Friday, October 21, 2005

The "Mess" at Langley

David Ignatius of the Washington Post weighs in today with a mid-point assessment of the intelligence reform process. He begins by noting--ominously--that we are at a danger point; the old intelligence structure has been weakend, but the new apparatus isn't quite strong enough to carry the load (at least not yet).

Mr. Ignatius even gives grudging credit to the Bush Administration and the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Ambassador John Negroponte, for initiating the reform process, and achieving some success, through establishment of the DNI post, and creating a more centralized process for managing and coordinating intelligence efforts.

But the op-ed quickly devolves into a hit piece on CIA Director Porter Goss and his new management team at Langley. Ignatius refers to Goss's senior aides as a team of "right-wind Republican staffers, quickly dubbed the "Gosslings' at Langley." He later opines that "The Gosslings have made a real mess [in the CIA's Directorate of Operations], driving out a half-dozen top officers...why these inexperienced congressional staffers thought they had better judgment than career professionals, many of them former military officers, is beyond me."

Let me give you a hand, David. In the years before Porter Goss's arrival at Langley, the "judgment" of these career professionals resulted in serious shortfalls in intelligence collection and analysis. The WMD failure in Iraq can be traced, in part, to the inability of the Directorate of Operations (DO) to recruit reliable sources at the senior levels of Saddam's regime. Ditto for A.Q. Kahn's nuclear proliferation network--CIA agents in the field missed that one, too. The same holds true for North Korea's covert nuclear program in the late 1990s; the DO hasn't been able to penetrate the DPRK, either.

In other words, the supposed "pros" at Langley had made a real hash of operations long the Gosslings arrived on the scene, so a mucking-out was clearly in order. U.S. intelligence simply couldn't afford a continuation of the problems stemming from deficiencies in the operations directorate at the CIA. And, to make matters worse, elements within the DO were openly warring with the agency's leadership and the administration, leaking sensitive information that further undermined intelligence efforts.

Given the track record of these "professionals" it was time to show them the door, and reinvigorate the DO with new leadership and fresh blood. Naturally, the old heads aren't happy, and they've obviously been talking with Mr. Ignatius, who's happy to cite their complaints as proof that the reform process is only a partial success.

One more note: in his article, Ignatius also credits DNI Negroponte for his "tough" management in scaling back a proposed, multi-billion dollar spy satellite system. But the writer fails to acknowlege a potential flaw in that strategy. Down-sizing the satellite constellation presumes that information that might be gathered by overhead platforms will (instead) be gathered by other systems, or agents on the ground. Clearly, our human intelligence (HUMINT) network is in disrepair, so it's foolhardy to believe that operatives on the ground can make up the shortfall in the near future. And while other platforms (such as the Air Force's Global Hawk) show great promise, they also require tremendous investments in infrastructure, processing capacity and training.

Besides, technical collection is not a panacea. In this era of encrypted communications, fiber optic networks and denial and deception programs, it is often easy for adversaries to concel their intentions from technical spying. That makes it imperative for Langley's DO to get its house in order, and get back on track in gathering vital information that cannot be collected by other means. Entrusting the reform process to failed, former leadership simply made no sense. Implementing change--without a change in DO leadership--is a recipe for failiure, and would simply perpetuate the mess at Langley.

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