How to Set the C.I.A. Free

Thomas Powers’ op-ed in today’s NYT, “How to Set the C.I.A. Free,” [RSS] argues that a Secretary of Intelligence, not an intelligence tsar, is the answer to our intelligence woes.

It is the word “director” that promises trouble. Any attempt to put all intelligence in a single set of hands ignores the reason different intelligence organizations were established in the first place, and invites a threat to freedom and democracy dwarfing any we have seen so far. But a “secretary of intelligence service” — not a director — could safely be given a wide range of powers to oversee performance, allocate money, compel cooperation where it is lacking, and shield any official or body from inappropriate influence. Perhaps most important of all, adding one degree of separation between the C.I.A. and the White House would allow the agency to reassert the integrity it has always claimed as a goal — calling them as it seems them.


A new secretary of intelligence service could crack the whip when intelligence chiefs balk at cooperating with one another, and adding a new step in the chain of command would shore up the independence of the C.I.A., a goal all parties agree on. Creating a new cabinet position would not solve every problem, but reformers with an appetite for still bigger changes should test their strength with this one first.

This strikes me as a mainly a semantic distinction. Certainly, having a cabinet secretary in charge will hardly insulate the IC from political pressure from the presidency. I agree that disagregating the position of CIA director from that of DCI–whatever the new position is called and however power is arranged–is a key to improving the system.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC loser says:

    Problem with the SECINT idea is that the SECDEF controls 75% of the intelligence community. With the establishment of the Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence, his control is more entrenched than ever. No SECDEF will ever willingly give up that kind of power.

  2. Weren’t we told that creating a gigantic new bureaucracy, the DHS, would solve all these problems? Someone please tell me what Tom Ridge’s job is.

  3. Mike says:

    As long as politicians have as much oversight as they do then it does not matter who is in charge – let the experts do what they do best and let the political appointees have power lunches.

  4. McGehee says:

    A Cabinet-level “Department of Intelligence”?

    How oxymoronic can things possibly get?