Rethinking Intelligence

"Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

When Allen Dulles, the founding father of the Central Intelligence Agency, had the above biblical quotation (John 8:32) chiseled on the entryway of the agency's McLean, Va., headquarters in 1962, it was almost as if he was foretelling the outcome of the Cold War. How could he have known the Russians and East Europeans would learn hard truths about the political failures, economic deficiencies and military misadventures of communism?

Yet Dulles' selection of those words to hallow CIA's halls would surely not be a fitting testimonial to the wisdom of CIA and the intelligence community in foreseeing the fall of communism. The agency's dismal record in that regard is not in dispute. During the 1980s, the CIA and the intelligence community openly aided and abetted the publication of an annual edition of Pentagon hype known as Soviet Military Power, which consistently reached the same conclusion: The Soviets would do whatever was necessary and spend whatever was required to maintain a dominant military posture.

True, the intelligence community did report on the deteriorating Soviet economy and declining oil production in the late 1970s, and acknowledged the USSR's faltering military performance in Afghanistan. But these notions didn't go over well in the 1980s, a decade devoted to increased U.S. defense spending.

More recently, the CIA's own assessment of the damage resulting from the Aldrich Ames spy scandal confirmed that the CIA and the Pentagon were influenced by tainted reports and Soviet disinformation between 1985 and 1994 to overestimate Russian military capability. This "had a substantial role in shaping the debate" in those years, current CIA Director John Deutch told Congress last year.

To Deutch, who was tapped for the top intelligence post in early 1995, the crisis in confidence in U.S. intelligence is less about knowing the truth than about telling it. Early in his tenure, he tried to do just that with three scandals that plagued the agency.

First, Deutch made it clear that he wanted to straighten out the Ames case, a classic espionage caper that must have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its perpetrators. Not only were a host of CIA agents exposed and its operatives compromised, but an unwitting susceptibility to Soviet disinformation was nurtured and flourished all the way to the White House. The penalties Deutch's predecessor, James Woolsey, had imposed in the wake of the fiasco were regarded as timid and inadequate.

Second, Deutch agreed to a full inquiry into allegations that Guatemalans in the CIA's employ who had known records of human rights abuse had been parties to the killing of Americans. The CIA's congressional oversight committees had not been informed of the allegations, and, they charged, had in fact been deliberately misled about them. Deutch promised to keep Congress fully advised of CIA activities.

Finally, the agency had been racked by acknowledged incidents of sexual harassment, and lawsuits were pending by groups of current and former female employees. Deutch promised to address the complaints forthrightly and to set up procedures to prevent such incidents from happening again.

For the new CIA director, the latest high-tech satellite or foreign policy concerns about Bosnia, Libya or Iran take a back seat to rebuilding the troubled agency. To Deutch, the intelligence community's effort to "know the truth" must start with a re-examination of itself.

Legacy of Suspicion

Concern about the truthfulness, lawfulness, and accountability of the U.S. intelligence apparatus is not new. Every decade, it seems, revelations make it necessary to readjust the agency's role and mission.

The 1960s were punctuated by revelations that private citizens had become unknowingly involved in intelligence operations. Academic institutions, private foundations, labor unions and individuals who supported such efforts as Radio Free Europe and the Asia Foundation had no idea the CIA was also supporting these programs and using them for intelligence purposes. Then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach led a presidential commission that developed new ground rules to protect private citizens and voluntary organizations from becoming unwitting dupes of intelligence efforts.

Then, in the mid-1970s, the CIA's involvement in a domestic counterintelligence operation, appropriately named CHAOS, came to light. That led to another presidential commission, led by then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, and twin Congressional inquiries chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, and Rep. Otis Pike, D-N.Y. A litany of intelligence excesses-including psychological experimentation and the use of poison darts and wiretaps-were exposed. The result was an executive order placing political assassinations off limits. New and detailed Attorney General guidelines for intelligence activities were developed, and two congressional committees, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and its counterpart, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, were created to monitor U.S. intelligence activities.

In the 1980s, the Nicaraguan contras, Iran, and Oliver North took center stage. Despite what seemed to be clear congressional intent to curtail covert U.S. involvement in Central America, Americans were captured and killed in Nicaragua, harbors were sabotaged and funds of private Americans and foreign governments acquired to continue the fight. Congress again felt misled. Yet another Presidential panel-the Tower Commission-tightened the procedures of the National Security Council, and Congress boldly reasserted its prerogative to be kept informed of all sensitive activities, including covert operations.

