CIA Overhaul

As expected, last week’s resignation of DCI George Tenet may hasten reforms in the intelligence community that are inevitable once the 9/11 Commission publishes its report. Two stories in the major papers this morning give some clues.

LA Times — Overhaul Of CIA Chief’s Job Debated

The post of CIA director, one of the most demanding and perilous in government, may be a fundamentally flawed job that makes it impossible for most occupants to succeed, experts and lawmakers said.

With his resignation last week, George J. Tenet became the latest in a long line of spy chiefs to leave office badly bruised by the experience. The track record is so dismal that some lawmakers have argued that the position should be dramatically restructured before Tenet’s permanent replacement is selected.

“The resignation presents a huge opportunity, and I don’t think the conversation should be about who replaces George Tenet as DCI,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “It should be about how to change the DCI job so that the replacement can be successful.”

The job of director of central intelligence, known as DCI, is specific and broad: The person directly leads the CIA and also heads the complex federation of the other 14 agencies that form the intelligence-gathering community. Longtime CIA veterans say it is hard to identify a director who left the job on his own terms, on his own timetable, with his reputation intact.

Some, such as Bay of Pigs planner Allen W. Dulles, have been fired for embarrassing intelligence failures. Others, such as accused Iran-Contra architect William J. Casey, left behind legacies of scandal and abuse of power.

Several were so disliked by the agency’s clandestine operatives that they were undermined in the job and departed in frustration. And a few who managed to avert major controversy were pushed out by politics before they were ready to quit.

The proposal for change that has gained the most traction is to split the CIA director job in two — one person would run the CIA and another would head a new Cabinet-level position with broad budgetary and hiring-and-firing authority over all the agencies in the intelligence community.


Proponents of splitting the job say the task of running the CIA and overseeing the rest of the community is almost impossible, partly because the CIA director has limited authority. He can’t hire and fire heads of other agencies, and 80% of the intelligence budget is controlled by the Pentagon because so many of the other intelligence agencies are related to the Defense Department.

CIA directors are ordinarily “so absorbed with running the one agency they don’t do a very good job of looking at the issues that will affect the entire community,” said Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But skeptics express concern that dividing the job will only lead to new problems. In testimony before the Sept. 11 commission in April, Tenet expressed misgivings about the idea, saying it would create a harmful new layer between the president and the analysts and operatives of the CIA.

A new intelligence czar would also mean a demotion for the CIA director, an erosion of the authority of the secretary of Defense, and would create the daunting task of riding herd on the details of 15 separate intelligence agencies, Tenet said.

WaPo — Preserving CIA Status Will Test New Chief

Of all the challenges that face Tenet’s successor, John E. McLaughlin, when he steps into the job July 11, preserving the CIA’s status at the White House and among world leaders will be among the toughest.

McLaughlin’s tricky political task will be “to hold on” to the agency’s voice at the White House during a tenure expected to last at least through the fall election, said one senior U.S. intelligence official.

His understated personality and his career as an analyst signal to many administration officials and current and former intelligence personnel that the CIA’s role is in danger of being marginalized within the context of such domineering personalities as Cheney, Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “He’ll be seen as a colonel analyst” rather than a combat general, predicted one former senior intelligence official.


McLaughlin will take over in the middle of a year that counterterrorism experts believe could prove one of the most dangerous for U.S. interests, as intelligence reporting shows al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are preparing to launch attacks against large, symbolic gatherings of Americans: the Democratic and Republican party conventions, this week’s Group of Eight summit in Sea Island, Ga., and the Olympics in Greece.


Within the intelligence community, McLaughlin will also be responsible for continuing to strengthen the clandestine and analytical departments and to help facilitate the still-bumpy, but newly invigorated working relationship with the FBI. Unlike Tenet, who had trouble before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, persuading the White House and Congress to give the intelligence community more funds, McLaughlin’s task will be to make sure the subsequent huge increases are spent effectively.

And at a time of unprecedented recruiting for new CIA case officers and analysts, McLaughlin will be expected to defend the agencies’ reputation and morale during the coming onslaught of criticism from two congressional reports and the Sept. 11 commission. “He will have to go down and defend it,” the former senior intelligence official said. “John is so nice, I worry about him. You’ve got to be able to push back, make people unhappy. He needs a sharper edge.”

Both pieces have a common thread: the ability of the DCI to wield power is almost entirely dependant on his relationship with the president. While he has near absolute power in his role of CIA Director, he has very little in his role as DCI. Most of the assets of the IC are under control of other officials, most notably the Secretary of Defense. Since the DCI has no budgetary or promotion authority over those assets, he’s dependent on persuasion. That’s not a very effective position from which to operate.

Here’s the current configuration:

Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps Intelligence Organizations —each collects and processes intelligence relevant to their particular Service needs.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
– provides accurate, comprehensive, and timely foreign intelligence on national security topics to national policy and decision makers.

