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the cia: history and performance

A range of perspectives from CIA officials and other close observers of the agency on its six-decade history, successes and failures, and the challenges it now confronts.


Melvin Goodman
CIA, 1966-1986

... The Agency itself is finished. If you go back to 1947 and the National Security Act, President Harry Truman wanted a certain kind of intelligence agency outside of the policy process to be a source of objective and balanced analysis and Intelligence information to help policy-makers make good judgments, and [it would] require telling truth to power; it required a moral compass.

Now the Central Intelligence Agency is no longer central. It's no longer that unbiased point of view. It's now being run by the National Intelligence Director, John Negroponte, who doesn't even sit in the CIA building. And it doesn't do the kinds of strategic analysis that a good intelligence agency must do. So I think it's a sad commentary on the CIA.

I have a personal regret because I spent 24 years there. But, in terms of what the country needs in a battle against terrorism, it will be a battle that will be won over a long period of time with good intelligence liaison, law enforcement, police work as the Europeans found out in the 1980s with Baader Meinhof and the IRA and the Red Brigades in Italy. And that kind of CIA doesn't exist anymore in terms of historical studies, strategic studies. It's a sort of an Associated Press of intelligence work, and that's regrettable. ...

... This has been a downward spiral of the CIA. It's been a 15-year track record of misuse of intelligence and being wrong on key matters because of politicization. 9/11 was a classic intelligence failure; I don't think it had anything to do with politicization. It was just being wrong: The assumptions were flawed, and they were never reexamined. ...

I've never seen anything like the mood of the CIA now, and people are still leaving. People are taking early retirement. People are trying to get out of that building, and that's not healthy for any of this. Because what isn't properly understood about the American way of policymaking is the CIA is really the only check on the military in terms of the weapons we build, the size of the defense budget, where there's going to be a likely confrontation. If you abandon that whole argument to the Pentagon and their briefings, and their commands in chief who brief the Hill, you're going to get a very one-sided, negative, worst-case view of the international arena.

The CIA has been a check on that kind of worst-case thinking. The CIA has been a force for intelligence that supports arms control and disarmament. The Pentagon has no interest whatsoever in arms control. The Pentagon has fought every arms control treaty, going back to John Kennedy's partial test ban in the early 1960's. So I hope people understand what it means to have the CIA occupy a much lower position of authority in the intelligence community. It's not healthy for policymaking. ...


Tyler Drumheller
Chief, CIA European Division, 2001-2005

Read his interview »

...What did you see happen to the Central Intelligence Agency?

The problem is the agency became larger, and the structure became more convoluted. In the beginning, when I started, they used to always say there was never more than two or three people between any case officer in the field and the director -- very short lines of command, fairly clear.

Obviously there were mistakes made, lots of excesses in the '50s and '60s, but very focused, short, direct lines of command. There was very little confusion about what we were doing and what we were to do and what our role was in the government. The policy-makers set the priorities, the things they're interested in, and we were to collect on those and then to report back, and then they make policy.

Over the time I was there, I saw it become increasingly -- "politicized" is a terrible word, but increasingly, where the policy-makers became more involved in saying, "Well, this doesn't fit with what I am interested in. I want some specific information," which is a very gradual process. ... Inside the agency itself, [this] is reflected in the fact that directors began to have padded -- not "padded"; that's the wrong word -- but more and more staff, more and more special assistants, more and more executive officers, more and more executive assistants, until in the end there were definite changes that needed to be made.

[Former Director] George Tenet started them in the mid-90s, but there were still some changes [that] needed to be made in the post-Cold War period as we adjusted. [This administration] really had an opportunity to do it, and instead, they became very much focused on politics. ...


Richard Clarke
National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism, National Security Council, 1998-2001

Read his interview »

..You helped devise national security policy. Are there some frustrations that comes from receiving information from the Central Intelligence Agency at times?

I think the CIA's intelligence analysis product, for the last 10 or 15 years, has been really quite poor. They have missed many things; they have, in some cases, very young, very inexperienced analysts. The management rigor hasn't been as tight as it should be. It wasn't just the vice president who felt he needed to go out there and say: "Are you really working this hard? Are you really doing this the right way? Are you really being thorough and open-minded and professional about this?" I felt that way; a lot of people felt that way. ...

The agency that you knew for your entire career clearly no longer resembles, I gather, even faintly, the agency that you once knew.

Well, I'm not sure that the agency that I worked with was all that great. I'm not sure that breaking up the old-boy networks and changing the way things were done at the agency was necessarily a bad idea. But throwing out the old-line management without replacing it with something better was a bad idea. I think they've thrown the baby out with the bathwater in terms of getting rid of the managers of the operations division, and they haven't really replaced them with anybody else who's experienced in the job.

