The Issue of Civilian Control
There's an interesting theme that emerged on the Sunday morning talking head shows, regarding the expected nomination of General Mike Hayden to be the next CIA Director. Several Congressmen and Senators have expressed concern about Hayden's status as a military officer, saying that the CIA should be led by a civilian, and expressing fears that the CIA might somehow be "gobbled up" by the defense intelligence establishment.
Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan appears to be leading the charge. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Hokestra said that General Hayden would be "the wrong person, the wrong place at the wrong time," despite a distinguished career as an intelligence officer. Hoekstra believes Hayden's appointment would only exacerbate problems between the CIA and the DOD:
"There is ongoing tensions between this premier civilian intelligence agency and DOD as we speak...And I think putting a general in charge, regardless of how good Mike is-...is going to send the wrong signal through the agency here in Washington but also to our agents in the field around the world."
Similar comments were expressed by Senator Diane Feinstein of California, Senator Saxby Chambless of Georgia and Delaware's Joe Biden. Feinstein opined that "you can't have the military control major aspects of intelligence." More on that bit of ignorance in a second. Always eager to advance DNC talking points, the AP helpfully points out that with Hayden as CIA director, military officers would be in charge of the nation's three major spy agencies, and the Pentagon would control 80% of the intelligence budget.
To borrow a phrase from TV weatherman Lloyd Lindsay Young, well H-e-l-l-o Congressman Hoekstra, members of the Senate, and the rest of the pundit crowd. Here's a little news flash you apparently missed: the Defense Department already provides much of the nation's intelligence capabilities, and has long controlled the lion's share of the of the intel budget. Need a U-2, RC-135, or Global Hawk mission to keep tabs on Iraq? Call the Air Force. Need a sub to insert an agent team or do some covert collection work along a hostile shore? Call the Navy. Need a SOF team to gather information along the Pakistan border? Better let the Army know.
And we haven't even scratched the surface, in terms of who exploits the data collected by those (and other) DOD assets, and converts that information into finished intelligence. This might surprise Senator Feinstein, but each of the military services have extensive intel production, exploitation and dissemination (PED) operations, which make major contributions to the national intelligence effort. For example, many of the nation's linguists are military personnel, serving in one of the service cryptologic elements. In fact, the service SIGINT elements and NSA are so seamlessly integrated, it's often difficult to tell where the "civilian" agency stops, and the military element begins.
Remember those comments about the military running the three major spy agencies? Here's a salient fact you won't find in the AP report, or in a sound bite from those "concerned" Senators and Representatives. Two of the agencies cited by the AP (NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency) have always been run by the military. Both the NSA and DIA director's positions are three-star military billets, rotated among the services. When General Hayden left NSA, he was replaced by Army Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. Another Army officer, Lieutenant General Jack Maple, is the current DIA Director, and a three-star general or admiral is expected to be the next director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). Nothing unusual about that.
In fact, these fears about eroding "civilian control" over intelligence are something of a red herring. Apparently, Chairman Hoekstra has forgotten that General Hayden has a civilian boss (John Negroponte) who sits atop the nation's intelligence community. Beyond that, the DNI and the agency chiefs work for another civilian, the Commander-in-Chief. The DNI, like the DCI before him, will always be a civilian--as it should be. Likewise, the military will always have a major say in running our intelligence efforts because the DOD provides a significant portion of our collection, analytical and production capabilities. That shouldn't change, either.
With the CIA at a critical crossroads in its history, it's disappointing--but entirely predictable--that Congress is suddenly worried about General Hayden's military status. If that is a genuine issue, then it can easily be fixed; we can simply hold his retirement ceremony the day before he takes charge of the CIA. The real issue should be--must be--the continued reform of a spy agency that has become bloated, less effective, and highly partisan. Sadly, that over-arching concern appears lost on the talking head set, who are more concerned about advancing personal agendas (I'm sure Hoekstra has his own choice to run the CIA) and scoring cheap political points.