Coast Guard Intelligence — deals with information related to US maritime borders and Homeland Security.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – provides timely and objective military intelligence to warfighters, policymakers, and force planners.

Department of Energy — performs analyses of foreign nuclear weapons, nuclear non-proliferation, and energy security-related intelligence issues in support of US national security policies, programs, and objectives.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – prevents terrorist attacks within the United States, reduces America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimizes the damage and recovers from attacks that do occur.

Department of State — deals with information affecting US foreign policy.

Department of Treasury — collects and processes information that may affect US fiscal and monetary policy.

Federal Bureau of Investigation — deals with counterespionage and data about international criminal cases.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) — provides timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security.

National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) – coordinates collection and analysis of information from airplane and satellite reconnaissance by the military services and the CIA.

National Security Agency (NSA) – collects and processes foreign signals intelligence information for our Nation’s leaders and warfighters, and protects critical US information security systems from compromise.

All the responsibilities of the CIA, DIA, NSA, NRO, and NGA are concerned with intelligence. Therefore each of these organizations in its entirety is considered to be a member of the Intelligence Community.

The other organizations are concerned primarily with missions and business other than intelligence, but do have intelligence responsibilities. In these cases, only the part of the organization with the intelligence responsibility is considered to be a part of the Community. In the case of the US Navy, for instance, only their Office of Naval Intelligence is an IC member. The rest of the Navy supports the DoD in missions other than intelligence.

And that’s just the executive bureaucracy. The National Security Council and the intelligence committees of both Houses of Congress are also integral parts of the puzzle and various other federal agencies–not to mention state and local law enforcement–are also part of the network.

The current arrangement made some sense during the Cold War but is entirely outmoded in today’s world. The military is no longer the focal point of national security policy, given that the main threat is not an enemy armed force. An effective counterterrorist operation requires far greater interoperability than is currently the case and simply requires consolidation.

StrategyPage has a long article on this issue as well. The CIA and the Dozen Dwarfs

The United States spends over $30 billion a year on collecting intelligence on current and potential enemies. It̢۪s long been known that the many different intelligence organizations often worked at cross purposes, did not cooperate very well, and often did not get vital information to the people who needed it.

The sad part of all this is that it’s an old problem, going back to World War II. The problem was supposed to have been solved by the establishment of the CIA in 1947. The CIA is, after all, the “Central Intelligence Agency†and it was created to collect and analyze all the intelligence and then deliver that analysis to the president and other people in government who needed it.

Didn’t work out that way. The main reason is that the CIA is a monopoly, and monopolies have no incentive to be competitive, hustle and pay attention to their “customers.”. The many users of intelligence quickly noted this, and fell back on their own intelligence operations. Everyone regularly complained about the problems with getting anything useful out of the CIA on a timely basis, and little changed.

As a result, the United States now has over a dozen major intelligence organizations, all of them still incompletely integrated with all the others. The cry for more “cooperation†in the intelligence community, in order to support the war on terror, in not having much effect.

The current line up of intelligence organizations includes;

The Big Four (CIA, NSA, NGA, NRO) mainly work for the White House. They get most of the money, and most of the criticism for not providing useful support for anyone outside the White House.

РCentral Intelligence Agency (CIA). The main customer is the White House, but is also supposed to keep the Department of Defense, and everyone else who works for the president, supplied with accurate and up-to-date analysis of what̢۪s going on in the world. But when the CIA analysts present information that does not conform to what people in the White House want to see, there is pressure to modify the conclusions. This causes problems with all the other intelligence agencies.

– National Security Agency (NSA). One of the most underestimated of the intelligence agencies. The NSA collects and sorts out “signals intelligence†(messages sent regularly by radio, telephone, Internet and so on) information. More importantly, NSA develops ciphers (methods to encode secret American messages) and decipher the secret codes of other nations. The United States has always been very good at breaking codes, but doing that is only useful if the other guy doesn’t know you have broken his codes. Thus all the secrecy at NSA.

– National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). A relatively new organization, which takes all those satellite and aerial photos and makes sense of them. NGA exists largely because of all the neat new computer tools for working on digital photos and creating useful maps and videos.

– National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Builds and maintains spy satellites. NRO gets the biggest chunk of money spent on intelligence, mainly because spy satellites are so expensive. As a result of this, too much emphasis has been placed on information (and its often misinformation) gained from these satellites.

The Military-Intelligence-Complex. The military is the most in need of timely and detailed intelligence. They rarely get it, or get it in time, from the Big Four. So, over four decades, the military has built up its own formidable intelligence empire.

– Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Is something of a Department of Defense CIA. DIA collects and sorts out intelligence information from the various services and tries to eliminate duplication of effort. DIA is also big enough to go head-to-head with the CIA in disputes over resources (getting use of spy satellites) and access to the White House on intelligence matters.

– Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps Intelligence Organizations. Each service collects information it needs for its own operations. The DIA is used to pry stuff from the Big Four (who will often hold on to material the armed forces could use because it’s “too sensitive.†That’s another way of saying they don’t trust the troops to keep a secret, even if keeping the information from the troops gets some of the troops killed in combat.)