When you say, "We have to double the number of intelligence analysts; we have to double the number of spies that we have," it sounds good until you think about it. We're doubling the number of operators of spies that we have around the world. Well, that means we have to go out and find a lot of people -- a lot of people -- who have never done this stuff and quickly run them through a training mill and throw them out around the world and tell them to go do spy work. That's just going to result in a lot of people bumbling around, not knowing what they're doing, because they're new, young; their bosses are new and young; and we have a lot of them. ...


Carl W. Ford, Jr.
Director, State Department Bureau of Intelligence, 2001-2003. During the first Gulf War (1991), he worked on intelligence in the Pentagon under then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.

Read his interview »

...[In the run-up to the Iraq war, why didn't the CIA get to the bottom of whether or not the Niger yellowcake reports were true?]

Because they don't know how to do it. All they know how to do is report the news, and they have forgotten how to do the other stuff. They collect information. They don't respond to problem sets; they don't ask questions. I mean, to do this you had to say not "What is coming in on Niger?," but "What do we need to know about Niger in order to answer this question?" ...

... We simply don't do this sort of thing anymore. People have forgotten how or they never knew. The people that they work for are basically editors and people who know how to put headlines on things. ....

That instinct to find out how to get to the truth rather than report what somebody else has told you was happening is the problem. We are reporters. We are no longer trying to answer questions and get to the bottom of some of these problems that policy-makers face. Policy-makers are starving to death for knowledge. It's not because we have given them too much; it's because we haven't given them enough. ...

Now, what does that say to you?

It's not acceptable. It needs to be a cooperative effort, obviously, as I suggested earlier. Policy-makers have to quit giving us a pass. The have to quit giving up on us. They have to say: "If I'm going to spend $40 billion, and I'm going to put all these people on the problem, I'm going to expect you to produce something. And if you don't, don't come around looking for jobs." ...

Our tradition has been to be able to answer questions and say, "'OK. I'm going to be straight. This is the way it is going to be."' And when that doesn't happen, [you can] say with a straight face, "'Remember back on page 32? I said it wasn't going to happen. You should have seen that."' ... We always are hedging our bets.

... Our tradition has been to be able to answer questions and say: "OK, I'm going to be straight. This is the way it is going to be." ... We always are hedging our bets, and in this particular case, we were out of character. We were really basically saying, "We've got it -- slam dunk." Now, to be fair to George [Tenet], that was the view that his intelligence professionals were coming to him and saying, "We're sure."

I think that to give the intelligence officers a pass on this one would not be doing my profession and my colleagues a favor. I think it's a disservice. We are the ones that are going to have to say, "We've got to do it differently." And if the policy-makers won't force us to do it, we'll do it on our own. We've got to do it better. We are going to have to find a way to give our policy-makers better information than we are doing now. We can't be content with the crap that we turn out. ...


...Is the CIA on the verge of irrelevance when the George W. Bush administration takes over?

Well, in this period, the CIA's relevance is a function to an unusual degree in Washington of the relationship between the director and the president. The CIA has a unique status in Washington in the sense that its operations, particularly its covert operations, can only be authorized by the president, and the law that surrounds covert action contemplates a direct and confidential relationship between the president and the DCI [director of central intelligence]. It's different, for instance, than the relationship between the president and the director of the FBI, where there's an arm's-length relationship about such matters. It's different than the relationship between the president and the director of the National Security Agency [NSA], for instance, who reports to the president through the director of central intelligence.

So the irrelevance of the CIA in Washington at the end of the Clinton administration was a function in part of its ragged track record, but also of the fact that Clinton had no energetic interest in the agency and its operations. In fact, he had come to distrust it. And even though he trusted and liked Tenet, he had felt burned by a number of mistakes that, in his judgment, had come out of the CIA's bureaucracy, most notably the targeting error that led to the destruction of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war, which was just an egregious goof that led Clinton to believe, I think, that his earlier skepticism about the CIA was well justified.

But when George W. Bush came into office, there was every reason for the CIA to believe that the estrangement from the White House that they had experienced during the Clinton administration was about to end, because in recent history, no president had been more attentive to the CIA than George W. Bush's father. George Herbert Walker Bush was a former director of the CIA; he had long-standing personal, social contacts among senior spies at the agency. He would invite them to the White House Christmas party; he would reach out to them separately from official channels. When his son took power, there was a sense of restoration at the CIA. ...


R. James Woolsey
Director of Central Intelligence, 1993-1995

... [President] Clinton was not particularly interested in face-to-face briefings and talking to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency?

Well, to be fair to President Clinton, he's a speed reader and he preferred to read the daily briefing rather than to have me and the briefer in. It took a while to get that sorted out. I spent a number of days camped outside the Oval Office waiting to be invited in. But he did that very rarely.

