10 May 2003. One of the Intelligence
Community Black Actions series.
By Melvin A. Goodman, June 2000
Melvin A. Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, is a professor of international security at the National War College and adjunct professor at American University and Johns Hopkins University. He served as an analyst on Soviet affairs for 24 years with the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.
America's spy empire -- the so-called intelligence community -- is a creation of the Cold War that now includes 13 secret agencies. It employs too many people (over 150,000) and spends too much money (over $30 billion a year). The Central Intelligence Agency is the most notorious of these agencies and the director of the CIA is also director of central intelligence, thus the titular leader of the entire empire.
What the intelligence community should be, what it should do and what it should prepare to do are all less clear than at any time since the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. Throughout the Cold War, the need to count and characterize Soviet weapons systems against which U.S. forces might find themselves engaged, as well as the search for indications of surprise attack, focused the efforts of the intelligence community. Missions critical to the welfare and survival of the United States justified budgets, shaped organizations, and inspired intelligence officers.
Such clarity disappeared with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. If we were designing an intelligence infrastructure to deal effectively with current foreign policy concerns (the Balkans, the Persian Gulf, Central Africa, and narco-terrorism), it would be very different from the organization that tracked the Cold War. The mismatch between the tools of the past and the missions of the future has given rise to an increased militarization of the various agencies of the intelligence community and an excessive reliance on espionage and covert action by the CIA.
Ending the Militarization of the Intelligence Community
Since the CIA's failure to provide timely and relevant intelligence during the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the Pentagon has taken control over most of the intelligence community and weakened the agency's ability to serve as an independent and objective interpreter of foreign events. The DCI is supposed to be the resource manager for the National Foreign Intelligence Program, but most of the NFIP budget is spent by agencies that are part of the Department of Defense. The DoD manages the National Security Agency, which is responsible for code-breaking and electronic eavesdropping; the National Reconnaissance Office, which coordinates the development and management of surveillance satellites; the Defense Intelligence Agency, which conducts military intelligence analysis; and the new National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which is responsible for analysis of all satellite photography.
A White House commission (the Brown-Aspin Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence endorsed the creation of NIMA in 1997 as a "combat-support agency," thus abolishing the Defense Mapping Agency, the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center and the Central Imagery Office, and various imagery-related units in the intelligence community. During these three years of NIMA's existence, there occurred the failure to monitor Indian nuclear testing in 1998, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, and the tragic accident over a ski resort in Italy in which U.S. marine pilots relied on NIMA maps.
Allowing the military to dominate the important field of imagery analysis creates other risks as well. Imagery analysis has been used to calibrate the defense budget, to gauge the likelihood of military conflict in the Third World, and to verify arms control agreements. The Pentagon's increased control over the intelligence community has already occasioned a downgrading of the important role of verification and monitoring of arms control and disarmament. For the first time in thirty years, a DCI testified to Congress that the CIA could not monitor a strategic arms control agreement -- the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- and, as a result, the Senate refused to confirm the CTBT. Many qualified experts believe that the CIA deliberately underestimated its capacity for monitoring compliance with the treaty as part of its own political agenda against disarmament.
Finally, there is the risk that the military will suppress sensitive imagery intelligence to avoid embarrassing senior officers. During Desert Storm, according to the memoirs of General Colin L. Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf told a press conference that a smart bomb had destroyed four Iraqi Scud missile launchers. Intelligence imagery demonstrated that it had actually destroyed four Jordanian fuel tanks. Schwarzkopf's officers would not tell him that he was wrong. Nor would Powell, who concluded that preserving Schwarzkopf's "equanimity" was more important than the truth. This type of military bias was one of the primary reasons for creating an independent CIA in 1947.
It should not be forgotten that it was CIA's imagery analysis that determined that there was no bomber gap between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1950s and no missile gap in the 1960s. CIA imagery analysts successfully battled DoD on sensitive military issues in the late 1960s and the early 1970s and, as a result, CIA analysis led to the first strategic arms control treaty and the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 1972. In both cases, the White House had to guarantee to the Senate that the CIA could verify and monitor the disarmament agreements. CIA photo interpreters also found a pattern of genocidal crimes in Bosnia, which led indirectly to the U.S. involvement in the Balkans in the mid-1990s.
More recently, the Pentagon's ravenous appetite for tactical battlefield intelligence has raised serious concerns about intelligence priorities, particularly the downgrading of strategic intelligence. Should the intelligence community focus on providing information to diplomats, strategists, and policymakers, or should it be directed to benefit tactical commanders? Both missions are important, but the fact that NIMA, NSA, and the NRO are combat-support agencies gives the Pentagon an advantage in the bureaucratic battles to shape the intelligence collection system. The Indian test failures, for example, had a great deal to do with the Pentagon's lack of interest in South Asia in general and the problem of nuclear proliferation in particular. It is unlikely that the Pentagon will give urgency to the high priority now needed for such non-traditional security concerns as AIDS, environmental degradation, and resource depletion.
DCI George Tenet has finally acknowledged that the appeals from tactical commanders for more intelligence have led to shortfalls in other areas. Ever since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, military commanders have been pushing the intelligence community to be more responsive to their needs. Last month, according to Aviation Week and Space Technology, Tenet told the Defense Department that the tactical focus is "hurting [the intelligence community's'] ability to keep the national command authority appraised on a strategic level about what is happening." This shift of focus from the intelligence community to the military community has been replicated on Capitol Hill, where the Senate Armed Forces Committee has gained influence at the expense of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on all aspects of the intelligence budget and intelligence activities. This militarization of intelligence does not serve the nation's interests. It should be reversed.
