What the CIA Chief Didn't Say

|

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.

NEXT: Jordan's Women Weigh In

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. M. Simon,

    We don’t have, and will never have, direct competition amongst these agencies for anything other than tax dollars. They’re always very careful to give each agency its own little franchise. This serves two purposes: It’s nearly impossible compare the product of the various agencies, and there are enough dependencies between agencies that any failure can never be pinned down to a responsible party.

    The main “political” obstacle in the way of unification is probably the elimination of lots of high-paying civil service jobs.

  2. even if it would be a good idea in theory, this whole “intelligence czar” idea is really a way of saying:

    the government needs a single scapegoat before this happens again….

  3. You know, in some ways I couldn’t care less if they add one more official, at least if it was just a matter of some office space and staff. One guy that all of the intelligence agencies answer to doesn’t sound so bad at first glance.

    But this one guy will soon go beyond a staff to help him manage the agencies. He’ll get some independent analysts to review what the agencies tell him, which doesn’t sound so bad (although don’t they already have a bunch of analysts at the various agencies). And he’ll need some agents to go in the field, to provide an alternative perspective.

    Sending people into the field requires infrastructure. Training facilities, communications, etc. Oh, and more analysts to support those agents.

    And pretty soon we’ll have the AIA, Alternative Intelligence Agency, with a multi-billion dollar budget.

    But if there’s another major terrorist attack or war, we’ll be told that the Intelligence Czar is so busy with the AIA that it compromises his ability to provide leadership for the other agencies. So we’ll go to the root word and appoint an Intelligence Caesar.

    But when that guy’s bureaucracy gets too bloated and there’s another screw-up, we’ll get an Intelligence Overlord.

    Why not just skip all that and put our intelligence agencies under the watchful Eye of Sauron?

  4. Eye of Sauron? Man, you have no idea what kind of intelligence screw-up we had not too long ago! These two short guys walked right into Mordor. I tried to warn my superiors, but they were too busy mounting a pre-emptive war on Gondor.

    Now I’m sitting in this think-tank, the first Orc with a multi-million dollar book deal! I even got immunity in exchange for my whistle-blower testimony. Being a whistle-blower sure beats guard duty in Minas Morgul.

  5. “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.”

    ehm, intelligence was very aware that Pearl Harbor would be attacked. it was the perfect excuse for the US gov’t to get involved in the war.
    e.g. http://www.lewrockwell.com/north/north26.html

  6. So what are the analogous positions (drug czar, intelligence czar) called in Russia?

  7. I’d go with the tsar spelling. Or maybe zar.

  8. When I hear people talk about the existence of or the creation of a “czar” for some purpose (baseball “czar”, energy “czar”) I always wonder if they realize what a dunce of maladministration the last real Czar was and what finally happened to him.

  9. 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.

    What we have here is a failry to communicate.

  10. Now let me see:

    Will we get better cars if GM and Ford compete or if they merge? Wouldn’t a merger be more effective? Fewer duplications of effort?

    And government is different how?

    Unification is a plan for covering up mistakes.

    Oh, yeah. We will save money too.

  11. “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.

    Placing the responsibility for evaluating intelligence in the hands of one office, be it the CIA Director or someone else, may help solve the problems that allowed us to be blindsided by 9/11, but color me leery of any solution that doesn?t preserve the important distinction between the way foreign intelligence services and domestic intelligence services collect intelligence.

    It?s my understanding that, Patriot Act or no Patriot Act, foreign intelligence services haven?t been expected to obtain a court order to tap phones, for instance. But domestic intelligence services, at least prior to the Patriot Act, have always been expected to play by the rules. Hopefully, once we get rid of the Patriot Act, we will still have a coherent, constitutionally acceptable, baseline domestic intelligence policy to return to, but if a CIA Director, or some other intelligence redactor, dissolves the internal safeguards our domestic intelligence services once used to keep themselves honest, getting back to the way things were may become extremely difficult.

    This slope doesn?t seem very slippery to me; indeed, it seems to be only a rare case in which a person is given responsibility for interpreting data but doesn?t demand and isn?t granted some control over how that data is collected.

    P.S. I recognize that there is a distinction to be made between domestic intelligence used for prosecution and domestic intelligence used for defense.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.