This was '93 and '94 and early '95. Cold War was just over, good old Boris [Yeltsin] was in the Kremlin, the Chinese were relatively quiet. He had a couple of messes left on his hands that had been bequeathed to him in a way by the Bush Administration -- Bosnia and Somalia -- and then he had a mess that, I'm afraid, I think the Clinton Administration contributed to in some ways -- Haiti. But these were all things that were of, I guess, secondary interest. His primary focus was on a new healthcare plan, on the budget, on tax policy. It was a domestic focus.

So we were very much on the back burner, so much so that when I'd been on the job nearly two years, in the fall of '94 and a Cessna, crashed into the south lawn of the White House, the White House staff joked, "That must be Woolsey still trying to get an appointment." ...

As the DCI then, what was your sense of the health of the CIA when you walked into that building in 1993? We've heard of massive cuts. How bad were things?

It was a difficult situation. [Senator] Daniel Patrick Moynihan [D-NY] thought probably we could do away with the CIA; the Cold War was over, [we] don't need nearly as much secrecy. As I said, I couldn't even get intelligence Committee Chairman, Senator [Dennis] DeConcini [D-Ariz.], to put in added money for Arabic language instruction and translation. He saw no need for that. I was seeing very substantial cuts in the intelligence budget on the Hill, and they were already being reduced from Cold War levels by the Office of Management and Budget.

So I spent a very great deal of time trying to hold onto enough money to keep a decent personnel system operating and to hold things together. The Congress was killing satellite programs, and when I would work and get the satellite program restored and -- this again was mainly the Senate Intelligence Committee, mainly Senator DeConcini -- they would kill super computers for NSA, which they need to break codes. Then when [we'd] get a little bit of that money restored, they'd cancel something else.

And the effect of years and years of that by, let's say, September 10, 2001?

Well, the Agency had tried, in a number of ways, to move into this new post-9/11 world. The way I described it, before I was DCI, it was as if we'd been fighting a large dragon for nearly half a century and defeated him and then found ourselves in a jungle full of a lot of poisonous snakes, and the snakes were a lot harder to keep track of than the dragon. The snakes, to my mind, were terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international organized crime, the drug trade, rogue states.

The Agency as a whole was focusing on some of these new threats, but it was difficult. The budgets were being cut, at least in the early to mid-'90s, very heavily. And it's hard to get something new started and shut down old things that you were doing. ... But I think that professionals at the agency did as good a job as they could under the circumstances, in refocusing on some of these new threats, the snakes rather than the dragon. ...


John McLaughlin
Deputy Director, CIA, 2000-2004

Read his interview »

...It's 2001, a new administration. Tell me where you are in the Central Intelligence Agency and your hopes about this new administration and how they will be vis-à-vis your agency.

I had been deputy director of central intelligence for about five or six months. ... At that point in time, George Tenet and I had no idea whether we would remain through the Bush administration. We were at the front end of a rebuilding process in the CIA, which we called Strategic Direction. We had designed it in 1997, implemented it between '98 and '99. We were ... rebuilding our clandestine service, developing techniques to enhance the expertise of our analysts, developing new collection strategies, because we recognized early in our tenure ... that we were in a new era. Technology had changed; the target had changed; the challenges had changed; and we had to change. So we were at the front end of a program designed to do all of those things.

We were very short of resources. Recall that the decade of the '90s was a decade in which the intelligence community was reduced by about 23 to 25 percent depending on which set of figures you look at. Our clandestine service -- basically our people who recruit agents and acquire secrets through human intelligence -- was, in the mid-90s, reduced dramatically to the point where we were training only a dozen or two case officers a year. Mid- to late '90s, believe it or not, there were more special agents from the FBI in New York City than we had clandestine collectors around the world. ...

We had made an effort to reprioritize our targets in this period of time, because the Soviet Union is gone, long gone. People who say that the CIA and the intelligence community took a long time to wake up to this are simply wrong. We figured this out instantly, and throughout the '90s adjusted all of our targets. So as the Bush administration comes into office, that is roughly how we are postured. ...

In fact, if you think about it, on Iraq, this whole discussion of Iraq continues to get constricted to the issue of prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction when, in fact, the CIA and the intelligence community were asked to do a number of things on Iraq.

... Anyone who tells you that the CIA shrunk in this period from telling it like it is wasn't there. I was there. We told it like it is, and I think when history looks back at this period, the CIA will be seen particularly in the postwar period as having a very clear-eyed view of what was going on in Iraq. ...

What is your answer to the question [about] why everybody focuses on WMD and the "failures" of the Central Intelligence Agency?

