CIA Director Porter J. Goss invited eight of his predecessors and two of their
widows back to the agency recently, prompting his executive secretary to exclaim,
"Is this a great day for the CIA or what?" Well, not exactly.
The party was, in fact, a wake, marking the end of Mr. Goss' role as director
of central intelligence, the CIA's role as the central intelligence agency in
the intelligence community and, most important, President Harry Truman's creation
of an authoritative intelligence agency outside the policy community providing
objective and balanced intelligence estimates.
Few Americans will mourn the passing of an agency that missed the 10-year decline
and fall of the Soviet Union, the five-year planning cycle for 9/11 and the
steady deterioration of Iraq's political, social and military instruments that
obviated the need for the U.S. invasion of 2003.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand the CIA's important contributions
to American national security in its first 30 years as well as the more recent
intelligence failures that were not corrected by the work of the 9/11 commission
or last year's intelligence reform legislation.
The primary mission of the CIA is to provide strategic assessments to policymakers,
telling truth to power. These assessments provided early warning to U.S. policymakers
about every Soviet weapon that was procured from 1950 to 1990, the signs of
the Sino-Soviet split that enabled the Nixon administration to make a strategic
opening in China and the reasons why U.S. military forces would not be successful
in Vietnam in the 1960s.
CIA analysis exposed the fictitious bomber gap in the 1950s and the missile
gap in the 1960s, and CIA monitoring permitted the successful arms control agreements
of the 1970s and 1980s with the former Soviet Union. Many of the most successful
strategic monitoring systems were designed and implemented by CIA scientists
and technicians, a capability that no longer exists at the CIA.
Over the past 20 years, however, the CIA gradually became another political
tool in the policy process.
Under directors William J. Casey and Robert M. Gates, the CIA exaggerated the
military and economic power of the Soviet Union, gradually reduced its role
in producing strategic intelligence estimates and began to cut back on analysis
on controversial military issues in order to avoid contentious battles with
CIA Director John M. Deutch's creation of the National Imagery and Mapping
Agency enabled the Pentagon to become the sole interpreter of satellite photography,
our most valuable strategic intelligence collection. In its brief history, this
agency - renamed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency - has been responsible
for a series of major intelligence disasters, including the failure to monitor
Indian nuclear testing in 1998 and the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade
It is ironic that the CIA's inept and corrupt handling of intelligence in the
run-up to the Iraqi invasion has led to the agency's demise, because intelligence
counted for very little in the decision to go to war. The sham case for the
invasion was based on the hate and hysteria that followed 9/11. Before the war,
British intelligence correctly told Prime Minister Tony Blair that U.S. "intelligence
and policy were being fixed around the policy." The fact that CIA Director
George J. Tenet thought that such fixes would be a "slam dunk" helped
to create the greatest intelligence scandal in U.S. history.
Recent intelligence "reforms" have made matters worse. The creation
of a director of national intelligence will reduce the redundancy and competition
in intelligence analysis and will do nothing to weaken the power of the Pentagon,
which controls more than 85 percent of the budget, personnel and collection
requirements of the intelligence community.
Allowing the military to dominate the targeting of satellites and the analysis
of satellite imagery creates additional problems. This analysis is used to calibrate
the defense budget (spiraling out of control), to gauge the likelihood of military
conflict (with intelligence the key to pre-emptive attack) and to verify arms
control agreements. More recently, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's appointment
of an undersecretary of defense for intelligence has enhanced the power of the
military in the intelligence field.
Meanwhile, nothing has been done to revive congressional oversight of the intelligence
community, with congressional intelligence chairmen considering themselves "advocates"
for the intelligence community.
The term limits on members of the intelligence committees and the increased
power of the armed forces committees on intelligence issues have contributed
to the decline of oversight responsibility. The oversight committees ignored
the poor intelligence provided on the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the absence
of strategic analysis on the terrorist threat in the 1990s and inept intelligence
on Iraq before the war.
Melvin A. Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, was
a CIA analyst from 1966 to 1990.
© 2005 Baltimore Sun