The CIA was once a powerful and effective force. Its leadership consisted of seasoned veterans of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS); a proud group of colorful heroes who instilled their values of "honor, duty, country" in those junior officers who followed them.
Over the years, however, the CIA has been gutted by malicious personnel purges and misguided reorganizations.
The last director of central intelligence (DCI), Porter Goss, is gone. His replacement, General Michael Hayden, will hold the much diminished rank of director of the CIA, and he will head the agency, not the intelligence community.
This reorganization and personnel shuffling has diminished the agency's (and the country's) intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Gone are the days when the CIA was a closed, secretive society, insulated from outside attacks. Back when "No comment" was the most that ever escaped the lips of those in the CIA, the much-maligned "old-boy" network was in full force. Leaders protected each other and their protégés, and the loyalty they displayed downward was rewarded by devotion and trust.
And the agency's Office of General Counsel consisted of one attorney, OSS veteran Larry Houston, his secretary, and a paralegal.
The first serious blow to the CIA was struck when the legendary DCI Richard Helms was fired by President Nixon during the Watergate scandal and replaced by James Schlesinger, a hostile outsider.
Schlesinger was brash, and insanely ambitious. He viewed the DCI job only as a stepping stone to secretary of defense. With scant regard for the agency's history or future, he voluntarily opened the CIA's dusty files to public scrutiny and initiated a purge that decimated the ranks of the "old boys." With the veil of secrecy lifted the agency suddenly became vulnerable to outside criticism and a witch hunt began.
The ensuing purges removed an entire generation of the CIA's most charismatic leaders. The now-open CIA drifted off course and became risk averse. Case officers and managers were afraid to take operational risks for fear something would go wrong; that a "flap" would occur. The punishment for failure was worse than the reward for achievement. The result was that the quality of human intelligence collection plummeted.
Then, just a few years later, more purges came at the hand of Jimmy Carter's DCI, Adm. Stansfield Turner. Turner, a technocrat, believed that the CIA's emphasis on human collection activities was an obsolete concept. He also believed that what CIA operations officers were doing (recruiting and handling unsavory spies) was immoral.
By the end of his tenure, the CIA's case officer corps was again decimated by terminations, firings, early retirements, and people who just plain quit in disgust.
And remember that these people can't be replaced overnight. It takes years to select and train the people who recruit and handle the country's spies. They are the fighter pilots — the "Top Guns" of the CIA. So when one of them leaves, it takes years to select and train a replacement.
The 1990s brought the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the resulting questions about whether we still needed a CIA at all. This attitude caused an unprecedented voluntary exodus of senior and mid-level operations officers. The CIA's best and brightest simply took a walk.
Following a series of revolving door DCIs, Senate staffer George Tenet backed into the job by default. Surprisingly, however, his experience on the Hill, combined with a winning personality and keen sense for the intelligence profession, led to a sharp rebuilding of the CIA from the ground up.
Then things took a turn for the worse once again.
Morale soared when former CIA case officer and supportive congressman Porter Goss took over the helm of the agency, but his popularity was short-lived. A series of heavy-handed attempts to "shake-up" the directorate of operations was met with strong opposition from within and a number of key retirements and resignations resulted.
This was followed by a massive reorganization of the intelligence community. The office of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), with powers over the intelligence community originally held by the DCI, was created. The result was a sharp diminution of Goss' and the CIA's power. Goss's departure reflected these factors.
Now the office of the DNI has a growing staff of more than 900 desk jockeys, many of whom have been lifted directly from the CIA. Other seasoned case officers and analysts have been yanked from the CIA's front lines to staff the offices of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Even the CIA's heart, the Directorate of Operations, has been essentially removed and renamed the National Clandestine Service (NCS).
Granted, at least for the time being, it still has the same leadership and is still staffed with the same case officers sitting in the same offices at CIA headquarters or in the same CIA stations abroad, but it appears only a matter of time before the Clandestine Service becomes totally divorced from the CIA.
The once proud CIA may never again be the same. It has been eviscerated over the years by misguided and sometimes malicious leadership, and the recent reorganization, which seemed designed to destroy it, has brought the CIA to its knees. Moreover, the reorganization of the intelligence community has simply created more bureaucracy.
Indeed, were it not for the fact that the United States is now throwing unprecedented amounts of money and manpower into intelligence collection and analysis (a good thing), the country would be in far worse shape than we now are.
Hopefully, Gen. Hayden can stem the bleeding and pull things back together at the CIA. The United States needs to have effective intelligence collection and analysis under one roof, and there's a real need to return to the days when the CIA can work in secret (still possible in an open society) to achieve the nation's intelligence collection goals and objectives.
It is time to restore the CIA and get back to basics.
The author is a 24-year veteran of the CIA's clandestine service and author of "CIA, Inc.: Espionage and the Craft of Business Intelligence." He is chairman of CTC International Group, Inc., a West Palm Beach based provider of business intelligence.
© 1995 - 2012 CTC International Group, Inc.
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