Well, President Kennedy said it best, if I can paraphrase him: "Your failures will be trumpeted. Your successes will be unheralded." It's the nature of the business. To some degree it is just that way. I think it is partly, too, because successes don't make a lot of news. It's also because we don't talk a lot about successes, because to talk about them, to tell you how we took down the A.Q. Khan network [for Pakistan's nuclear program], would reveal so much that we wouldn't be able to take down another one if there were one. So your successes you guard.

Also, let's think about the nature of intelligence. It's a risk-taking enterprise. I completely reject the view that some people hold that this is a risk-averse agency. This is not a risk-averse agency, not when you have had people in harm's way the way we have over the last four years.

But when you take risks, it is an absolute mathematical certainty that something will go wrong, or it wouldn't be a risk. Therefore, it is inevitable that there are going to be problems; there are going to be mistakes; there are going to be failures. You try and keep them to minimum. But if you have an intelligence agency that is out there risking lives, taking chances, playing in dangerous situations, something is going to go wrong sooner or later, and that is what is going to get attention.

You came into this agency when it was a certain institution. Now you have left, and it is a different institution. Is it the CIA anymore? Is it the CIA you joined and hoped for?

It is a different CIA, but we have to look at it in the context of the world. ... It is not the world that I came into in 1972, where all of your traffic was ripped off a printer in the operations center and piled up in your inbox. Now we capture a single terrorist, [and] if we are lucky enough to get the electronic media, you've got the equivalent of a small public library that you've got to work through.

It's a CIA that is in the midst of adapting to a technological revolution in the world which has affected its targets, has affected the weapons its targets use, and has affected the potential for those targets to do damage in the United States in different ways than we were dealing with at the time I came in with an existential threat in the form of the Soviet Union. That is gone.

Today, secrets: Secrets used to be in the hands of hundreds of thousands of people in ministries and embassies, a large recruiting pool. Today the secrets we want most are in the hand[s] of a couple of dozen people in hard-to-get places. Information sharing: It used to be you shared information with a handful of federal agencies and a few foreign partners. Now you've got to share it, and you should, with people who are on highway patrol in Indiana and CIA officers who are in Karachi. They need to be reading the same stuff, because that seam between domestic and foreign is gone. ...

The central challenges of central intelligence today have to do with something more prosaic than structure and organization. They have to do with the fusing of data, the gathering of data, algorithms that enable you to associate patterns of threat in large bodies of data.

We need, if anything, a Manhattan-style Project to create an information architecture that our intelligence communities can use to deal with this. What's the natural enemy of intelligence? Surprise. ... We are in a time where the potential for surprise, the major enemy of intelligence, is greater than at any time in my professional career. And that's a lot for intelligence. There is challenge here for intelligence. So yes, it is not the CIA that I joined. But does America still need a CIA? You bet.

The CIA is distinguished by many characteristics. But let me mention four: It is global. It is interdisciplinary. It's all source; people there look at everything. And here is the most important one -- and hang on to this: It is nondepartmental. It is the place in the U.S. government that is not affiliated with a department that makes or implements policy. And it is the only one of these intelligence agencies that has that characteristic.

Therefore, the challenge here is to be true to what Harry Truman had in mind when he created the CIA; that is, to have a place that integrates information from everywhere and presents it in as objective a way as it can be presented with the bark off. ...


...[Carl] Ford makes a really strong, deeply emotional case that the Central Intelligence Agency has become kind of reporters, almost like New York Times front-page guys, but not professors like they used to be.

One of the big problems of Mr. Tenet's decision to reconstitute the agency as the president's servant, almost exclusively the first customer, as I said earlier, is that when you go to talk to the president, you have X number of minutes, and his staff has told you how long a piece of paper should be delivered to him, whether it's 30 lines or 40 lines or two-and-a-half pages. Whatever you've got to tell him has to fit in that timeframe and on that format of the paper.

So you don't develop expertise. What you develop is an ability to be concise, an ability not to clog your analysis with irrelevant detail. And also that's very true. People like Mr. Rumsfeld and a lot of senior people in all the administrations I worked for have been of the opinion, "Why do I need the CIA, because I can turn on CNN or some other [news agency] -- BBC, immediate satellite television?" What you need them for is to be what [Ford] says about the professors.

Before Mr. Tenet, we had very important customers, for example, at the Agriculture Department who wanted to know about wheat crops, rice crops elsewhere in the world, so we [develop] an expertise on that kind of esoteric topic. Or people at Interior wanted to know about hydroelectric power in other places in the world. So what we developed is a very broad base of deep expertise. But once CIA became primarily the servant of the executive branch, and especially the White House, there was no market for that kind of in-depth research, and everybody became semi-television reporters. That's going to take a long time to rebuild, if they decide to do it. ...


Lawrence Wilkerson
Chief of Staff, State Department, 2002-2005

Read his interview »

...What is your view of [former Director of Central Intelligence] George Tenet?

