Dividing the CIA in Two

When created in 1947, the CIA was meant to coordinate objective intelligence and thus avert some future Pearl Harbor attack, but its secondary role engaging in covert operations came to corrupt its independence, a problem that must now be addressed, says ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

In the wake of 9/11, a time of great fear and anxiety, the C.I.A. needed sound judgment and professionalism. Its six directors over the past 13 years gave it nothing of the sort.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the C.I.A.’s sadistic torture program demonstrates why the C.I.A. needs to be eliminated and replaced by two new agencies for conducting intelligence analysis and clandestine operations. A wall is needed between worlds of analysis and operations to ensure independent assessments.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present. (Photo credit: Office of Director of National Intelligence)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present. (Photo credit: Office of Director of National Intelligence)

The operational world is secretive and insular. Its mentality is oriented toward counterintelligence, emphasizing intrusive security clearances and the need-to-know. It has been excessively militarized, including the controversial drone program. Its direct involvement in policy implementation undermines any possibility of independence.

The analytic world must be open and accessible to outside experts who can offer substantive critiques. The C.I.A.’s “fusion centers,” which combine intelligence analysts and clandestine operatives, produced politicized intelligence to justify war against Iraq, and orchestrated torture and abuse in secret prisons. The focus of these centers is to support policy, which undermines the ability of analysts to provide objective analysis.

The directors of the new analytical and operational agencies would have to come from outside the intelligence community. Distinguished Foreign Service officers, who understand the support role of strategic intelligence, could lead an elite intelligence organization. The director of the National Clandestine Service should come from outside the operational arena, and a distinguished board should be created to review all covert actions, which should be minimal. Both agencies should have smaller budgets and fewer personnel than the bloated directorates of today’s C.I.A.

An intelligence reorganization will require rebuilding the oversight process, which is vital to the intelligence community. The Senate Intelligence Committee took too long to expose C.I.A. violations of law and morality, and its report represents only Democrats. Increased partisanship in the intelligence committees is worrisome. Oversight at the C.I.A. is essential, but will have to be rebuilt because President Barack Obama has weakened the role of the C.I.A.’s statutory inspector general.

With new agencies and distinguished leaders, as well as aggressive oversight, we can return to President Harry Truman’s idea of a C.I.A. as a “quiet arm of intelligence.”

Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  He is the author of The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism and the forthcoming The Path to Dissent: The Story of a CIA Whistleblower (City Lights Publishers, 2015). [This article first appeared as a commentary at the New York Times.]

