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The Search For Intelligence

Prepared by: Michael Moran
Updated: May 10, 2006

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Writing recently in Foreign Affairs, Paul Pillar, the CIA's former senior intelligence official for the Middle East and South Asia, says "the most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policymaking process is broken and badly needs repair." President Bush on Monday made the case for Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, currently Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, to be chief of the Central Intelligence Agency. But dissent rose quickly, including from within the ranks of powerful Republicans (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), whose support Hayden would need in confirmation hearings due to start next week.

Hayden’s knowledge of the turf, from a career in military intelligence that led to the top NSA post in 1999, is widely conceded even by those opposed to his nomination, as this BBC profile notes. (His official White House bio is here). Hayden’s candidacy, however, cuts across two contentious issues: the controversial and recently revealed NSA wiretaps of American citizens following 9/11, and the military’s control of large parts of the sprawling U.S. intelligence system. Richard K. Betts, a CFR expert on the intelligence community, discusses the relevance of both topics to Hayden's nomination in an interview with cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman.

The wiretap issue, explained in this CFR Background Q&A, is politically fraught. The Democratic minority in Congress, frustrated at being unable to control the agenda of hearings and investigations, now has an opportunity to ask tough questions of the man who was directly in charge of NSA wiretapping. Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says he opposes Hayden’s nomination for precisely this reason (MSNBC.com). “The debate in the Senate may end up being about the terrorist surveillance program and not about the future of the CIA or the intelligence community, which is exactly where the debate needs to be.” The question of whether such wiretapping is legal is explored in this Congressional Research Service report, and in this detailed series in the New Yorker.

It may be too simplistic to assume that Hayden’s Air Force general’s uniform makes him a bureaucratic ally of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Indeed, as the Washington Post notes, when intelligence restructuring legislation was before Congress in 2004, Hayden told lawmakers his organization should be under the proposed Director of National Intelligence for budgets and direction, and not under the defense secretary. Ultimately, he won the argument.

The 9/11 commission and other reports blame much of the dysfunction within sixteen separate American intelligence agencies on a bureaucracy that works at cross purposes, competes for budget and is reluctant to share information – a problem still hampering it, according to this March GAO report. That is why the job of Director of National Intelligence, held by John Negroponte, was created. Yet reports suggest the military-civilian turf war rages on. “In recent months, the Pentagon has asserted its authority to expand its own intelligence operations far beyond tactical support for soldiers,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

But "The Agency" isn't all it once was for another reason. As Thomas Powers points out in a New York Times op-ed, the CIA, a scapegoat for 9/11 and pre-Iraq war intelligence failures, "has now been demoted to a combination action arm and support service for the rapidly growing Office of the Director of National Intelligence, headed by John Negroponte."

While the CIA is opaque by design, no leap of faith is required to describe it as an agency in disarray, as Newsweek does this week. The resignation of Porter Goss as director is seen as an indictment of his management style by many (Slate). A former head of Israel's Mossad, Efraim Halevy, suggests the priority for whomever succeeds him has to be restoring agency credibility and morale (WSJ). Ultimately, without those two ingredients, Halevy suggests, the man in charge is just marking time.

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