A mystery to me. I spent some of the most intimate hours of my life with George Tenet and John McLaughlin, his DDCI [deputy director of central intelligence]. ... [It's] a mystery to me in the sense that he could be so bamboozled by his own intelligence community and by foreign intelligence communities with whom he was dealing.

I have to go back and look at the record of the agency over which he presided. Let's face it: We missed the fall of the Soviet Union. We missed the 1998 nuclear test in India. We missed the five-year preparation cycle for 9/11. We bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The CIA has not got a stellar record in the last decade or two. ... But George Tenet presided over this organization for quite a long time, and I sat in the room looking into his eyes, as did the secretary of state, and heard with the firmness that only George could give it -- and I don't mean terminology like "slam dunk," although he was a basketball aficionado and used that kind of terminology a lot, but I mean eyeball-to-eyeball contact between two of the most powerful [men] in the administration, Colin Powell and George Tenet -- and George Tenet assuring Colin Powell that the information he was presenting at the U.N. was ironclad, only to have that same individual call the secretary on more than one occasion in the ensuing months after the presentation and tell him that central pillars of his presentation were indeed false.

Now, do I believe George Tenet knew they were false when he told him that? Absolutely not. I just don't believe it. I refuse to believe it. How did we get to that point? How did our intelligence community get us to that point? ...

How does it happen that the director of central intelligence gets it so wrong?

... My best estimate right now is, one, we did a lot of linear projection. We lost all contact in 1998 after we bombed [targets in Iraq]. We had no one on the ground, ... so we had no visibility. This linear projection would say he had this much anthrax at the end of the inspections, so we just projected and said, "OK, if he had this, he's got this now." Without questioning it, we just linearly projected. ...

There was not this clash of ideas; there was not this competition in the intelligence community. There was a mole, and the mole came down and said, "You will believe, and this is the truth, and this is what the DCI [director of central intelligence] is going to present."

Let me give you a really good example, and this comes from one of the analysts at the CIA whom I learned to trust the most because of his professionalism and his expertise. ... He told me a story about how the Iraqis had wanted to buy something from a foreign country, and they had this elaborate network of front companies that did purchasing for them so they could bust sanctions. This was almost anything conventional: artillery rounds, mortar rounds, whatever. So they're out buying something from this country through one of these front companies. Well, the company they're buying it from in this country decides that it will advertise to them that there's something else that they ought to be buying, and this happened to be a software mapping program for the Eastern United States. The Iraqis say: "Nah, we don't want that. We just want what we ordered." So they get what they ordered.

Well, it came back to our intelligence community that the Iraqis were seeking to acquire mapping software of the Eastern United States. Light bulbs go off. Intelligence community says: "Whoa, man. They're talking about UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that could carry munitions, biological or chemical munitions, for example, and they're looking for mapping software of the Eastern United States. Conclusion: Let's draw the dots together. They're going to put a UAV on a ship or something, sail it up close to the United States, fly the UAV over the United States using that mapping software, and drop chemical or biological munitions on the United States. Whoa." Off they go and brief the vice president on that.

I said to this analyst, "'Well, when the information came in that it wasn't the Iraqis that were even seeking this, [that] it was the company advertising to the Iraqis and the Iraqis didn't want it, was that taken back to the White House?"

"No," he said.

Why not?

I suggest you ask Mr. Tenet that question. ...


James Bamford
Author, The Puzzle Palace

... [T]he biggest problem with the CIA was that CIA was never able to penetrate these [terrorist] groups. But even worse than that was the fact that the CIA never even tried to penetrate these groups; that was the policy when I was writing my book. I interviewed people at the CIA, and they said it was never their policy to try to train people to penetrate these organizations. It was almost as if the thought had never occurred to them.

What they depended on was using foreign services; they would have a close relationship with the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. The problem with that was the ISI that helped set up the Taliban in the first place, and a lot of them were supporters, to some degree, of Osama bin Laden. And there were people who had more of an allegiance to the people in Afghanistan, in the Taliban and so forth, than the Americans. So how are you supposed to be able to trust those people? The result was, we never really got any useful intelligence. ...

When George Tenet came into the CIA, he had big ambitions for building up the Directorate of Operations, the clandestine people, and he got a lot of money for it. He put a lot of that money into hiring a lot of additional personnel for it. The problem was, he didn't do any changes in the training. They were still being trained down at the farm [for clandestine training] where they were still being trained by old Cold Warriors that were talking about how you bump into a Russian diplomat at a cocktail party. ...

The effect of "a broken CIA" is what? What does it mean that the CIA is not the CIA that it might have been or should have been or could have been now as we look forward?

