A Mandate for Change
Sunday's headline in The New York Times: "Exit of Spy Chief Viewed as Move to Recast Agency" merely confirms reports that have been making the rounds in the intelligence community. Namely, the reformation of the CIA is far from complete, and the next agency director (most likely, General Michael Hayden) will attempt to implement sweeping changes at Langley. When that process is complete, the CIA will be an organization devoted largely to human intelligence collection and covert ops, with less emphasis on analysis and policy formulation.
Indeed, the CIA of the future will be a shadow of its former self (no pun intended). Much of its analytical function will eventually move to other organizations, such as the National Intelligence Council--which works directly for the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte--or the recently-established National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC). Both are seen as more logical homes for much of the analytical capabilities that once resided at Langley, when the CIA chief also led the nation's intelligence community.
General Hayden is likely to encouter stiff resistance as he reshapes the agency. But he encountered similar resistance before, when he took control of a floundering National Security Agency in the late 1990s. Facing the dual challenges of an ossified civilian bureaucracy and the global migration to fiber optic, web-based and encrypted communications, General Hayden pushed through a reform program that made the agency more responsive to its customers.
While the agency has been criticized for failing to pinpoint the 9-11 plot before it was executed, the NSA recovered quickly from that set-back. Many observers have noted that much of our success in locating (and capturing) senior Al-Qaida officials is the result of improvements in NSA capabilties during General Hayden's tenure. He also succeeded in quieting criticism of the agency's controversial domestic surveillance program, conducting a series of high-profile interviews, speeches and press conferences, pointing out (a) the program was operating within the law; (b) key members of Congress were "in the loop from the start, and (c), the program was producing valuable information on Al-Qaida and its activities.
Hayden's effective management skills made him the longest-serving NSA director in the agency's history. While other intelligence leaders were sent packing (George Tenent), or denied chance to stay in their jobs (former DIA Director Vice-Admiral Lowell Jacoby comes to mind), Hayden was asked to stay on, eventually earning him a promotion to the DDNI post, and his fourth star.
Along with his impressive management skills, General Hayden also brings other key requirements to the CIA job. First, he has the full support of the DNI, and secondly, he shares Ambassador Negroponte's vision for reforming the intelligence community and the CIA. Agency insiders who cheered at word of Goss's depature may find soon find themselves wising he'd stayed on. There is every reason to believe that General Hayden will attempt to accelerate the pace of change at Langley, with the backing of the of his boss, and the Commander-in-Chief.
It will be an uphill battle. As NSA Director, Hayden was clearly in his element. Much of his Air Force intel career was spent in SIGINT (signals intelligence); and in some respects, many of his earlier assignments were preparation for the director's job at Fort Meade. At the CIA, Hayden will enter a realm where he has less experience, but it would be a colossal mistake for the agency's anti-Administration or anti-reform cabals to under-estimate him. He is going to Langley with a mandate for sweeping change, and General Hayden has the management skills and political savvy to make planned reforms a reality. When he retires from the CIA (assuming his tenure is at least three years) the agency will be vastly different than the one he inherited. And hopefully, much better at its assigned mission.