Revamping the CIA: The Terrorist Attacks Have Once Again Exposed Wide-Ranging Flaws in the Agency's Operations

By Goodman, Melvin A. | Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Revamping the CIA: The Terrorist Attacks Have Once Again Exposed Wide-Ranging Flaws in the Agency's Operations


Goodman, Melvin A., Issues in Science and Technology


One week after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, national security adviser Condoleeza Rice told the press: "This isn't Pearl Harbor." No, it's worse. Sixty years ago, the United States did not have a director of central intelligence and 13 intelligence agencies with a combined budget of more than $30 billion to produce an early warning against our enemies.

There is another significant and telling difference between Pearl Harbor and the September 11, 2001, attacks: Less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a high-level military and civilian commission to determine the causes of the intelligence failure. After the recent attacks, however, President George W. Bush, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and, surprisingly, the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees adamantly opposed any investigation or post mortem. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said it would not be "appropriate" to conduct an investigation at this time; his predecessor, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), agreed that any investigation could wait another year. The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board normally would request such a study, but the board currently has only one member, because the president has not yet replaced members whose terms have expired. The president's failure to appoint a statutory inspector general at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deprives the agency of the one individual who could have requested an investigation regardless of the CIA director's views. Overall, the unwillingness to conduct an inquiry increases the suspicion that there may have been indicators of the attacks that went unheeded.

The failure to anticipate the attacks is merely the latest in a series of CIA failures during the past 10 years. The CIA spent nearly two-thirds of its resources on the Soviet Union but did not foresee the Kremlin's collapse. Yet there was no investigation or post mortem of what went wrong in the CIA's directorate of intelligence, nor were there major changes in the CIA's analytical culture.

There was also the incredible but true saga of Aldrich Ames, the CIA officer who spied for the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation for nearly a decade, flaunting his KGB-supplied wealth and betraying the entire U.S. spy network inside Moscow. The Ames saga did lead to a 1994 study of the CIA's clandestine culture that concluded, in the words of then-director James Woolsey, "It is a culture where a sense of trust and camaraderie within the fraternity can smack of elitism and arrogance." A year later, in fact, then-director John Deutch learned that the CIA payroll included a Guatemalan colonel implicated in the murder of a U.S. citizen and, as a result, initiated efforts to reform the directorate of operations and to remove the thugs from the payroll. Predictably, the old boy network rallied in the name of the directorate and tried to stymie Deutch's efforts.

Demilitarize intelligence gathering

Previous directors, particularly Deutch and Robert Gates, have done great harm to the CIA and the intelligence community by deemphasizing strategic intelligence for use in policymaking and catering instead to the tactical demands of the Pentagon. The CIA began to produce fewer national intelligence estimates and assessments that dealt with strategic matters and placed its emphasis on intelligence support for the war fighter. Gates, moreover, ended CIA analysis of key order-of-battle issues in order to avoid tendentious analytical struggles with the Pentagon; Deutch's creation of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) at the Department of Defense (DOD) enabled the Pentagon to be the sole interpreter of satellite photography. This is particularly important because the Pentagon uses imagery analysis to justify the defense budget, to gauge the likelihood of military conflict around the world, and to verify arms control agreements. …

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