The excellent covert operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan was flawless and awe inspiring. It has transcended the annals of intelligence operations to become a historic event, and it will rightfully be recounted in numerous articles, books, movies, and television specials. We should all be proud of this operation.
Unfortunately, as you will see documented below, this operation is also the latest proof that the CIA is no longer a strategic intelligence agency, as it was created to be, but has been transformed into an organization that primarily provides tactical “current” intelligence as well as technical support to the U.S. military.
Why is this a problem? Because tactical intelligence is limited in its focus, time, and geographical location and serves only to support specific one-off military operations on the battlefield.
Strategic intelligence, on the other hand, is the multi-disciplinary in-depth knowledge required for policymakers to create national or regional strategies.
So how was the CIA transformed from a strategic to a tactical organization?
The CIA was created by the National Security Act of 1947 to be the premier strategic intelligence agency for the U.S. government. Because its primary mission was to counter the Soviet Union’s global operations, multi-disciplinary strategic intelligence collection and analysis was routinely conducted during the Cold War.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, the CIA suffered a major identity crisis and it embarked on a mission to find a reason to exist. This is not something I read in a book; this is something I directly experienced. I was a career CIA clandestine service officer during the Cold War, and my 20-year tour of duty, which ended in 1995, covered this transition period.
Having lost the Soviet Union as its raison d’être, the CIA could no longer sustain its large budgets and, for the first time in history, Congress demanded to know the details of CIA’s clandestine budget and even required the Agency to detail how many spies it had, how much each spy cost, and what they had done for the Agency in the last six months.
Congress was not pleased with the Agency’s answers to these questions. This resulted in drastic budget cuts, the termination of the majority of its foreign spies, and a mass exodus of its trained and experienced clandestine service officers, which was encouraged by the Agency with offers of “early out” bonuses.
Because of the drastic reduction of personnel and the loss of its global target, numerous CIA stations were closed, and because few of the remaining clandestine service officers were recruiting foreign spies, the Agency opted to obtain its intelligence through liaison relationships with friendly foreign intelligence services. In effect, the CIA outsourced intelligence collection to foreign governments.
After foundering for the decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Agency finally found its new global mission on September 11, 2001: al-Qaeda and the global jihad. From that point on, it has virtually stopped conducting strategic human intelligence (HUMINT) collection operations as well as strategic analysis.
But don’t take my word for it; take a look at the documentation below that speaks directly to the lack of strategic capability and the need to recreate a strategically focused clandestine service.
In 2001, the serious deficiencies of the clandestine service were revealed officially in the 9/11 Commission Report which stated that the clandestine service required no less than a transformation.
In its recommendations, the 9/11 Commission specifically stated that the CIA director should focus on:
…transforming the clandestine service by building its human intelligence capabilities…(and) stressing a better balance between unilateral and liaison operations. (Author’s note: “unilateral operations” are secret and compartmented operations that the CIA completely controls and conducts by itself).
By February 2004, the Agency had not enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Faced with growing responsibilities in the war on terror, CIA Director George Tenet testified before Congress that budget cuts under the Clinton administration had adversely impacted the clandestine service. While he assured the committee that the CIA was attempting to rebuild its clandestine capability, he speculated that it would take “an additional five years of rebuilding our clandestine service” before it could adequately fight the war on terror.