Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New Kids on the Block

I had this one in my pile of stuff to write about, but put it on the back burner. The item, which appeared in the Washington Post back on 15 April, highlights one of General Mike Hayden's toughest jobs as CIA Director: absorbing all the "new hires" who have joined the agency since 9-11.

Officially, the number of folks who work for the CIA is classified, but according to General Hayden, "half" of the agency's employees have come on board over the past six years, and 20% of the analytical staff has been hired in the last 12 months. General Hayden made the comments in a CSPAN "Q&A" interview that recently aired; transcript and video of the interview are available here.

According to the Post, the massive turnover at the CIA is the result of two factors: a mass exodus in middle-management ranks under former agency director Porter Goss, and migration of some former staffers to private firms, now performing security and analysis work under government contract. The paper ignored a third factor; many agency veterans who joined the CIA during its last big expansion (under Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s) are now eligible for retirement, allowing them to pocket a CIA pension and start a second career with a defense contractor or private security firm.

Whatever the reason, the departure of experienced analysts and field officers has left the agency in a bind. As a long-time analyst, I'd agree with a former colleague who estimates that it takes "3-5 years" to get a new analyst fully up to speed; I'd assume that it takes as much time--perhaps a bit longer--to develop an effective field operative. In some cases, hiring ex-military analysts or HUMINT officers can reduce the learning curve, but many of the CIA's new hires have no prior intelligence experience. That will impact the quality of the information collected and analyzed by the agency for years to come.

Wags might argue that the "rookies" couldn't do any worse than the "pros" who missed the collapse of communism, the 9-11 attacks, described the existence of Saddam's WMD program as a "slam dunk," and more recently, predicted the imminent demise of Fidel Castro. But the veterans also made a number of correct "calls" over the years; in many cases, those assessments were never publicized, but they contributed greatly to successful military or counter-terrorism operations. Replacing that type of expertise--in the middle of a long war on terror--is going to be difficult, to say the least.

1 comment:

Chris Mayhew said...

The book CIA LIFE (which I'm reading) concurs with your 3-5 years estimate.

And while we can debate the pros and cons of the CIA elsewhere, it is in the rather unenviable position of having its triumphs published 20 years later (if at all) and its failures trumpted in the NYT.