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Last Updated:5/22/03

The Intelligence Community

Time for a major overhaul


By Melvin A. Goodman

There is little doubt that President Clinton's nomination of George Tenet to be Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) will be confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee this month. Tenet is widely known in the Senate, where he was a committee staffer for a dozen years, and he was confirmed by the intelligence committee several years ago for his current position as deputy director of central intelligence. It is less certain, however, that Tenet has either the political stature or the reform agenda necessary for really changing this country's huge intelligence apparatus.

America's spy empire--the so-called intel-ligence community--is a creation of the Cold War that now includes thirteen secret agencies. It employs too many people (over 150,000) and spends too much money (over $30 billion a year). The Central Intelligence Agency is the most notorious of these agencies and the director of the CIA is also DCI, thus the titular leader of the entire empire. The CIA's major companion agencies are in fact part of the Defense Department. They include:

  • The National Security Agency, which is responsible for codebreaking and electronic eavesdropping.
  • The National Reconnaissance Office, which coordinates the development and management of surveillance satellites.
  • The National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which is responsible for analysis of all satellite photography.
  • The Defense Intelligence Agency, which conducts military intelligence analysis.

These agencies are responsible for most of the spending of the intelligence community and are ill-suited for the post-Cold War era.

U.S. Intelligence Components

Agency Function ($ billions)
Central Intelligence Agency Espionage; covert action;


  analysis; intelligence coordination  
Tactical Intelligence and Tactical military intelligence and combat


Related Activities support units of the military services  
Defense Intelligence Agency Military intelligence analysis;


  defense attachés  
National Reconnaissance Office Satellite surveillance


National Security Agency Electronic eavesdropping; codebreaking


Other National Foreign  


Intelligence Programs    



Data: Preparing For the Twenty-First Century: An Appraisal of U.S. Intelligence, Report of the Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community [Brown Commission](Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, March 1, 1996), p. 132 and passim. Interpolation of data by the Federation of American Scientists= website (http// See note 1 below.

The problems at the CIA include spy scandals, the failure to warn of the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, the distribution of tainted intelligence to three presidents, and the cover-up of terrorist activities in Central America. The CIA's most recent failure-not warning the Pentagon before Desert Storm that Iraq had stored sarin nerve gas at a depot known as Khamisiyah-was reminiscent of the intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor, which led directly to the creation of the CIA. In the case of Pearl Harbor, the United States had sufficient intelligence to protect American soldiers but information never reached troops in the field. In the case of Khamisiyah, the CIA had this information for more than five years but still produced, according to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, sloppy, unreliable and sometimes contradictory intelligence.

The authority for CIA's covert action, the clandestine intervention into the affairs of other states, grew out of the worst days of the Cold War, and it is time to end that authority. These actions rarely work. Even short-term successes-such as Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and Afghanistan in the 1980s-have become long-term failures. The intense unpopularity of the Shah after the CIA helped him to power in 1953 led to the Islamic revolution of 1979. Guatemala became the home of the most brutal military regime in Central America, and CIA officers failed to report terrorist activities by their Guatemalan assets. Afghanistan has become a land of death and misery, and weapons supplied to the mujahideen are fueling conflicts in Bosnia and Sudan. Mobutu Sese Seko was a CIA asset when he took over Zaire in 1965 and began three decades of robbing and debasing his country. The United States and the CIA have made similar mistakes in Liberia (Samuel Doe) and Somalia (Mohammed Siad Barre), where U.S. military forces have had to bail out our interests.

It is time to jettison the myth that only clandestine collection of information can ascertain foreign leaders' intentions. Intelligence community sources failed to decipher Leonid Brezhnev's intentions toward Czechoslovakia in 1968, Anwar Sadat's toward Israel in 1973, and Saddam Hussein's toward

Kuwait in 1990. State Department officials provide more useful information on foreign leaders than the CIA, which recently purged more than a thousand foreign assets and informants because of their criminal histories and irrelevant information. But there has been no detailed public accounting of this so-called "scrub" of agents and, unless the congressional intelligence committees review this exercise, there is no way to determine if the CIA has genuinely abandoned some of its bad habits from the cold war.