The CIA that Deutch was named to lead still bore many of the marks of these past episodes. He struck out forcefully to reform the intelligence culture.

To begin with, Deutch brought in an almost totally new management team. His top lieutenants-deputy director George Tenet, executive director Nora Slatkin and executive director for the intelligence community Keith Hall-had no direct CIA experience, although each had many years of involvement in U.S. intelligence. Other new faces from academia, the Pentagon, and even within CIA were brought in to add new perspective and insight to the task of managing the agency. The CIA's old guard was retired or bypassed. By last October, Deutch could proclaim "the replacement of the top three levels of the agency management and much of the fourth level" as one of his major accomplishments.

Deutch's choices sent a clear message about his priorities. Besides naming Slatkin as executive director, Deutch tapped her to chair a new Human Resources Oversight Council responsible for personnel policies and practices, including promotion opportunities for women. He nominated another prominent woman, Ruth David, to head the CIA's Science and Technology Directorate.

Following up on Woolsey's efforts, Deutch moved quickly to have agency lawyers settle a class-action discrimination suit filed by some 450 female officers. The CIA agreed to pay $1 million to the women, and promised 25 remedial promotions and 15 new career-enhancing job assignments.

Handling Scandals

Meanwhile, dealing with the aftermath of the Guatemala scandal and the Ames affair became Deutch's top priorities.

Last July, the CIA's inspector general, Fred Hitz, the highest-ranking agency official to escape Deutch's ax, issued a four-page summary of his 700-page report on Guatemala. It acknowledged that "in order to acquire needed intelligence, the agency was required to establish and maintain very close contacts with a military organization that had a long history of human rights abuses and military personnel who may have engaged in such abuses." The report concluded that mistakes were made, but no laws were broken. "Management inattention," Hitz said, not deliberate withholding of information, was responsible for the failure to keep Congress fully informed. In fact, the report declared, the whole process of when and how Congress is informed of CIA operations was less than explicit.

Members of Congress were not pleased by the IG's report, which implied that even they were uncertain of what they were to be told and when. Deutch promised further inquiry. By late September, he concluded that information had been deliberately withheld and pursued a disciplinary course that, unlike that of his predecessor, punished not only the transgressors but those who failed to exercise vigilant oversight. Two senior CIA officers were asked to retire and eight others were reprimanded.

Deutch devised new guidelines for reporting to Congress. Unfortunately, the guidelines, like many of the intelligence agencies' administrative procedures, are classified, so there's no way to tell if the latest pledge of full and current disclosure is being kept.

Deutch also initiated a review of the people the CIA hires in other countries. While he has not pledged to terminate those who have engaged in human rights abuses or violated U.S. laws, he has asked his general counsel to determine when and if they can be taken off the payroll.

With respect to the Ames case, Deutch has continued Woolsey's efforts to deal with the fallout from the scandal. Woolsey had reprimanded eleven CIA officers for their roles in the Ames affair, although none were fired or demoted. A report mandated by Congress on the damage resulting from the Ames case issued last fall by a special CIA task force provided Deutch with new grounds to take further disciplinary action. As a result of the report, Deutch reprimanded five additional CIA officers for management lapses.

Redefining the Mission

Deutch's effort to correct the intelligence community's ethical and moral compass has, by and large, been well-received. But Deutch, the Clinton Administration and the Congress have been less successful in redefining the mission of the intelligence community and the CIA now that the Soviet threat has all but disappeared.

Earlier this year, yet another presidential commission, which had been created in December 1994, issued a report on the future of the intelligence community. The commission, headed by former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, recommended shrinking all of the intelligence agencies and adding a second full-time deputy CIA director to free up the director to spend more time managing the entire intelligence community.

Recent reports by the Council on Foreign Relations and the House Select Committee on Intelligence also have addressed the future of the U.S. intelligence community. But neither they nor the Brown Commission have identified a mission meriting the size of the current intelligence establishment.

Deutch has indicated that one key future mission is to conduct covert operations. Last September, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, he spoke of the need "to maintain, and perhaps even expand, covert action as a policy tool." But the logic of placing covert action at the forefront of the intelligence community's mission is suspect. Covert operations account for less than one percent of the intelligence community's budget, and have a spotty performance record. Operations considered successful in Afghanistan, and perhaps in Laos, need to be balanced by failures in Cuba, Vietnam and Angola. None of the recent reports on U.S. intelligence has endorsed a significant expansion of covert operations.

