Clinton Has Squandered a Chance to Reform the CIA

Article excerpt

President Clinton's so-called reforms for the intelligence community will compromise the Central Intelligence Agency's ability to serve as an independent and objective interpreter of foreign events. They don't address the most serious systemic problem at the CIA - the need to separate the directorate of operations from its cold-war culture.

The president gets too much credit for the one progressive step he has announced (authorizing Congress to make public the bottom-line intelligence appropriation), which is required by the Constitution and was recommended by then-Sen. Frank Church 20 years ago.

The White House's most backward step is endorsement of a National Imagery and Mapping Agency at the Defense Department as a "combat-support agency." It would abolish the CIA National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC); the Pentagon would be responsible for analysis of all satellite photography.

Allowing the military to dominate this important field creates major risks. Imagery analysis has been used to calibrate the defense budget, to gauge the likelihood of military conflict in the third world, and to verify arms-control agreements.

It was the CIA's imagery analysis that determined that there was no bomber gap between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1950s and no missile gap in the 1960s. CIA imagery analysts successfully battled Defense on sensitive military issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and CIA analysis led to the first strategic-arms treaty and the anti-ballistic-missile treaty in 1972.

More recently, CIA photo interpreters found a pattern of genocidal crimes in Bosnia, as well as covert Iranian arms shipments into that country. Both findings were embarrassing to the Clinton administration, which may explain the decision to abolish the NPIC. After all, the Nixon administration abolished the CIA's Office of National Estimates after a series of arms-control policy battles between the CIA and national-security adviser Henry Kissinger .

The White House also gave the CIA director the "right to concur" in the nominations of senior intelligence officials at other agencies, including the State Department. State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) has been the most independent and professional of the government's 13 intelligence agencies; allowing the CIA director to approve the head of INR would weaken the intelligence community's credibility and reduce the number of alternative judgments on national intelligence estimates. …