By MELISSA BOYLE MAHLE
May 14, 2006
[This piece also appeared in the International Herald Tribune as " Forget the uniform. What's the plan?"]
THE nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency is good news. Placing "his man" at the C.I.A. signals that John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, is bringing the agency fully into the new intelligence structure and helping to strengthen its integration.
The concern that General Hayden's military background portends a Pentagon takeover of the agency is misplaced. During my 14 years at the C.I.A., I served under two uniformed deputy directors and a director who was a former deputy secretary of defense. The C.I.A. never lost its civilian and independent culture.
The real question is what General Hayden and Mr. Negroponte will do with the C.I.A. The agency's human intelligence collection capacities are weak, as the public learned from the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraqi weapons fiasco. We insiders have long known it, having watched our ability to recruit agents and analyze intelligence disintegrate during a decade of poor leadership, downsizing, mission confusion and eroding morale.
A year and a half ago, Porter Goss was sent to lead the C.I.A. with an explicit mandate to strengthen human intelligence collection and analysis. Mr. Goss made some important progress on the latter, but the Clandestine Services, which specializes in collecting intelligence from foreign agents, resisted his reforms, partly because they resented his confrontational style. More important, the professional spies disagreed with Mr. Goss's vision of a C.I.A. integrated into a larger intelligence system in which the agency would be just one of many players. They preferred the old system, perhaps with some minor tweaks, which preserved their absolute control over spy operations, the spies who run them and the secrets resulting from them.
When Mr. Goss failed to get his arms around the agency and redirect it along the lines of his vision, some insiders argued that the C.I.A.'s structure was at fault, not Mr. Goss's leadership. The C.I.A. cannot easily be managed because it has too many different tasks: human intelligence collection, all-source analysis, technical collection and science and technology development. Senior outside advisers suggested splitting the Clandestine Services off from the analytical arm to fix the focus problem.
Splitting up the C.I.A. at this time is unwise. In trying to fix the weaknesses of human intelligence collection, we will make integration problems more complicated and probably worse in the short and medium term. Rather than having one insular agency, the intelligence world will be populated by mini-agencies with diminished capacities but all the same instincts to protect turf. Human intelligence collection will still be scattered among agencies, as will technical collection and analysis. To get a net benefit from splitting up the C.I.A., agencies under the control of the Pentagon would have to be merged with the mini-agencies so that there would be just one body devoted to each kind of intelligence work.
The goal of creating an integrated intelligence community is the right one, but we risk generating bureaucratic chaos in the process. We don't want to destroy existing capacities in the name of progress or idealized organization charts. Trying to break up the C.I.A. and integrate it at the same time is too much for one structure to bear — especially one that is already weak, demoralized and paranoid about hostile takeover by the Pentagon.
Back in the 1990's, under the directorship of John Deutch, the C.I.A. suffered from similar organizational angst. There were unending process reviews, turf battles with the F.B.I. and Pentagon, and a Congressional review that debated the merits of breaking up the agency, which was then called a cold war dinosaur. A sense of paralysis engulfed us.
Assigned to an important country in the Persian Gulf, I went to work each day not knowing what I was supposed to do, what secrets to steal or whether anyone remembered I was there, since my mail went unanswered. These were the days when Osama bin Laden first declared war on the United States from his new base in the mountains of Afghanistan — an act that went largely unnoticed by a distracted and demoralized C.I.A.
Rather than breaking up the agency, General Hayden and Mr. Negroponte should focus on integrating it in its current form. Strengthening the direct relationship between Mr. Negroponte's office and the C.I.A.'s deputy directors for analysis and operations will tighten command and control without the chaos caused by breaking structures. At the moment, the director of national intelligence does not have access to information about how the C.I.A.'s clandestine and analytical resources are distributed. This makes it impossible to evaluate, for example, whether the C.I.A.'s Iran program duplicates or adds to efforts elsewhere in the community, or whether resource allocations reflect the director's priorities.
Once General Hayden is confirmed, his first challenge will be to select a new leadership team. The general should be wary of those who simply advocate the status quo. These forces might be popular with the professional spies, but they will resist real transformation. General Hayden should not shy away from reaching deep down or even outside to bring together a diverse group of leaders who are capable and committed to changing the organization. Furthermore, it is imperative that General Hayden assume the role of a hands-on leader who will deal decisively with festering concerns that might seem trivial but have led to an unhealthy rift between staff officers and senior management.
General Hayden's independent thinking, strong leadership skills, and knowledge and respect for the intelligence business will serve him well as he navigates these challenges, which proved too much for Mr. Goss. It is for this reason that other former insiders and I feel that he is the right man for the job.
But the vision has also got to be right. So rather than debating the type of suit General Hayden should wear, we should be asking him about his vision for C.I.A. integration, his plans for the agency and his priorities. The details are important because the stakes are high, not just for the men and women of the C.I.A., but for a nation at war.
Melissa Boyle Mahle, a former C.I.A. operations officer, is the author of "Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the C.I.A. From Iran-Contra to 9/11."