The Central (Tactical) Intelligence Agency
The Osama bin Laden operation is the latest proof that the CIA is no longer a strategic intelligence agency.
May 24, 2011 - 12:00 am
In 2005, the drumbeat continued, this time by CIA Director Porter Goss in a speech to CIA employees. Showing how far the Agency had gotten from running its own operations, Goss indicated that the Agency relied on intelligence from liaison relationships, but clearly stated that the CIA would no longer rely solely on this intelligence, but would have unilateral operations “return” to the Agency as a main function:
As many of you know, I have been very pleased to spend a lot of my time and attention on a multitude of liaison relationships. These are important opportunities and I will continue to do so. But, without ignoring our vital liaison relationships and partners, we will not rely solely on this stream of intelligence to inform our policymakers. Unilateral operations will return to be part of the governing paradigm for the CIA.
Worse, at the very moment that Goss addressed his employees, the majority of his clandestine service officers were not living overseas as most Americans believe, but based out of headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Embarrassingly, Goss had to emphasize to CIA personnel the need for clandestine service officers to actually live abroad where they could gain an understanding of foreigners and their cultures, rather than being based in Langley and “surging” to hotspots on a temporary basis:
I have talked much about Field forward. You cannot understand people overseas, much less influence them, from Langley. You cannot develop deep and trusting relationships with individuals and with governments overseas by flying in and flipping out a U.S. passport. We are working to change the ratio so that we have more of our case officers out in the field under new kinds of cover in places where they can do what they need to do for us…. “Surging” CIA officers instead of having an established presence, an expertise, and developed relationships at hand, is a poor formula, in my opinion. When I say we need to be global, this is an admission that we are not in all of the places we should be. We don’t have this luxury anymore.
While Goss’ comments above addressed the Agency’s clandestine collection operations, another document published in 2005 revealed that the lack of strategic capability also permeates intelligence analysis. The document, titled Analytic Culture in the U.S. Intelligence Community and published by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, addressed the many problems that prevent CIA intelligence analysts from writing strategic analyses, which the following quote zeroes-in on:
Our products have become so specific, so tactical even, that our thinking has become tactical. We’re losing our strategic edge, because we’re so focused on today’s issues.
In 2007, long-time intelligence analyst John G. Heidenrich tackled the problem head-on in The State of Strategic Intelligence: The Intelligence Community’s Neglect of Strategic Intelligence, in which he bluntly states:
During the past decade and a half, since the Cold War, the production and use of strategic intelligence by the United States government has plunged to egregiously low levels. This decline is badly out of sync with the broader needs of the republic, fails to meet the nation’s foreign policy requirements, ill-serves the country’s many national security officials, and retards the developing prowess of its intelligence analysts.
Finally, in Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan, published in January 2010, Major General Michael T. Flynn, then the intelligence chief for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, bluntly critiqued the intelligence community’s myopic tactical focus on insurgent groups, and its almost complete lack of focus on the fundamental strategic questions required and sought by policymakers:
Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.
So, as you have seen above, the 9/11 Commission, two CIA directors, two CIA studies on intelligence analysis, and the ISAF chief of intelligence in Afghanistan all inform us that the CIA and the intelligence community are not conducting strategic collection and analysis.
This cannot stand, because, as satisfying and exciting as it is to witness a historic covert operation like the bin Laden mission, the fact is that without an in-depth, multi-disciplinary knowledge of the people and areas that are of strategic importance to the United States, our policymakers cannot develop national and regional strategies to support our vital interests, and, just like in Vietnam, the result will be that we will win all the tactical battles, but lose the war.