Politics and the CIA
November 15, 2004
It has now become apparent why Porter Goss, a politician, was named to head the CIA in an administration that already
has been accused of politicizing intelligence during the Iraq war: to settle old scores. Many intelligence personnel
have leaked embarrassing—and accurate—information to the media about the Bush administration’s missteps in Iraq. Now
it’s payback time from the White House.
According to a Newsday article that quotes a former senior CIA official who has close contacts at both the White House
and the CIA, Goss is purging the intelligence officials who Bush suspects are disloyal or leaking information. To
conduct this purge, Goss has recruited politicos from his congressional staff to fill high positions at the CIA. The
politicos are in open conflict with senior career officials, especially those in the CIA’s secret operations
directorate, which conducts overseas spying and covert missions. The strife within the agency is the worst it’s been in
Although the CIA’s record on intelligence estimates may point to deep underlying institutional problems at the agency,
some heads need to roll at the CIA for recent failures. Lopping them off could cause intra-institutional friction. But
those heads work in the part of the CIA that analyzes the incoming information from spies and technical means of
intelligence collection, not in the operations directorate. After all, those analysts tolerated, and sometimes actively
aided, the administration’s effort to distort and exaggerate intelligence on Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of
mass destruction to justify an unneeded invasion. But of course, they are not the people being ousted. In fact, their
career prospects most likely have been enhanced by their willingness to “play ball” with the administration.
Playing politics with intelligence is bad for the republic. No matter what an administration’s political agenda, it
helps to have a “reality check” from more objective sources about what is actually happening in the real world. Purging
some people in the agency is designed to strike fear into the hearts of all the rest. Conducting intelligence purges to
get the answers the administration wants could lead to policy disasters that could make the current one in Iraq look
mild. For example, what if agents, case officers, and analysts assigned to cover North Korea decide that their jobs are
at risk unless they come up with exaggerated threat assessments to support a hawkish Bush administration policy toward
that nuclear-armed power?
Further undermining U.S. intelligence collection efforts is Goss’s desire to reduce reliance on connections with foreign
intelligence agencies to obtain information and to instead strengthen U.S. collection efforts. The United States,
however, gains valuable and cost-effective information from such liaisons. In fact, in certain areas of the world—most
notably the Middle East—the United States has had difficulty developing an effective collection system. Although beefing
up U.S. capabilities is desirable, recruiting agents and case officers takes a long time. Reducing cooperation with
foreign intelligence agencies would create a vacuum of information for some time to come.
Goss could better spend his time addressing the central problem at the agency. The biggest reason that U.S. human
intelligence collection doesn’t pass muster is that they have been chronically undermined by a politically driven
misallocation of resources. During the Cold War, the agency invested heavily in technical means of collection—including
multibillion-dollar spy satellite programs—that were useful in keeping tabs on Soviet conventional forces. After the
Cold War ended and terrorism became the dominant threat, these systems became less effective than human agents for
detecting what was going on in small, secretive terrorist cells. Yet lobbying by large defense industrial firms has kept
excessive funds flowing into these technical collection systems. Although in recent years more effort has been made to
repair U.S. human intelligence—allowed to disintegrate during the Cold War—more funds still need to be shifted away from
the technical side.
In short, Goss is politicizing the agency, alienating the organization, apparently purging the wrong people, unwisely
reducing contacts with foreign intelligence agencies, and thus being distracted from the need for a massive reallocation
of resources to more effectively fight terrorism. He is off to a rocky start as CIA director.
*Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty
at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA., and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World
. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism