Five Basic Reforms Needed For CIA to Regain Credibility

Reshaping the agency is tough, but doable; a memo to the next director

TO: The Director-Designate of the Central Intelligence Agency

The bad news is that you are about to take the toughest and most unwanted job in Washington. The good news is that you have an easy act to follow. James Woolsey did not fail as director because President Clinton is not interested in intelligence (of course he is) or because the CIA lacks access to the White House (of course it has access - even if the director does not). He did not fail because he had antagonized his congressional overseers (although he had) or because the media are preoccupied with the Aldrich Ames debacle (although they are).

Mr. Woolsey's wounds were largely self-inflicted; every one of his mistakes was transparent and avoidable. As a result, the CIA is in peril.

First, you must articulate a clear vision of what the CIA should be doing in the post-cold-war era. Woolsey was a cold warrior at heart. He believed that the United States had ``slain the dragon. But we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.''

The global arena is now unpredictable and unstable, but it is far less dangerous to vital US interests. As a result, there are savings for the CIA and the intelligence community. Woolsey strenuously fought all budget cuts. He spent unnecessary energy fighting declassification of the budget of the intelligence community ($28 billion), including the CIA budget ($3 billion). You shouldn't.

Second, you should ignore the advice of those who would severely limit the production of national intelligence estimates, transfer military intelligence to the Pentagon, and return economic, environmental, and energy intelligence to the Commerce Department and the Department of Energy. President Truman created the CIA as an independent and objective interpreter of foreign events. You should sponsor more intelligence on ethnic politics and violence, religious militancy, and social migration in order to understand the post-cold-war era.

Third, Woolsey initially fought the congressional establishment of a blue-ribbon commission to rewrite the intelligence charter for the first time in nearly 50 years. You should support the commission because it has the potential to restore the credibility and legitimacy to the agency that director William Casey compromised and Ames nearly demolished. You do not have to wait for the results of the commission to regain control of an agency that has been without strong leadership for too many years.

The commission will do no harm and it may even help. It will ``not slash and burn,'' in the words of Sen. John Warner, but hopes to deal with some of the bureaucratic legacies of the cold war, particularly the duplication of military intelligence and technical collection systems. Greater integration of the intelligence community could bring savings in training, security, and logistics.

FOURTH, you must reverse Woolsey's decision to merge the directorates of operations and intelligence, which gives the clandestine operations more attention than they deserve and runs the risk of politicizing intelligence analysis. The CIA's false assessments on Haiti and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1993 were based on disinformation collected by the directorate of operations.

The two directorates are different organizations and must be kept apart. The directorate of operations is responsible for clandestine activities; it relies on secrecy, hierarchy, and the strict enforcement of information being given on a need-to-know basis. The directorate of intelligence is devoted to analysis; it requires an exchange of information and a great variety of inputs. The rigorous security measures of the operations directorate would make the intelligence directorate more insular, discourage scholars from joining the agency, and limit the degree to which the CIA can become more open.

Fifth, Woolsey's promotion policies were abysmal. You will need an entirely new team at the top. The agency's failures can be attributed to its high-level managers, many still in place, whose careers have been shaped by the corrupt policies of the past 14 years. Leaders of the directorate of operations failed to monitor the Ames case because they were engaged in a ``concerted effort ... to withhold information from or lie to Congress'' on Iran-contra matters, according to Lawrence Walsh's final report. Officials of the directorate of intelligence were engaged in the politicization of intelligence and failed to warn of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. You are inheriting a demoralized CIA because your immediate predecessors were unwilling to confront these issues. You should. 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 to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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