Sunday, May 07, 2006

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 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.


Unknown said...

Joe...I respectfully disagree. One reason I like Mike Hayden is that he doesn't represent that type of thinking.

When he was appointed NSA director, he inherited an agendy beset by problems, including an entrenched civilian bureaucracy, a refusal to recognize that the global communications environment had changed, and a reluctance to embrace new technology that would make NSA relevant and effective in the 21st Century. Through vision, persistance and a lot of hard work, he succeeded in reforming the agency, leaving it in much better shape than he found it.

The "group think" problem, as I see it, lies with the "old boy" culture at the CIA, as typlified by leaders like George Tenent. While Mr. Tenent spent most of his career on Capitol Hill, he's a part of that revolving door crowd between the Hill, Rand Corp, various think tanks, and the CIA. Tenent allowed the agency to continue its drift, and tolerated the infamous "rogue" elements that have openly subverted administration policies.

IMO, going with one of the "usual suspects" from that group as the next CIA director will only perpetuate the problems at Langley, not solve them.

BTW, if the idea of a "military leader" is completely unacceptable, the Bush ought to come back with my second choice, FBI Director Robert Mueller. Like Hayden, Mueller has a proven track record as a reformer, someone capable of shaking up a large government bureaucracy.

Mark Tempest said...

Excellent points, though I might add that in addition to civlian control represented by Mr. Negroponte, the Department of Defense is also under civilian control (which seems to have chafed a few former generals) and also reports through the food chain to the President. It is probably this last fact that bothers the Feinstein side of the aisle.

I wonder if Mr. Hoekstra is more concerned over the apparent finger in the eye Mr. Bush is giving Congress by appointing the man behind the "secret" eavesdropping program that has created so much needless furor?

How big a role is presidential power in the hands of Mr. Bush playing in this political dance?

A.C. McCloud said...

I wonder if Mr. Hoekstra is more concerned over the apparent finger in the eye Mr. Bush is giving Congress by appointing the man behind the "secret" eavesdropping program that has created so much needless furor?

My thoughts, too. It really doesn't seem a politically wise choice, but then Bush never seems to think along those lines on first blush.

If he really wanted some fun he could nominate Richard Perle, just to watch the fur fly. But Mueller seems a sound alternative. Would be interested to get Spook's thoughts on bringing Woolsey out of retirement.

On a purely selfish secondary note, the NY Times already has Hayden nominated and defeated in the Senate. I'd like to see Bush choose someone else if nothing more than to throw mud in their eye.

Mike H. said...

I would just like to see someone put the bunch back to work while weeding out those who are trying to create little kingdoms. And as has been said before, broken egos are not an ethics crises.

Red A said...

The reason you want the CIA to be seen as "civilain" is so that they can do covert stuff.

I doubt you want US militray officers recruiting agents in Dushanbe, etc.

I don't know if that means you can't have a general heading the organization though.