Monday, August 3, 2009

REPLY TO LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR

I have read your 2 August Washington Post editorial this morning and have thought about its argument. Given your prior public service and six months in your current position, I am disappointed that you believe that (1) no correlation between agency conduct, and operational and intelligence results exists, and (2) supervision by and accountability to Congress have little or nothing to do with the ability of the CIA to serve broader interests than its own. What makes you think that the CIA knows best what the country’s best interests are?

The conspicuous fact about the CIA is that, despite minor successes, it has failed on every major issue in my lifetime. The CIA failed to understand Chinese or Vietnamese nationalism. It failed to predict the downfall of the USSR. It failed to detect Iraqi nuclear programs in the 1970s and 1980s. It failed to predict the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism. It failed to uncover plots to bomb the World Trade Center, once in 1993, once in 2001, and the Pentagon in 2001. It failed to detect the absence of WMD in Iraq before the onset of hostilities. I would not endorse an ends-justify-means argument based only on results, but your argument would appear stronger if you could show that the CIA had any successes on the same scale as these failures.

The CIA has proven unsuccessful because so much of its energies and resources go into activities directed less at sensible intelligence operations and analysis than at institutional and individual dynamics of turf wars and personal rivalries fostered by and shrouded in secrecy. It prefers to act, and has acted, like an Executive Branch lapdog with a long leash. It has long regarded Congressional oversight and accountability as meddlesome. Recent disclosures indicate a long history of disingenuous and dishonest briefings of some members of Congress. Part of that history is the CIA’s refusal to keep accurate agency records of who attended what meeting when about what and its refusal to issue after-the-fact memoranda shared by all parties—all to enable it to discredit members of Congress with bogus claims about its fulfillment of its responsibilities.

In such circumstances, for you to editorialize that Congress should look forward and not back is to declare that neither Congress nor the CIA has anything to learn from weaknesses or absences of oversight and accountability. Which position amounts to a covert plea to let the game resume as it has been played. Your “trust me,” even if you could be trusted to be other than an outside bureaucrat trying to curry favor with the inside professionals, is no assurance that any future director can be trusted. Your arrogance in speaking for your successors strengthens the need for investigations into the past to provide for future control of the CIA.