... It just gives so much more power to the Pentagon, which had a lot of power in the first place. Now the Pentagon is largely the one running most of the intelligence in the country. I mean, most people don't realize but they've always run the intelligence, but they had to moderate to some degree what they were doing because at times a fairly powerful director of central intelligence who would want to have his way and have his people have a lot of independence. But now, I think, all that has changed dramatically. ...


W. Patrick Lang
DIA, 1985-1994

...Give me a sense of the state of readiness of the Central Intelligence Agency on September 12, 2001?

I don't think our inability to detect the likelihood of this kind of attack on a near-real time basis was really an analytic problem. I've been a head analyst of a big part of this, I've been a collector and an executive in charge of collectors as well.

I think [it] was specifically a failure of clandestine human collection -- espionage, the recruiting of foreign assets, people who can penetrate these organizations in such a way that you can, in fact, know what they're going to do -- this didn't exist. It didn't exist in Defense, it didn't exist in CIA, it didn't exist anywhere in our services at that time. It was partly a product of the fact that the system had been built down after the end of the Cold War considerably, in the interests of saving money, and the fact that the Clinton Administration wasn't very interested, in a lot of ways, in this kind of priority.

But it's also a fact that these agencies are what have been called mature bureaucracies, which I think is the most significant factor. These are mature bureaucracies, not the organizations that immediately after World War II were filled with out-of-the-box thinking, freewheeling intellectuals, sort of Harvard men in cowboy boots. It wasn't like that anymore.

What had happened over a period of decades is they had become institutionally normal players in the Washington game of defending appropriations, getting authorities, making sure you got enough money, making sure people got promoted, make sure people get bonuses, make sure people get awards, that kind of stuff. Institutionally, the difference between CIA, DIA, or the Department of Agriculture in terms of the way it functioned as part of the bureaucracy was almost nothing by the period you're talking about.

And the big problem is that in human [intelligence] collection, to launch really successful penetration, ... there's always risk. The major risk is the risk of disclosure, the risk of public scandal, the risk of exposure in the media. ... Over a long period of time, these had become institutions which would no longer tolerate risk.

The generals are just as bad, it's not just the civilians. When the first Gulf War occurred, we had zero clandestine assets, agents, on the ground in Iraq. It was because there was a long series of generals, including one who was very critical of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who refused to approve the concept plans, operational plans, to establish such operations, because they didn't want to take risk. ...

... Real intelligence officers come in several varieties. There are, first of all, the analysts, right? The analysts are research scholars, essentially. They may deal in long-term analysis; they may deal in short-term analysis. They have various fields: technical fields, regional fields, weapons systems, things of that kind. But they're scholars, essentially. They're people who receive information from a wide variety of sources. Much of what they do is based on library research, since they have enormous resources in terms of every report that was ever submitted on a thing for many years in the past. ... They also receive daily inputs from the field from a variety of diplomatic and collection sources.

They take all that kind of stuff and they run it through the mixmaster up here and confer with their colleagues, and they come to ... really informed opinions about this, which we come to collectively [as] the base truth of the United States on which it makes decisions. So their opinion is worth a great deal, especially taken collectively.

And we had pretty good people in that way on the Middle East?

Oh, yes. We have some very, very fine analysts with regard to the Middle East with DIA, CIA, State. A lot of these people I know very well; they're among the finest scholars in the world, in fact. But one of the things that happened here, which is very bad, is that their opinion was dismissed.


... Because it didn't come out the right way. The group of people [policy-makers] we're talking about insist that a deep knowledge of history and the the nature of the target, in this case Saddam Hussein, should lead you to understand that deception is the essence of what he does. And so that whatever he does...he must be deceiving you. He must be evil.

Whereas the typical professional intelligence analyst looks at it on the basis of great skepticism. You look at this piece of information and you compare it to all the other things that you know. You see whether or not you think this source is credible. You think whether or not this particular piece of information is credible, based on everything you know. And your general attitude is to discount it if it can't be proven to be right. Because, I mean, the fate of nations hang on these decisions.

So you have to take a skeptical attitude towards that. And when you have everybody talking to each other, then you get a kind of collective opinion on this, which is worth a lot. And the collectors, if you're talking about human collectors in the clandestine services, these are people who are extremely enterprising, are well versed in languages, are skilled observers of human nature, the kind of people who are very persuasive. ...

... The human collectors are, as I say, the sort of Harvard guys in cowboy boots who are good at languages and are skilled students of human nature, and who are capable of making people believe that it is a good idea to entrust their welfare to this person on the basis of whatever it is that they think they want. These people are not people who are easily ruled. They have to be led. And the process that the CIA went through after the end of the Cold War was such -- the disinterest on the part of the Clinton Administration and the repetitive appointment of directors who had other priorities than nurturing people like this -- it caused a great many of the most experienced people to say, "The hell with this, I'm going to go live in the Blue Ridge Mountains or on the Eastern shore," something like that.

