December 11, 2007

Time For The CIA To Go?

Christopher Hitchens proposes a radical solution to the problem of spin-cycle NIEs and interagency feuding. Rather than continue with efforts to reform the intelligence community, Hitchens argues for the elimination of the CIA and rebuilding our intel efforts from the ground up. It seems like a radical step during a time of war, but the agency may now have angered enough people on both sides of the aisle to make it possible:

And now we have further confirmation of the astonishing culture of lawlessness and insubordination that continues to prevail at the highest levels in Langley. At a time when Congress and the courts are conducting important hearings on the critical question of extreme interrogation, and at a time when accusations of outright torture are helping to besmirch and discredit the United States all around the world, a senior official of the CIA takes the unilateral decision to destroy the crucial evidence. This deserves to be described as what it is: mutiny and treason.

Despite a string of exposures going back all the way to the Church Commission, the CIA cannot rid itself of the impression that it has the right to subvert the democratic process both abroad and at home. Its criminality and arrogance could perhaps have been partially excused if it had ever got anything right, but, from predicting the indefinite survival of the Soviet Union to denying that Saddam Hussein was going to invade Kuwait, our spymasters have a Clouseau-like record, one that they have earned yet again with their exculpation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was after the grotesque estimate of continued Soviet health and prosperity that the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the CIA should be abolished. It is high time for his proposal to be revived. The system is worse than useless—it's a positive menace. We need to shut the whole thing down and start again.

At one time, this proposal would have sounded ridiculous. How could we contemplate ridding ourselves of the turbulent priests of Langley in the middle of a war that focuses on intel and covert action more than any other we've fought? However, the agency's performance over the last twenty years -- and its blatant politicking and incompetence over the last few years -- has changed the question to whether we can hope to win this war with the CIA we have.

The 9/11 Commission had an opportunity to address this issue, and it punted. Rather than insist on a consolidation of all intel efforts and a streamlining of management, they proposed a structure that kept all of the existing agencies as separate entities and slapped two more layers of management on top. It was a bureaucratic solution conceived by bureaucrats to solve a problem created by bureaucracy, as I wrote many times, and Congress bought it.

It's time to reconceive intelligence in a post-Cold War world. Given that it serves to defend our nation, it should fall under military command. That may not be the most elegant solution, but clearly the supposed benefits of civilian management have not made themselves apparent in either accuracy or efficiency. The laws that govern military intelligence and covert operations would therefore extend to all of our efforts, and failures to abide by those laws would have secure methods of correction.

That would also bring intelligence efforts into the non-partisan world of the Pentagon. That culture would help minimize the apparent political efforts of analysts and managers at the CIA/ODNI. It would also consolidate intelligence efforts into a well-established command structure, one with a lot more discipline than seen at Langley since its inception.

Before now, Congress and the Democrats could afford to ignore the crippling bureaucratic infighting between the CIA and the administration. Now, however, it has spilled over into Capitol Hill's turf, and everyone has a reason to oppose the CIA's continued loose-cannon antics. This provides us the best moment since the 9/11 Commission's punt to re-think intelligence and create an effective and responsible mechanism with which to win this war.


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» Abolish The CIA? from Outside The Beltway | OTB
Although it’s not a new idea, Christopher Hitchens has seemingly united the blogosphere with his suggestion the it’s time to abolish the CIA and start over. His argument, in a nutshell, is that the Agency is simultaneously incompetent and ... [Read More]