experienced intelligence watchers. In the first one, The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus urges United States President Barack Obama to pause and think about the role of America’s foremost external intelligence organization before appointing a successor to General Petraeus. For over a decade, argues Pincus, the CIA’s focus has been to fulfill covert-action tasks in the context of Washington’s so-called “war on terrorism”. But through this process, the Agency “has become too much of a paramilitary organization” and has neglected its primary institutional role, which is to be “the premier producer and analyst of intelligence for policymakers, using both open and clandestine sources”. The Post’s David Ignatius agrees with Pincus. In an article aired yesterday, he argues that the personal misjudgments of David Petraeus pale into insignificance before the core questions on “intelligence goals and missions” with which the CIA is currently faced. During the leadership of Leon Panetta and David Petraeus, says Ignatius, the Agency’s paramilitary functions “swallowed alive” its intelligence-gathering side. And it is now time for intelligence collection to be placed “back in the driver’s seat” at Langley. All three voices make a good point. And they are quite right to be calling on the White House to address this, since the CIA does not determine the overall direction or goals of its operations. Rather it complies —sometimes grudgingly, sometimes enthusiastically— to the directives of the Commander-in-Chief. Considering, however, that the paramilitary-style CIA of today is largely the creation of Barack Obama and his top security advisers, it is difficult to see how or why the US President would choose to dismantle his very own design.

11 Responses to Analysis: Should the CIA kill less and spy more?

  1. Lazy G says:

    How many times can we kill #3 in Al Qaeda? To paraphrase The Who, “Meet the new #3..Same as the old #3.” These drone strike don’t exactly help our PR in these countries. We simply breed more terrorists.

    Far better to reduce our footprint in the Middle East and then take a defensive posture. The problem is offense is more profitable to the industrial complex than defense.

    Once the US is less offensive, HUMiNT will be easier to gather.

  2. Dimi the spy says:

    spy more

  3. TFH says:

    The use of drones to blow up funeral processions or wedding crowds to get one suspected terrorist that is suspected to be in attendance is heavy handed indeed but perhaps Obama hopes “surgical” strikes paramilitary style can be used in stead of more heavy handed actions with more conventional forces. General public won’t ever know if it’s working, or not for a long time at least, there are no embedded journalists in black ops.

  4. spongedocks says:

    This admin has left all spying or lack thereof to Clapper. Obama even removed almost all the spies from China, we have not had any in Syria for year. All the spying is being done lonly upon each other at the United Nations, hey call Susan Rice, she knows as was exposed during the Wikileaks cables.

  5. They used to have a very good HUMINT section, it went downhill after the first Iraq war which was odd that they started getting rid of good operatives knowing full well they would be going back within 12 years, as for killing that is never the answer, get to the root of the problem and fight the problem that way, not kill everything from the top down and leave the roots? that has always puzzled me about the CIA, another big problem is the type of war they are fighting, with the groups they originally set up with training and financial help, have evolved and are formidable fighters who take it in their stride for Allah, all Muslim fighters are very dedicated and Martyrdom gives them the edge over our troops and the psyche that keeps them going until we are long gone, they have been there and done that before, we have always underestimated the enemy who are stronger now than they ever were because they smell victory and however much money we bribe the corrupt governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and all those other puppet regimes we keep in our money belt it will never be enough we are just prolonging conflicts that we lost when we went to war on a lie knowing full well the consequences were going to be years of death and destruction, the only winners are the weapons manufacturers, the oil companies, construction and the military machine and last but least the banking system that keeps everything ticking over nicely. U.S intelligence agencies now have 2.2 million employees that is a big reason to keep the show on the road, but they did much better with a fraction of that number in the 70s 80s and early 90s, after the cold war they had to come up with a new enemy and lots of money to fight them, the CIA said in 1979, that they would be back in Iran within 35 years as it was a long term goal to get it back under western control and it would back revolutionary groups and support clandestine means of its setting free 35 years is almost up !!