So they were really hurt very badly in the personnel area by developments since the end of the Cold War, and now they're in a rebuild phase. But it takes a long time to grow somebody like that. First, you got to find a suitable person, which is, not everybody can't do this. And then you have to grow this person, recruit them and nurture them over a long period of time before they get to the point where somebody like a cabinet minister or a substantial person who you want to acquire in the foreign scene would pay any attention to them at all. ...

When Tenet leaves and Porter Goss gets the job, what happens to the CIA?

The CIA career force ... reacted with great hostility to Goss and the people he brought with him from the Senate. And they started looking at these people to see if they can tear them down in size so they can get this guy out of control. You had a whole series of nasty incidents ... So they resisted strongly Goss. A number of them have left. ...

Big mistake because the implications are? ...

The implications are that they can't be worked with; they are so stubborn, so stiff necked that they won't cooperate in a positive outcome to fixing what's wrong with the agency and working with the government. Well, they have to work with the government; they are not a separate government. And so instead of accepting Goss, they resisted so much that they contributed, in the end, to the creation of the post of director of national intelligence, which makes them very much a subordinate part of the community.

[John] Negroponte as the new director of national intelligence has what impact on the CIA?

It's revolutionary. In the previous setup, the director of the CIA had two hats: One was that he was the director of the agency called the Central Intelligence Agency, which had certain functions -- briefing the president, running an analytic bureau, conducting clandestine operations, that kind of thing. He also had a second hat as director of central intelligence, which meant that he was the chairman of the board of the intelligence community of 15 agencies. ...


David Kay
Iraq Weapons Inspector 1991-1992, Iraq Survey Group, 2003-2004

... We're in the spring of 2002. What does the Central Intelligence Agency actually know about what's going on?

Well this is, for someone like myself, a discouraging part of the story. When I went into Iraq in 1991, I discovered the CIA had not a single agent inside the WMD program of Iraq. Our single agent [was] in the upper echelons of Saddam's own political process. So we knew nothing. ...

During the period from '91, when I took the first teams in, up until '98, when the UN inspectors were withdrawn, on-ground inspectors provided something that had been completely absent during the 1980s. That is, when you got leads, when defectors came out and told you stories, when the satellites picked up something that was suspicious, when the National Security Agency heard a conversation that was totally ambiguous but might have been useful, you had people on the ground that you could feed that to, and they could go out and check the reality.

And the reality was quite often quite different, sometimes supporting, sometimes -- more often than not -- it had perfectly innocent explanations for what occurred.

In '98 the inspectors left. The sad thing is the agency, CIA -- and by that I really mean all of U.S. intelligence -- the United States had no operatives inside the reported WMD program of Iraq or Saddam's upper echelons. ... We suddenly were plunged into a zone of darkness.

Policy-makers after '98 still want to know what was going on in Iraq, and they knew that they couldn't get it on satellite maps. You can only do so many briefings on that before it becomes obvious to any policy-makers. So in desperation the intelligence community -- and really against its own better judgment they understood the traps -- started falling into using defectors, people who came out of Iraq fleeing Saddam, wanted a better life somewhere else and had very few trade goods.

The defectors quickly understood -- sometimes because they were coached and briefed, sometimes simply because they were smart people and they could understand the questions that intelligence agencies were asking them when they came out. They were asking them about weapons of mass destruction. They weren't asking them questions about Saddam's palaces, or what is the state of morale on the street or in elementary schools of Iraq or in the Mosque. Intelligence agencies were asking the questions that policy-makers wanted the answer to; that is, WMD. So, to no one's real surprise, they started telling us about weapons of mass destruction.

Now, absent agents on the ground to verify that, you have no way of knowing -- except internal consistency and sometimes polygraphs, which are pretty useless in this case -- of figuring out whether you're being fed a line of bull or it's truth. Now, the usual rule of intelligence is you do not pass along a report of a human source, unless you can verify it in some other means, particularly a defector or refugee. ...

So the picture from '98 down to 2002 that was being built up about Iraq was based primarily on fragmentary information coming from technical collection, satellites, communication intercepts and that sort, and what defectors were telling various groups as they came down, not just U.S. intelligence, but German, and French, and British as well. ...


Gary Schroen
CIA, 1970-2002; just days after 9/11, Schroen led the first CIA team into Afghanistan.

Read his interview »

...Help me understand ... the difference between analysts and operations people. ...

The analytical side, the Directorate of Intelligence [DI], is set up to take all of the information that comes from every source -- whether it's human reporting that's being sent from a field station, open-source stuff that's coming out of newspapers or off radios or what leaders in foreign countries say, signals, intelligence that's coming out of NSA [National Security Agency] -- all of that, they take. They specialize, in those days especially, in a country or an area and become experts in that area. Their job is to take what is collected and analyze it, refine it, and then publish it to the intelligence community so that people can understand it.