The consensus pick for the dominant intelligence mission in the post-Cold War era seems to be support to U.S. military operations. Deutch, who has extensive Defense experience, has indirectly endorsed this view by establishing a new National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) to provide warfighters directly with electronic maps, digital images and up-to-date target and terrain folders. The recent intelligence studies also stress the importance of defense intelligence. But rather than recommending that the CIA director be given responsibility for this mission, they call on DoD to better manage its own intelligence operations.

Deutch also seems to favor a stronger role for the intelligence community in support to law enforcement. He has established his own Crime and Narcotics Center, and federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been working jointly to hammer out ways to cooperate in fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and weapons proliferation. (See "Cops and Spies," April.)

The CIA is statutorily prohibited from participating directly in law enforcement activities, but intelligence practitioners are developing elaborate rationales as to how "incidentally" acquired intercepts or clandestine reports can be "disseminated" under "minimization procedures" to law enforcement agencies. Whether the nation really wants to unleash such intrusive Cold War intelligence techniques to support American or foreign law enforcement is unclear.

Some have also suggested economic intelligence-gathering as a lead mission for U.S. intelligence agencies. But the recent presidential and independent reviews of intelligence have provided little support for the idea. International events of the past year haven't helped either. First the French government asked the United States to recall five Americans who were accused of conducting an economic espionage operation. Then, the Japanese government complained to the State Department that U.S. spies had electronically eavesdropped on sensitive automobile parts negotiations.

Next Steps

It may prove too difficult to fully redraft the ethical and legal guidelines for U.S. intelligence and the CIA in the post-Cold War era, at least until the nation develops a broader consensus on intelligence missions. But several procedural steps could be taken to rein in the abuses and excesses that have plagued intelligence agencies.

First-and easiest-is declassifying the intelligence budget. In the absence of an overriding national security threat, making intelligence agencies' budgets public would provide a healthy check on agency excesses. Neither Deutch nor President Clinton have said national security would be harmed if Americans-and even potential adversaries-know how much the U.S. spends on intelligence efforts (the figure is reportedly about $29 billion). And in the past year alone, revelations about secret budgets at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and of Defense intelligence agencies' use of psychics have called into question the wisdom of keeping such figures a secret.

The intelligence agencies also should develop clear procedures for meeting their statutory task of keeping Members of Congress apprised of their activities. If such procedures were made explicit-and opened to public scrutiny-loopholes could be identified and closed.

Establishing statutory charters for intelligence agencies would also help address past abuses. Only the CIA has anything approaching an organic or administrative charter, and it has become badly frayed by years of congressional and executive branch accommodation and interpretation. The National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the NRO and NIMA would benefit from explicit statutory charters governing their actions, their relationships with other agencies and their foreign counterparts and their interactions with Congress.

The intelligence agencies also need the kind of independent oversight and review that the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office and independent inspectors general provide for other agencies. Deutch has already set up a new "customer review process" to verify the reliability of the CIA's intelligence reports. Such checks and balances, long absent from the intelligence world, offer procedural assurance that if abuses and ethical lapses continue in the future, they are more likely to be exposed and forthrightly addressed.

Finally, the intelligence agencies should begin measuring the performance of their operations, as almost all federal agencies are now required to do under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. The results of the modern intelligence process are largely quantifiable because in most cases they relate to a specific product directly tied to explicit resource inputs. The human aspects of the intelligence process, such as clandestine agent activities, will require more qualitative approaches. But the President, the CIA director, Congress and, ultimately, the American public would benefit from having any measures of intelligence community success-and failure.

In April, President Clinton, responding to the recommendations of the Brown Commission, proposed a series of intelligence reforms. He endorsed the idea of making the overall intelligence budget public and approved the commission's call for a second deputy CIA director. Under Clinton's plan, Deutch would have more control over the entire intelligence community, including the "right to concur" in the appointments in appointments of intelligence agency heads in various departments. The President also proposed requiring intelligence professionals to do tours of duty in Defense agencies to win promotions.

Issues of intelligence ethics, missions, and accountability are inextricably intertwined. The efforts Deutch and Clinton have made to address these issues are a good start. But if they do not follow through on what they have started, be prepared for a new round of review and reform, starting in about the middle of the first decade of the next century.

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