ADVICE+DISSENT: Intelligence File Guarding Turf

As Defense secretary, will Robert Gates put the CIA back on track?

Among the many management challenges that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has inherited-besides the Iraq war-is what to do about his predecessor's predilection for turf poaching. Under Donald Rumsfeld, Special Operations forces and defense components stepped up their intelligence efforts, particularly through covert actions abroad aimed at influencing political, economic or military conditions. Those operations traditionally have been the domain of the CIA-the master spy agency Gates used to run. But under the global war on terror, the Pentagon is believed to have conducted covert actions in Middle Eastern countries that the CIA apparently was unwilling or unable to do. Rumsfeld also established internal analysis units to check or contradict the CIA's work on Iraqi weapons programs. All this threw the intelligence bureaucracy out of kilter. The question now is, will Gates-a career CIA man-restore the balance.

There are broad policy implications in play, especially since covert actions require presidential authorization and the notification of certain members of Congress. But intelligence management issues also loom large. With the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA's stature was diminished. Not only was its chief stripped of his second hat-director of central intelligence-but also of what little power he had to check the Defense secretary, who controls more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget and is one of the most powerful figures in the intelligence community. When Rumsfeld moved the Pentagon further into covert action territory and intelligence analysis, it was seen as a body blow to the CIA.

It seems logical that Gates, who was at the agency for more than 25 years and was the only director to rise from the ranks of entry-level employee, might seek to restore some of its management muscle. But don't be so sure.

"It's misleading to think of Robert Gates as a 'CIA man,' particularly if that is taken to imply any lasting solicitousness for the agency and its turf," says Paul R. Pillar, a 28-year agency veteran. "The CIA was part of the path of his rise to other things, but he surely will be much more concerned about his power and prerogatives in his position as secretary of Defense." As for covert and other actions, Pillar, now a visiting professor at Georgetown University, says, "I do not expect that he will try to expand DoD's intelligence activities even more than what Rumsfeld . . . did, but neither do I expect a rollback."

Another former CIA official who worked for Gates concurs. "Bob Gates now owns 85 percent of the intelligence community," the former official says, referring to the budget. "He's now more of a 'director of central intelligence' than when he was the director of central intelligence."

This former official also says that under the CIA's leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks, "There were things the intelligence community wasn't getting done that people felt needed to get done," particularly in the realm of covert action. "By and large, the community fell back on former military guys" for expertise.

Gates so far has steered a diplomatic course. During his swift confirmation hearing in December, he offered, "There are always huge bureaucratic interests in disputes among agencies-sort of the 'Who's in charge?' question. And one of the things that I learned a long time ago is . . . to throw away the organizational chart, that it's personal relationships that matter." But surveying his long career in government, Gates added, "I also think I learned a thing or two about bureaucratic infighting myself. I don't think I come to this as a particularly naive person in how to get things done in this city."

As he settles in at the Pentagon, don't expect Gates to bow down to any intelligence hierarchies - Rumsfeld's or the CIA's.

Shane Harris, a staff correspondent for National Journal, wrote about intelligence and technology at Government Executive for five years.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.