The Problem of Covert Action
Any reform of clandestine activities must reconcile the incompatibility of covert actions and the American democratic political process. Hodding Carter III argued in a dissenting opinion to a Twentieth Century Fund report that "covert action is by definition outside the ambit of democracy," although the initial use of covert action was designed in fact to buttress democratic elements in postwar Europe. George Kennan may be best remembered as a scholar of Soviet affairs who urged moderation in our dealings with Moscow; the Kennan of the 1940s, however, was an enthusiastic cold warrior who wanted to employ sabotage, guerrilla tactics and propaganda behind the Iron Curtain to undermine the Soviet Union. After receiving authorization from the National Security Council, Kennan and his staff started fashioning specific projects to undermine Communist power in the Soviet bloc in a way that concealed the United States' originating role. These efforts were complete failures, and Kennan eventually regretted his creation. "The political warfare initiative was the greatest mistake I ever made," he told a congressional committee. "It did not work out at all the way I had conceived."
Virtually all U.S. covert actions have not worked out as planned. Even such short-term successes as Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and Afghanistan in the 1980s have become long-term failures or liabilities. The intense unpopularity of the Shah after the CIA helped him to power in 1953 led directly to the Islamic revolution in 1979. It took Guatemala more than 40 years to recover from a brutal military regime that was installed with the help of a CIA coup. Today's Afghanistan is a country of death and misery that has been destabilizing its neighbors and creating long-term security and terrorist problems for the United States. The CIA spent more than $3 billion in the 1980s to train and fund seven Afghan resistance groups-all venomously anti-American-that have formed the core of an international network of highly disciplined and effective Islamic militants. The terrorist network has tried to wage a "war of urban terrorism against the United States" and has targeted Washington's most pivotal Islamic allies in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, including Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Most covert actions have offered much greater risk than reward, and there have been numerous failures when the CIA has misread or ignored the likely effects of its actions on target nations. High-level ignorance of Fidel Castro's popularity in Cuba led the CIA to endorse the ill-fated Bay of Pigs paramilitary operation in 1961. The CIA inspector general termed the Bay of Pigs a "perfect failure," and CIA director Allen Dulles recommended to President John F. Kennedy that all responsibility for paramilitary activities be given to the Pentagon.
Revelations of assassination plots in Cuba, the Congo, and Vietnam in the 1960s finally led to a ban on CIA assassinations in the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, covert action in Ethiopia in the early 1980s, according to Ambassador David Korn, led to the loss of many lives, including some who were entirely innocent and extraneous to the CIA operation. Honduran commandos trained by the CIA engaged in killing and torturing people suspected of helping Salvadoran rebels, and people who received antiterrorist training in Lebanon set off a car bomb that killed 80 innocent people. In 1984 the CIA even broke the ban on assassinations, when it produced a manual for the contras that discussed "neutralizing" officials in Nicaragua. The current Iraqi Liberation Act, which calls for covert action to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, could lead to the assassination of the Iraqi leader. Millions of dollars have been appropriated to foment a coup against Saddam, although there is little likelihood of success for such operations and even less promise that "success" would have a favorable impact on politics in Iraq or the balance of power in the Persian Gulf.
Stopping Covert Action and Reforming Clandestine Operation
The nation's spy service, which resides almost entirely in the CIA, has become an anachronism that no longer serves our quest for international stability and even compromises our principles as a constitutional democracy. All covert action could be stopped with no compromise of U.S. national security. Most problems addressed by covert action could be addressed openly by unilateral policies or through international cooperation. Proliferation problems created by missile programs in Iraq and North Korea led to calls for covert action, but in both cases multilateral activity-with the United States playing the pivotal role-created a nuclear freeze in North Korea and the destruction of strategic weapons in Iraq. In fact, the verification regime of the United Nations in Iraq led to the identification and destruction of more strategic regimes than the military campaigns of Desert Storm. Unfortunately, a CIA-sponsored collection effort against Saddam Hussein compromised the work of the United Nations and there has been no success in restoring the verification activities of UNSCOM.
Other clandestine activities could be reduced with no compromise of U.S. national security. CIA propaganda has had little impact on foreign audiences and should end immediately. The activities of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty as well as the liberal anti-communist Congress for Cultural Freedom were relatively successful, but currently operate in public with congressional authorization and appropriations. Covert efforts to rig or influence foreign elections or to create or influence political parties should stop. It was illegal for the CIA to run a bumbling covert operation to return Miami-based contra leaders to Nicaragua for the presidential elections in 1990, when the U.S. Congress had approved an expenditure of $9 million on the election through the National Endowment for Democracy and had banned covert support to Violetta Chamorro's National Opposition Union. As early as 1956, a presidential inquiry by two of the most respected veterans of the Cold War-David Bruce and Robert Lovett-concluded that such clandestine activities were "responsible in a great measure for stirring up the turmoil and raising the doubts about us that exist in many countries of the world today."
It is time to depoliticize the role of the DCI itself. Former DCIs William Casey and Robert Gates were bad choices because they were too close to partisan politics. DCI George Tenet, a former Senate committee staffer for a dozen years, lacks the independent stature needed to overhaul the intelligence community and return the CIA to Harry S. Truman's conception of it as an independent and objective interpreter of foreign events.
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