  6. B says:

    It’s high tide for the I to enter back into Intelligence. Aside from the OSS mode of operations to the Phoenix Program where drones have overtaken snipers, a real concerted effort must be undertaken to develop strategies that encompass the future, rather than the immediate. High level planners are stuck in the Vietnam Era trying to win a past war. The future needs a Grand Strategy to direct efforts that will benefit our country as a whole and the entire geographical world.

  7. S says:

    What we are seeing here, in my opinion, is a clash of cultures in the CIA. Throughout CIA’s history, the Agency has had an age-old clash between the covert-action types like Dulles and Wisner and those who prefer quiet espionage like Helms. Time and time again the covert action types have won this intra-agency battle. The CT operations that have now become almost the sole purpose of the CIA rely very little on traditional espionage disciplines like CI and much more on non-HUMINT (or HUMINT from non-CIA sources), targeting analysis by the CIA’s DI, and finally drone strikes. (This can be seen in the disastrous CI that led to both the Lebanon agent networks being blown and the Khost incident). Tradecraft in the CIA has seemingly eroded with the focus on offensive CT operations. If the CIA wants to remain a powerful intelligence, rather than paramilitary, agency, it must regain its CI capabilities and be prepared to to conduct espionage operations against both classical targets (like China) as well as in denied areas (against Iran). Unfortunately, all signs seem to point towards the CIA continuing on its disastrous path of being a CT agency foremost, and an espionage service second.

  8. intelNews says:

    @S: I think many readers here will empathize with your comments about the clash of cultures at the CIA, namely analysis versus operations and TECHINT versus HUMINT; I would like to add another parameter to this, namely the clash between Cold War and post-Cold War mentality at the Agency. Generations of CIA operatives were trained with an eye to running mostly diplomatic assets. The world is now a different place, and the CIA finds itself needing to run assets who have no connection to the world of diplomacy. I think what we are witnessing today is to some extent the awkward period in which the CIA is realizing that it can’t play the old game any more, and must adapt to the era non-state actors. Whether the Agency will be able to adapt to this new environment will largely determine the shape of its future, in my opinion. [JF]

  9. soumyakambhampati says:

    @intelNews It can also be argued that the focus on espionage against non-state actors has also blurred the lines between operations and analysis within the CIA. Previously the DO (now NCS) and the DI were completely separate, with the DO conducting HUMINT operations and the DI conducting all-source analysis on the intelligence gleaned from various collection disciplines and preparing product for intelligence consumers. Now, the DI and the NCS jointly run centers like the CTC where DI intelligence officers act not as impartial analysts but as targeters, aiding in the targeting of both potential agents for recruitment as well as terrorists for neutralization. The era of engaging in espionage against terror groups, in addition to the creation of the ODNI (which removed the PDB role of the CIA) has led to a blurring of lines between DI and NCS, between analysis and operations. CIA case officers now must actively recruit agents rather than relying on agents to come to them, and then conducting extensive CI vetting. This new dynamic is leading to a change in the CIA, as it becomes (hopefully) more adept at conducting HUMINT operations against non-state actors. The question is if this will have a negative impact on HUMINT operations against traditional state actors like the PRC, as this new kind of operation leads to a degrading of CI abilities in an attempt for time-sensitive results, a modus operandi that is unacceptable when dealing with nations with advanced intelligence services (with excellent CI capabilities) like the PRC. [S]

  10. intelNews says:

    @soumyakambhampati: Your point about the increasing collaboration between DI and NCS is very valid. I think, however, that, as the CIA continues to change in response to the new landscape out there, it is also faced with new challenges. Take for instance the whole non-state actor phenomenon. It is safe to say that the vast majority of case officers were trained to recruit assets coming mostly from the officials ranks of the diplomatic/military arenas. Which made sense during the Cold War, because this was how the game was played. Obviously, non-state actors don’t operate through diplomats, but on a far more informal level. There is little question that the CIA is still learning how to recruit on that level; for now, it usually finds itself relying on the assets of allied intelligence services in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. There are inherent dangers in this –think of Khost, for instance. Thanks for sharing your view. [JF]

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