Reinvent the Central Intelligence Agency
THE revelation that Haitian military officials have been on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency for the past decade and were key sources of information on Jean-Bertrand Aristide demonstrates the danger of giving a single agency responsibility for both clandestine operations and intelligence analysis.Skip to next paragraph
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The Senate and House intelligence committees will now investigate the CIA's role in Haiti's domestic politics, particularly in its electoral process. But over the years, Congress has failed to address the contradictions inherent in the CIA's involvement in policy initiatives and its responsibility to provide objective intelligence to policymakers and Congress.
Any debate on the role and missions of the CIA must recognize that the agency performs two very different functions. The CIA's clandestine operations, particularly covert action, are part of the policy process; when paid agency assets are also the sources of intelligence reporting, the finished intelligence reports may be seriously flawed.
The CIA's covert operations are approved and often designed by the White House and the State Department to support specific policies. The covert action in Haiti, for example, was initiated by the National Security Council, presumably to support continued military rule on the island.
The CIA's intelligence analysis, including national estimates and current reporting, must provide both an objective exploration of the situation for which policy is required and an impartial assessment of alternative policy options. Intelligence should play a role in setting the context for policy formulation, but it should never become an advocate for a specific policy.
Clandestine sources of information often have their own axes to grind; this certainly was the case in Haiti. The late Sherman Kent, who became the father figure of CIA research and analysis in the 1950s and '60s, warned against intelligence analysts becoming too close to intelligence collectors for just this reason, the need to protect the objectivity of analysis.
Intelligence analysts will make mistakes, but their objectivity and integrity should never again be the issue. In the 1980s, CIA director William Casey slanted intelligence reporting to support operational activity in Central America and Southwest Asia. In his recent memoirs, former Secretary of State George Schultz charged that the CIA's operational involvement ``colored'' its analysis, particularly with respect to Iran. Mr. Casey even allowed an operations officer to provide intelligence assessments on Iran to the NSC.
Close ties between policy and intelligence collection have led to analytical failures in the past. The CIA's inability to anticipate a revolution in Iran in 1979 was due in part to a policy decision not to collect intelligence against opponents to the Shah. The failure to track the dissolution of the Soviet Union can be traced to an operational commitment to counter the ``Soviet threat.'' In an interview earlier this month, moreover, the Brookings Institution's Bruce Blair charged that CIA distortion of Soviet strategic policy throughout the 1980s had skewed the public debate on the ``Star Wars'' program.
FORMER CIA director Robert Gates believes that the CIA's past role in Haiti is irrelevant and that current news stories are merely designed to discredit the intelligence reports. Not so. The US needs to debate whether or not it should be interfering in elections under any circumstances, and particularly in Haiti, where violent retribution has always accompanied political change. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as late as 1987-1988, had to stop the CIA from funneling money to the critics of Mr. Aristide in the military-sponsored presidential campaign. The CIA's current assessment of Aristide is distorted by its ties to the Haitian military.
Thus it is time to debate whether it is preferable to separate the CIA's operational activity from its analytical work or continue to run the risk of tainted intelligence. The issue is one of advocacy, ensuring that the provider of intelligence not be in a position to advance its own point of view in the policy process. Mr. Shultz told his own intelligence director in 1986, in the wake of arguments over policy toward the Philippines, to ``stop being an advocate or get out of the intelligence loop.'' He told Mr. Gates in 1987 that the CIA had developed ``its own strong policy views'' and had given President Reagan ``bum dope.''
Since there are few institutional safeguards for impartial and objective analysis, the intelligence community ultimately depends on professional personnel of the highest intellectual and moral caliber. Yet Walter Lippmann reminded us more than 70 years ago that it is essential to ``separate as absolutely as it is possible to do so the staff which executes from the staff which investigates.'' If Washington is serious about ``reinventing government,'' Mr. Lippmann's admonition is a good place to start for the intelligence community. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.