Hit & Run

What the CIA Chief Didn't Say

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Yesterday, the acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John McLaughlin, granted that a "a good argument can be made" to have a Cabinet-level "czar" who would coordinate and run the 15 separate agencies responsible for U.S. intelligence operations.

Let's leave aside the ongoing problem with calling anybody in the American government a "czar"--or "czarina," for that matter. McLaughlin pooh-poohs the idea, noting, "It doesn't relate particularly to the world I live in. I see the director of Central Intelligence as someone who is able to do that and is empowered to do so under the National Security Act of 1947."

McLaughlin is right that the DCI--who is technically in charge of the CIA and all other intel agencies--is charged with, in the words of former DCI Stansfield Turner, ensuring "that all information available within the various intelligence agenices is put to best use." The DCI post was, continues Turner (in his 1991 book, Terrorism & Democracy) "created…largely to avoid a repetition of our failure to predict the Japanse attack on Pearl Harbor."

But Turner points out that the position's dual

responsibilities require an uneasy and rarely…successful balancing act. The more [the DCI] is seen as the [intel] community leader by his own agency, the CIA, the less its members see him as their champion when their interests must be protected. The more he is seen as the head of the CIA, the more he is seen as head of the CIA, the more the community is suspicious of his ability to arbitrate failry among the intelligence agencies.

A cabinet-level post may not be the best solution, but it also seems clear, in the wake of the CIA's desultory performance, that some serious shift in how intelligence is evaluated is way overdue.