Despite repeated failures by the CIA's directorate of operations and the directorate of intelligence, former director of central intelligence R. James Woolsey actually merged these two troubled but very different entities. The operations wing is deeply involved in policy; it relies on secrecy and hierarchy, and shares information on a need-to-know basis. The intelligence wing must have no policy axes to grind, however, and its credibility rests on that fact. Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, former head of NSA and deputy director of CIA, has warned against merging collection and analysis of intelligence in a single agency. Serious failures, including the lack of warning about the collapse of the Soviet Union, have occurred when policy advocacy hampers the flow of intelligence information.

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) was the creation of former director of central intelligence John Deutch who created NIMA as a combat-support agency in order to centralize all analysis of satellite imagery in the Pentagon. There are major risks in the military dominating this important field. Imagery analysis has been used to critique the defense budget, to gauge the likelihood of military conflict in the Third World, and to verify arms control agreements.

Gen. Colin L. Powell's memoir, An American Journey, reveals the military's willingness to suppress sensitive imagery intelligence. During Desert Storm, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf said at a press conference that a smart bomb had destroyed four Iraqi Scud missile launchers. Intelligence imagery demonstrated that it had actually destroyed four Jordanian fuel tanks.

General Schwarzkopf's intelligence officers would not tell him he was wrong. Nor would Powell, who concluded that preserving Schwarzkopf's equanimity was more important than the truth. This type of military bias was one of the primary reasons for creating an independent CIA in 1947.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has been a technological marvel but a financial disaster. In a complete collapse of accountability, neither the CIA nor the Pentagon were able to monitor more than $4 billion in unspent satellite construction funds, which should have been returned to Congress, and Congress had to learn from a local newspaper that the NRO had spent more than $300 million on a lavish headquarters building in the Virginia suburbs. Billions of dollars could be saved over the next ten years by developing smaller satellites and shifting NRO's classified payloads from Lockheed Martin's heavy-lift Titan boosters to its smaller and less costly Atlas launchers.

Only the National Security Agency (NSA) earns consistently high marks for protecting the nation's security and, at the same time, contributing to its technology. NSA not only dissented during several international crises, when the CIA and DIA had it wrong, particularly in the Middle East and East Europe, but has been on the cutting edge of U.S. technology for decades. NSA contributed directly to the first transistorized computers, semiconductors, high-speed circuitry, and microelectronics; it financed some of the first supercomputers designed by Seymour Cray and developed technology that may crack the ultimate code-DNA, the genetic blueprint of life itself. NSA may be the largest and most expensive intelligence agency in the history of civilization, but it is a model of innovation and invention.

What Is To Be Done?

The United States must confront the post-Cold War world with a much smaller and more cost-efficient intelligence community than the gargantuan apparatus that now exists. It is time to address:

  • (1) The proper role of espionage and covert action in the post-Cold War era.

  • (2) The need for rigorous oversight.

  • (3) Reduced spending on intelligence.

  • (4) Redundancy in the intelligence community.

  • (5) The need to protect intelligence from politicization.

The next CIA director must know the difference between those intelligence programs that address national security threats and those programs that are counterproductive.

It would be possible to save billions of dollars in the intelligence community over the next ten years with smaller satellite intelligence platforms, major personnel cuts, and an end to the redundancy of administrative and programmatic support. The size and redundancy of military intelligence must be addressed by the Defense Department, which spends five of every six intelligence dollars. The analytic product of the DIA, which is below the caliber of the rest of the intelligence community, must be strengthened, and the director of DIA should have the rank and resources to be the Director of Military Intelligence. Such a director could integrate all intelligence capabilities of the military services, which is why DIA was created more than thirty years ago.

Covert Action

The CIA's covert actions had some successes during the worst days of the Cold War. But the nation's spy service, which resides almost entirely in the CIA, has become an anachronism that no longer serves our quest for international stability and even compromises our principles as a constitutional democracy. All covert action and all spying against our friends and allies should be stopped; CIA propaganda and efforts to influence foreign elections must end. Woolsey's merger of intelligence and operations must be reversed, and the CIA must guarantee that the operations directorate does not taint or politicize the intelligence that is distributed to policymakers and congressmen. Last year's presidential commission on intelligence reform actually endorsed the merger of intelligence and operations, although it acknowledged the risk of politicization.

Woolsey also favored the blending of spying and law enforcement, and President Clinton has endorsed the creation of an interagency committee on global crime at the National Security Council (whose members would include the attorney general and the CIA director). This would run counter to the National Security Act of 1947-which created the CIA-because it prohibits a CIA role in law enforcement. Any redefinition of the traditional roles for U.S. spies could have implications for U.S. citizens' civil rights.