4 comments for “Dividing the CIA in Two

  1. Dan
    December 31, 2014 at 13:31

    Some have suggested that separating the responsibility for covert action and intelligence collection from intelligence analysis would be a step in the right direction. One example of this proposal was advanced by Melvin A. Goodman, a retired CIA analyst. Mr. Goodman suggest replacing the CIA with two separate organizations: one for intelligence analysis and one for covert actions with a wall built between analysis and operations to “ensure independent assessments.” On initial consideration this may seem like a reasonable proposal, going back all the way to President Truman’s criticism of what the Agency had become by 1963 under Allen Dulles’s supervision. But if you have studied the organization’s history, you have to recognize that excess compartmentalization is a serious problem that lies at the root of much of the abuses in which the Agency has been allowed to indulge. At best, the compartmentalization has allowed abuses to remain hidden for long periods prior to revelation so that when revelation comes, they are about things that can be dismissed as no longer mattering. And we don’t, and may never, know what things are hidden by this process that may never become known. Adding another layer of compartmentalization hardly seems to be an answer to that problem.
    Mr. Goodman seems to advise this breakup to assure independence of operations of the two branches of the new intelligence services: operations and analysis. Those have always been separate branches in the CIA. Bureaucratically externalizing the separation may not make much of a difference in anything other than appearance. This is due, in part, to the practicalities of the situation. How can you really, effectively, have effective analysis or operations if the two branches have no communication and interaction? How does analysis alert operations to the information analysis needs? Where does operations find the intelligence and analysis necessary to determine operational targets if not from analysis? The same questions apply to policy. What good is analysis that does not inform current policy questions? Structural reform is unlike to affect the very real problem that analysis is often driven by political considerations rather than clear headed, objective analysis. Moving the analysts into their own bureaucratic structure separate from operations does nothing to insulate the analysts from the political pressure to deliver analysis that confirms previously determined policy decisions, whether those decisions are made by elected leadership or others in a position to influence intelligence operations.
    On the operations side, putting them into a separate organization again does nothing to bring accountability to their operations. The oft-repeated refrain that CIA operations were conducted without informing the oversight committees, or even the President, cannot be cured simply by making the operations into its own organization. Again, function is not controlled here by structure. The issue is much deeper than one of bureaucratic structural organization. When it comes to covert operations, the issue is that there is no way to hold a group accountable that has been sanctioned in advance to disregard the law, to break it when it deems necessary, to compartmentalize with no review, to classify as secret whatever it desires to so classify with no review, and to generally act in a manner that places it above and beyond the law.
    Mr. Goodman suggests making the heads of the two departments people who come from outside of the intelligence community. Analysis should be headed by “distinguished Foreign Service officers.” The clandestine service should be headed by someone “from outside the operational arena” and all operations should be reviewed by a “distinguished board.” These suggestions were tried in both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations with little affect. Mr. Goodman advances no reason to expect them to work now when they have not worked in the past. He also suggests that a “rebuilding” of congressional oversight is necessary because the Senate Intelligence Committee “took too long to expose C.I.A. violations of law and morality.” But it is hard to expose what is hidden when those doing the misdeeds have the incredible power that the Agency has to both hid its misdeeds and to block their disclosure. While it can be said that the Senate committee has the mechanism in place to declassify and disclose information in its possession, the problem for them is getting accurate information from the Agency in a format that it can declassify and disclose.
    The Panetta review flap within the torture report scandal provides a good illustration of this problem which is rooted in entrenched concepts of law that have developed to give the Agency the right to control its own determinations of secrecy. The Panetta review, an internal CIA review of the Agency’s torture program prepared by CIA staff for then DCI Leon Panetta, would be exempt under several exceptions to the FOIA. As an internal, executive branch document prepared for internal executive branch deliberation, consultation and review, it could be exempted from congressional disclosure under executive privilege. It would be exempt from discovery in a case in civil courts as attorney work product. But, even more fundamentally, the Panetta review flap emerged when the Agency accused Senate staffers of improperly accessing the review. This issue arose because before the Senate committee ever got to see the first internal CIA document, they had to negotiate an access agreement with the CIA. This agreement, typical of these types of agreements between the Agency and congressional committees since the HSCA, required the CIA to segregate the files to which the committee would have access. The committee staff members then have expurgated access but cannot remove a document from the place where the Agency gives the access without allowing the Agency to first redact the document. In the Panetta flap the Agency claimed the review was not in the documents to which the staffers should have had access and that they removed it without allowing the Agency to first redact and edit it. The point is, however, that the congressional oversight committee has to negotiate for access to documents. The very idea illustrates the designed failure of oversight. True over sight would give the overseers the right to see any and all documents deemed relevant by the overseers to their inquiry rather than limit them to the ones that the overseen deem relevant to the overseers inquiry. The arrangement illustrated by this shows that the Agency has developed a very effective method to prevent the Senate committee from coming into possession of information that it could disclose under the procedure set up by Senate Resolution 400.
    Mr. Goodman concludes that “With new agencies and distinguished leaders, as well as aggressive oversight, we can return to Harry Truman’s idea of a C.I.A. as a ‘quiet arm of intelligence.’” He misses the import of Harry Truman’s concerns: it was not to create quiet covert actions. He sought only intelligence collection and analysis. The suggestions provided by Mr. Goodman look like a propaganda suggestion designed to keep the Agency in its basic operational mood while making cosmetic changes to survive the call for reform which routinely recurs each time the Agency’s latest crimes are disclosed.

  2. JWalters
    December 23, 2014 at 20:34

    Good points in this article.

    Brennan testified in his confirmation hearing that he is on board with Obama’s plan to remove clandestine operations, including drones, from the CIA to the military.

    Truman suggested the CIA should drop its clandestine operations in a Washington Post op-ed exactly one month to the day after JFK’s assassination, publication timing he insisted on. Clandestine operations were not part of the CIA that Truman signed into existence.

    Articles like this help keep the pressure on.

  3. December 23, 2014 at 19:36

    “In the wake of 9/11, a time of great fear and anxiety, the C.I.A. needed sound judgment and professionalism. Its six directors over the past 13 years gave it nothing of the sort.”

    The Power of Nightmares The Rise of the Politics of Fear, is a BBC documentary film
    describes that time of great fear and anxiety:

    Was the fear justified?

  4. Henk Middelraad
    December 23, 2014 at 14:07

    I had contact with you many years ago about the discovery of a natural law with which anyone in this world can be reached.

    The binary effect of the application of para-psychology with astrology on anyone that would start another war and is almost cost-less would solve a lot of international crisis if properly applied.

    It requires participants with higher principles than currently can be found in the high paid governmental elites in the intelligence community .

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