РCoast Guard Intelligence. The Coast Guard becomes part of the navy in wartime, but in peacetime it̢۪s part of the Department of Homeland Security and is mainly interested in information about what̢۪s going on along American coasts.

– Department of Energy. Because the Department of Energy got control over all matters nuclear, it has developed a large intelligence operation that concentrates on what other countries are doing with nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Because of the military importance of all this, the Department of Energy intelligence is seen as part of the military establishment.

The Orphans

These are intelligence operations that are either disorganized, under equipped or simply not doing any serious intelligence work.

– Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The new kid on the block, is supposed to take care of intelligence on terrorism. But so far, DHS is way behind the Big Four and has to beg a lot.

– Department of State. Has always had an intelligence operation, but it was never well organized. Seemed to collect interesting gossip, and considered detailed data too geekish for diplomats.

– Department of Treasury. Collects information that has an impact on American fiscal and monetary policy. Most of this stuff is rather easily obtained from large American financial organizations.

– Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Not really an intelligence organization, and never meant to be one. The FBI is a police and investigative organization. It deals in collecting information, but for the purpose of prosecuting and convicting criminals, not for providing information on anything on a continual basis (which is what intelligence agencies do.) The FBI is trying to get permission, and money, to become a major player in the intelligence area.

I would note that the FBI has always been the lead agency for counterterrorism, although it was clearly a secondary priority to law enforcement. Indeed, the two roles are thought to be in direct contradiction. Nonetheless, the FBI’s counterterrorism function has been dramatically upgraded since 9/11. It is well past trying to get permission–they’re now just playing catchup, trying to hire hundreds of analysts and upgrade their infrastructure.

Similarly, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is new only in the sense of being revamped. Its history goes all the way back to the Lewis and Clark expedition. While it took its current name only this year, it has previously existed as the National Imagery Mapping Agency, Defense Mapping Agency, and other entities.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James: what you miss here is something fundamental about post-9/11 intelligence. Within DHS there is an office called Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection (IAIP), which was designed to be a kind of clearinghouse for all intelligence — somewhat like Britain’s MI5.

    However, the man responsible for this bureaucratic monster, President Bush, created his own intel gathering office, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), which prevents DHS from doing the job for which we were told it was created.

    So talk of overhauling the CIA is essentially meaningless; I’m guessing it’ll take another two or three domestic attacks before anyone in the federal government is able to push their egos aside and facilitate interagency information sharing.

  2. James Joyner says:

    They’re already doing it. CIA and FBI are working together as part of the TTIC now.

  3. Elements of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, the DCI’s Counterterrorist Center, and the Department of Defense will form a Terrorist Threat Integration Center to fuse and analyze all-source information related to terrorism.
  4. The Terrorist Threat Integration Center will continue to close the “seam” between analysis of foreign and domestic intelligence on terrorism.
  5. Specifically, it will:
      * Optimize use of terrorist threat-related information, expertise, and capabilities to conduct threat analysis and inform collection strategies.
      * Create a structure that ensures information sharing across agency lines.
      * Integrate terrorist-related information collected domestically and abroad in order to form the most comprehensive possible threat picture.
      * Be responsible and accountable for providing terrorist threat assessments for our national leadership.
  6. The Terrorist Threat Integration Center will be headed by a senior U.S. Government official, who will report to the Director of Central Intelligence. This individual will be appointed by the Director of Central Intelligence, in consultation with the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security. [A1]
  7. The Terrorist Threat Integration Center will play a lead role in overseeing a national counterterrorism tasking and requirements system and for maintaining shared databases.
  8. The Terrorist Threat Integration Center will also maintain an up-to-date database of known and suspected terrorists that will be accessible to federal and non-federal officials and entities, as appropriate.
  9. In order to carry out its responsibilities effectively, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center will have access to all intelligence information—from raw reports to finished analytic assessments—available to the U.S. Government.
  10. A senior multiagency team will finalize the details, design, and implementation strategy for the stand-up of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center.[A2]
  11. It will get better as the FBI’s huge new crop of analysts get on board, get through school, and help change the culture.

    The Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection office is mainly there to coordinate between the federal government and the local first responders.

    The Department’s threat analysis and warning functions will support the President and, as he directs, other national decision-makers responsible for securing the homeland from terrorism. It will coordinate and, as appropriate, consolidate the federal government’s lines of communication with state and local public safety agencies and with the private sector, creating a coherent and efficient system for conveying actionable intelligence and other threat information. The IAIP Directorate will also administer the Homeland Security Advisory System.

  12. It still seems to me that IAIP was created to be where all intel data, domestic and foreign, is coordinated, and TTIC effectively prevents this.

    On a related note, about a year ago Rumsfeld said that he wanted the DCI to answer to him — this administration seems to be very much about control of information, rather than seeking/facilitating true interagency cooperation. I think the IAIP/TTIC example supports this.