Editor's Note: An underlying factor in the national security crises
confronting the United States has been the corruption of the US. intelligence
process, with analyses tailored to fit the desires of the policymakers and with
laws bent to permit torture and other abuses.
In this guest essay, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern reflects on what went
wrong and what now needs to go right:
The Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) must
be a person whose previous professional performance has been distinguished by
unimpeachable integrity and independence. The director must have the courage
of his or her own convictions.
Without integrity and courage, all virtue is specious, and no amount of structural
or organizational reform will make any difference.
Though a 2004 law gave most of the DCI's intelligence community-wide authority
to the new position of Director of National Intelligence after the failure
to prevent the 9/11 attacks and after the false intelligence analysis on Iraq's
WMDs the same principles regarding integrity and courage apply to the DNI.
Instructive lessons can be drawn from the performance of George Tenet, the
sixteenth CIA director since the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency
in 1947, and from his predecessors regarding what attributes a director needs
to discharge the duties of the office as the National Security Act of 1947 intended.
The director should have already made a mark on the world by excelling in a
field unrelated to intelligence work business, the military or academia
bringing a well-established record of honesty and competence.
If he comes from more humble circumstances than most top administration officials,
it is essential that her or his strength of character and self-confidence be
such that there is no need to depend on the anointing of Washington hoi aristoi
for reassurance of self worth.
These qualities are all the more essential because of the mismatch of responsibility
and authority in the Director of Central Intelligence's position.
As the chief foreign intelligence adviser to the President, the director has
broad responsibility for coordinating the intelligence effort of a dozen agencies
of government, but has little operational or budgetary control over most of
them. As a result, the director's authority is essentially ad referendum
to the President.
Too many Directors of Central Intelligence, out of a desire to be good team
players, have been reluctant to seek and invoke that authority. A notable exception
was Admiral Stansfield Turner, whose military background instilled in him an
acute appreciation of the need for command authority to match responsibility.
Turner knew he had to take determined steps to dispel the ambiguity
and did. Thus, when the parochial interests of, say, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
or the National Security Agency got in the way of his intelligence community
coordinating responsibilities, Turner would simply meet with President Carter
and lay it on the line.
"If you want me to be able to discharge my responsibilities as your principal
intelligence adviser," he would say, "you need to tell the Attorney
General to instruct the Federal Bureau of Investigation to be more responsive,
and the Secretary of Defense to tell the National Security Agency to do the
In other words, there is a way to deal with the anomalies inherent in the director's
portfolio, but it takes a DCI who is willing to put noses out of joint in order
to assert the necessary authority to do his job. Such directors have been few
and far between.
What Tenet Should Have Said
To be concrete, let's take the experience
of George Tenet as an example. Here are a few of the things he should have told
The FBI is not sharing with my people the information they need. Would
you instruct the Attorney General to tell the bureau to cooperate?
The Vice President and Secretary of Defense have each established, in
their offices, mini-CIAs to push their own agendas. They are using their privileged
access to you to promote intelligence judgments with which my analysts and I
do not agree. If you wish me to be able to discharge my statutory duties effectively,
please make it clear to them that they are required to vet such analysis with
the Central Intelligence Agency so that we can put it into perspective before
it is given to you.
The same goes for raw reporting from the field or from liaison intelligence
services. I am particularly upset that Israel regularly skirts established procedures
and gives raw information to top White House and Pentagon officials before Central
Intelligence Agency analysts have time to evaluate it. Quite aside from the
fact that by law I am responsible for substantive liaison with foreign services,
serious mischief can result when the Central Intelligence Agency is not able
to comment on key reports before they are acted upon. Think back to June of
2002, for example, when, on the strength of an Israeli report that the CIA had
not had a chance to evaluate properly, you were persuaded to reverse the longstanding
American policy of recognizing Yasir Arafat as the duly elected representative
of the Palestinian people. Surely, if the crescendo of violence over recent
years has proven anything, it is that Arafat simply cannot be left out.
You need to ensure that the Central Intelligence Agency and other parts
of the intelligence community have the opportunity to provide appropriate intelligence
input before major decisions are made. Think, for example, of the sudden, arbitrary
decision by Ahmad Chalabi, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Ambassador Paul Bremer
to disband the Iraqi army. Were my people given the chance, they could have
told you that would be a very dumb idea.
Experience including mine has shown that it is counterproductive
over the long run for the DCI to have advocated for or become associated with
any particular policy. I should have known better than to become so closely
associated with the "Tenet Plan" for Israel-Palestine. How, for example,
can my analysts retain any credibility for objective assessment of that plan's
prospects for success when it bears my name?
The Director of Central Intelligence must not need the job; and he must have
the self-confidence and courage to resign when the demands of integrity dictate
this as the only honorable course. Should the President refuse to honor the
kind of requests I have just illustrated, the DCI should give very serious consideration
Directors of Central Intelligence cannot let themselves be used, as the Vice
President and Defense Secretary used Tenet, for example. Historically, depending
on who was President at the time, several DCIs had the experience of being marginalized
by the White House. And some, like William Colby, were fired. But Colby's
marginalization and eventual firing came as a result of his standing on principle
(and standing up to Henry Kissinger), not for letting himself be used.
