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
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
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. …