Since the end of the Cold War, the military services have increasingly dominated the intelligence process and the last DCI, John Deutch, ran the CIA as if he were on loan from the Defense Department. He marginalized the role of strategic intelligence, drastically reduced the production of National Intelligence Estimates, put CIA analysts at the beck and call of the Pentagon, and placed the control of technical intelligence collection and the analysis of satellite photography in the Defense Department. Deutch did nothing to strengthen the analytic capabilities of the intelligence community, which face new targets and challenges since the end of the cold war. The strategic landscape has changed drastically since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but the architecture of the intelligence community remains unchanged. The United States has a roster of experts in industry who are cleared for work on the construction of satellites and other collection platforms, but the intelligence community lacks regular access to outside experts who have the education and experience to interpret international events.

One person cannot serve as both the director of central intelligence (the intelligence community) and the director of the CIA and fulfill responsibilities to the White House, Congress, and the American people. It is time to create some kind of intelligence czar for the community-a Director of National Intelligence-and a separate director for intelligence analysis. The intelligence czar would have access and support from the president, control over the intelligence budget and collection, and authority over the non-analytic efforts of the thirteen agencies of the community. The current DCI controls only around 10 percent of U.S. intelligence spending, with the rest controlled by the secretary of defense. A director of national intelligence would oversee the entire intelligence budget. The authority for the analysis of strategic intelligence would be in the hands of a statutory director of an analytic agency which would be separate from all policy agencies, would not serve on the cabinet, and would coordinate the analytic efforts of all intelligence agencies.

Need for Rigorous Oversight

There will be no significant intelligence reform without the active participation of Congress, but the principal legislation that governs the organization and responsibilities of the intelligence community is nearly fifty years old; it is inadequate and must be reexamined. The role of congressional oversight must be strengthened and we must stop the politicization of the Senate Intelligence Committee that allowed former senator Warren Rudman to try to intimidate critics of the CIA in 1991 and, more recently, allowed committee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby to politicize confirmation hearings for Tony Lake as DCI. The creation of a presidential commission on intelligence implicitly recognized the inadequacy of congressional oversight. The Office of Management and Budget and the General Accounting Office must become major players in oversight of the intelligence community and the intelligence budget must be declassified. The secret budget is, of course, a violation of the constitution.

A new CIA director must stop the recycling of those high-level officials who contributed to the politicization of intelligence in the first place. Two senior officials who were responsible for corrupting intelligence on the Soviet Union later become the national intelligence officer for Russia and the deputy director for intelligence, respectively. The project manager of the papal plot assessment is now one of the agency's highest-ranking officers, the deputy director for operations. The co-author of the papal assessment is the CIA historian. The analyst who produced a bogus National Intelligence Estimate on Mexico 1984 and supplied disinformation to Congress on Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1993 is now director of the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence, which coordinates all agency contacts with the academic community. Deutch even named Bob Gates, who was responsible for politicizing intelligence on the former Soviet Union in the 1980s, to head a panel to determine whether a recent national intelligence estimate on strategic threats to the United States had been politicized, as its critics had charged. The rewarding of these officials and the CIA's refusal to confront past abuses contributes to institutional cynicism and low morale and prevents systemic reform.

Finally, it is time to depoliticize the role of the DCI itself. Former DCIs George Bush, William Casey, and Robert Gates were bad choices because they were too close to partisan politics. Director -designate Tenet, unfortunately, is a political appointment. It is time to look for a DCI outside the intelligence community, where former senator Bill Bradley, Admiral William Crowe, or Ambassador Thomas Pickering could be found. Any of these individuals could overhaul the intelligence community, attract outside scholars and experts, and restore the concept of U.S. intelligence as an independent and objective interpreter of foreign events.

Melvin A. Goodman was an analyst with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and with the CIA for twenty-four years. A professor at the National War College and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, he is the author of The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze (1997), Gorbachev's Retreat (1991), and The End of Superpower Conflict in the Third World (1992). His most recent article, Ending the CIA's Cold War Legacy, appeared in the spring edition of Foreign Policy.


1. The chart is a composite from two sources. The first, an official report known as the Brown Commission report, omitted the dollar amounts and personnel complements because they are classified. The second is the website of the Federation of American Scientists (, which, interpolating from unclassified information in the report text, added the quantitative legend given above. The information originally was published in the Washington Post on March 12, 1996.

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