Friday, February 16, 2007

Feith and Reason, pt. 3 - Subversion by leak has become standard operating procedure at the CIA and elsewhere. It might be easier for the intelligence establishment to produce information that is only tangentially related to the interests of the executive branch simply because its more readily available, or represents more of the consensus among analysts. But easily derived intelligence is no substitute for accurate, actionable intelligence in meeting the needs of policymakers. Nor does the judgment of unelected, unaccountable analysts trump that of those who are elected and sworn to defend the United States and uphold its Constitution

From his previously referenced Foreign Affairs essay, former CIA agent Paul Pillar recommends steps to repair the relationship between policymaking and intelligence gathering. In particular, he proposes that the intelligence community be allowed to widen its constituent base beyond the executive branch in order to "reflect the fact that influence and relevance flow not just from face time in the Oval Office, but also from credibility with Congress and, most of all, with the American public." The readily apparent question that Pillar leaves unanswered is why this wouldnt just be a means of institutionalizing and legitimizing damaging leaks. (If the executive branch doesn't appreciate your "artwork," show it to Congress.) And by expanding their relationship with Congress, the intelligence community would simply create more customers for it to cater to, as well as more "politicizers" to be appeased. If the CIA cannot withstand the subtle influence of the executive branch, how will it resist the direct influence of an overbearing legislature - teeming with the likes of Senators Levin and Jay Rockerfeller - that also has budget authority.

Reasonable observers of the conduct of the CIA in recent times can only conclude that the agency's priorities have shifted from the defense of the United States and its interests to the defense of its own prerogatives and agendas. This shift would account for the reasoning expressed in Mr. Pillar's article, and also provides insight into the actions of fired CIA officer Mary McCarthy in leaking classified information on "secret" prisons used to house al-Qaeda detainees to the Washington Post. (Public records confirm that Ms. McCarthy gave $2,000 to John Kerrys Presidential campaign.) It explains former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer's "anonymous" publication of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, a blistering critique of President Bush's handling of the War on Terror. It also answers the question of why retired CIA officer Raymond McGovern would heckle Donald Rumsfeld during a speech on May 4, 2006.

And while these stalwarts were laboring in the dark recesses of Langley, the CIA was unable to foresee either the imminent fall of the Soviet Union, or the gathering threat of al-Qaeda. Nor could it preempt the April 1983 Embassy bombing in Beirut, the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the attack on the World Trade Center in February of 1993, the suicide attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in June of 1996, the bombings of American Embassies in the East African cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 or the deadly attacks of September 11, 2001, all of which would seem to fall under the agency's purview.

Unfortunately, none of the copious failings of America's once formidable intelligence apparatus can be remedied by any ill-conceived bureaucratic shuffling of titles and boxes on an organizational chart. The urgent need is for a real increase in the ability of our operatives to penetrate the inner workings of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Abu Sayyaf. As Paul Pillar's article makes abundantly clear, the first step towards increasing the effectiveness of America's intelligence infrastructure (and perhaps reconfiguring the relationship between the White House and the intelligence community), is to recruit vertebrates for all future openings within the ranks of CIA analysts.

Snakes, chickens, jackasses or any other species with a spinal column will do better than the protozoa that presently infest America's intelligence agencies. And given the attitudes of current intelligence officers, as best exemplified by Mr. Pillar's comments, bias seems to sway the CIA in every direction except that which leads to the best defense of the American homeland. For their part, policymakers must accept and anticipate bias when evaluating any intelligence, be it the analyst's bias or their own.
Surely it was such a realization that provided reason enough for Douglas Feith and his cohorts to question and evaluate the intelligence that they received from the intelligence community's fetid petri dish.

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