It is a myth that the DCI must enjoy a close personal relationship with the
President. In fact, doing so is a net minus. The White House is not a fraternity
house; mutual respect is far more important than camaraderie. A mature, self-confident
President will respect an independent director. The director must avoid being
"part of the team" in the way the President's political advisers
are part of the team.
Overly close identification with "the team"
can erode objectivity and cloud intelligence judgments.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, like Vice President Dick Cheney a frequent visitor
to CIA headquarters to "help" with analysis on Iraq, told the press
that Director Tenet was "so grateful to the President [presumably for not
firing him after Sept. 11, 2001] that he would do anything for him." That
attitude is the antithesis of what is needed in a director.
A DCI who has built a relationship of mutual respect with the President does
not need to join the briefer who presents the President's Daily Brief.
It is far better to encourage those senior analysts to brief, as we did in the
past, unencumbered by a boss looking over our shoulder.
And in ordinary circumstances, one session with the President per week should
be enough face-time to discuss key substantive issues and, when necessary, Central
Intelligence Agency operations.
As a general rule, a DCI should not be drawn from the operational ranks of
the agency. Major mistakes made by Allen Dulles, Richard Helms and William Casey
provide ample proof that having a spy at the helm is a poor idea. (William Colby,
who had an unusually wide grasp of the analytic as well as the operational function
of intelligence and a keen respect for the Constitution was a
notable exception to this guideline.)
A director has to be a wise manager. The director must be able to function
effectively while standing astride the structural fault created by the National
Security Act of 1947, which allowed for DCI involvement in operational matters
in addition to the director's primary role as chief substantive intelligence
adviser to the President.
This unenviable, schizophrenic portfolio demands uncommon self-confidence,
objectivity, balance, and skill and, again, integrity.
Among those who failed the test were Dulles, with the Bay of Pigs disaster;
Helms, who, while running large-scale operations in Vietnam, knowingly acquiesced
in General William Westmoreland's deceptively low estimates of Vietnamese
Communist troop strength; and Casey, with his personal involvement in an array
of misadventures in Central America and Iran/Contra, his cooking of intelligence
to promote and support those escapades, and his unswerving devotion to the idea
that the Soviet Union could never change.
The congressional hearings on Iran-Contra and on Robert Gates's nomination
to head the agency revealed many examples of how Casey and Gates politicized
intelligence analysis. Although appointed by the President, a Director of Central
Intelligence needs to resist pressure to play politics.
Some Directors of Central Intelligence have played the political game
most of them ineptly, it turns out. Helms, for example, bent over backwards
to accommodate President Nixon to the point of perjuring himself before
Yet Helms never could overcome Nixon's paranoid suspicion of him as one
of that "Georgetown crowd out to get me." Chalk it up to our naiveté
as intelligence analysts, but we were shocked when James Schlesinger, upon succeeding
Helms as director early in Nixon's first term, announced on arrival, "I
am here to see that you guys don't screw Richard Nixon!"
The freshly appointed DCI supplemented the news about his main mission by announcing
that he would be reporting to Bob Haldeman, not Henry Kissinger.
No Political Agenda
A director must not have a political agenda. Ironically
and to his credit George H.W. Bush, who had been chair of the
Republican National Committee before being named Director of Central Intelligence,
was careful to avoid policy advocacy.
But even he found it impossible to resist political pressure to appoint "Team
B," a group of extreme hardliners, to review intelligence community estimates
on Soviet strategic forces.
Neither must a Director of Central Intelligence have a personal agenda.
The tenure of John Deutch provided a case study in the disasters that can attend
overweening ambition on the part of a director. Deutch made no secret that he
was accepting the job only as a way station to replacing his close friend William
Perry as Secretary of Defense.
Thus, it should have come as no surprise that Deutch made rather callous, calculated
decisions to improve the chances for his candidacy.
Deutch gave the Pentagon his full cooperation in covering up the fact for several
years that about 101,000 (the Pentagon's current estimate) US. troops
were exposed to chemical warfare agents, including sarin, cyclosarin and mustard
gases, at the end of the Gulf War.
And in 1996 he ceded the Central Intelligence Agency's entire imagery
analysis capability to the Pentagon, lock, stock, and barrel.
Deutch was devastated when President Bill Clinton picked William Cohen to succeed
Perry, and he left the Central Intelligence Agency with such a long trail of
grave security violations that he needed one of President Bill Clinton's
last-day pardons to escape prosecution.
(Deutch's personal agenda was so transparent that, aside from the people
he brought with him to the Central Intelligence Agency to do his bidding, there
was hardly a soul sorry to see him go.)
No Director of Central Intelligence should come from Congress, the quintessential
example of the kind of politicized ambience that is antithetical to substantive
intelligence work. For example, outside intelligence circles, it was deemed
a good sign that, as a congressional staffer, George Tenet had been equally
popular on both sides of the aisle.
But this raised a red flag for seasoned intelligence professionals. As we had
all learned early in our careers, if you tell it like it is, you are certain
to make enemies. Those enjoying universal popularity are ipso facto suspect
of perfecting the political art of compromise shading this and shaving
However useful this may be on the Hill, it sounds the death knell for intelligence
analysis. In addition to having come from Congress, Tenet had zero prior experience
managing a large organization. He played the political game, and he has presided
over two disasters: September 11 and Iraq.