The operators, people like myself, are the guys and gals who go out around the world and find human sources, people in a different country that have information that we can't get any other way than to steal it, and we then convince them to do that. ...

Are there fundamental personality differences between the two sides of the house?

We used to think that there were those kinds of fundamental differences between analysts and operators. The Directorate of Operations [DO] was always the mystique: "We're the guys out on the street; we're the guys who really risk ourselves." That line has blurred over the years, especially since 9/11 and the run-up to that, where analysts are now involved in targeting and actually working with case officers. ... They're actually taking raw intelligence and then working with the operators to come up with, "How do you devise an operation to take people down?" ... They're in some rough places now, on the front lines, where they can actually interface with local sources themselves, or with local liaison services. That line has diminished and has become very, very blurry.

Is that a positive or a negative?

Very positive, because one of the things that we used to do was to restrict the analysts' knowledge of who the assets were, for source protection. ... We're much more comfortable with our internal security system, our encryption system for communications. So it helps the analyst; it helps the whole process of how to judge the intelligence that we're collecting and turn out a better product.

When the [Berlin] Wall falls, where are you, and what do you see as the implications, looking forward, for the agency?

... I was in Pakistan at the time. I was supposed to be the chief of station in Kabul, [Afghanistan]. The Soviets had been driven out of Afghanistan by the mujahideen with the help of the U.S. government and the Pakistani government. The fall of the Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet empire was almost like a tsunami that hit the agency. Our whole reason for being was to take on the main enemy, the KGB, to fight these communist regimes that were out there threatening the United States. When it all fell apart, it took the agency several years to really recover and try to get a new focus. ...

Sitting in your house on the night of 9/11, is one of the things that crosses your mind, Gary, that the CIA is going to be blamed by some for 9/11 --"the greatest intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor"?

Having been inside the CIA during the run-up to 9/11, there was a steady drumbeat of reporting that was coming out of CTC and the UbL shop ... that said: "There will be a major attack in the United States by the Al Qaeda. We don't know what it is, but we know from everything that we're picking up that they're planning something big and spectacular." ... I felt that we had done a reasonable job in sounding the alarm. ...

But we didn't do enough. We didn't penetrate bin Laden's inner circle; we still haven't. ... So yeah, there was a failure. ...


Dewey Clarridge
CIA 1955-1987

... During those years, from around 1967 into the 1980s, what builds up to cause the creation of the CTC [CIA's Counterterrorist Center] in the mid 1980s?

Certainly the [1983] Beirut embassy bombing, the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon. The Kuwaiti bombing. And I know for [DCI William] Casey, it was the Buckley thing [1984 kidnapping of CIA Beirut Station Chief William Buckley] that galvanized Casey that the Agency wasn't doing better. For [President] Reagan, it was the hostages being taken in Beirut.

And then the seminal year was 1985, certainly for me, because now I was in charge of Europe. And I think it was the whole series of things. [The hijacking of TWA Flight] 847 definitely was an event that [showed] that something needs to be done, but no one seemed to know what to do.

Then you had the Achille Lauro [Italian cruise ship hijacking]. ... But I think the final thing for me was the [Palestinian terrorist] Abu Nidal['s] operations in Rome and Vienna in the end of November 1985. And it was, frankly, right after that that I went upstairs to see Casey, late in the evening, and said I had some ideas on what might be done to get the Agency to be more effective.

What was your idea?

I felt very strongly that the U.S. government's position, from 1967 until basically 1986, was a defensive mentality. Terrorism was looked upon as a criminal activity and therefore probably better suited to the police forces and the legal system to deal with. And what we really were in was a defensive mode: We built walls higher, reinforced embassies, put up more razor wire. We tried to penetrate terrorist groups to find out what they were up to so we could abort their operations. ...

The second thought that goes with it is that the United States was not organized, bureaucratically, to deal with transnational problems. That is, a terrorist operation planned in Syria takes place in Rome; you've got the Middle East people responsible for Syria, European people for Rome. Well, who's in charge of dealing with this event? And it's a turf issue. I saw over the years that we handicapped ourselves by not centralizing our effort in one place. ...

The third thing is that terrorism, like most transnational problems, is a problem of minutiae. You get bits and pieces of things, and they need to be put together to give more traction to the operators, to be successful in either recruiting people, or aborting operations, or capturing them. ... And you'll never have that analytical manpower in the Directorate of Operations in the CIA. There was some, but it was never enough of it. Nor was it of that high quality. But there was a lot of this in the Directorate of Intelligence [DI]. They had a whole unit.

So the idea was to create a center that got around this geographic, bureaucratic nonsense. You bring the analysts from the DI over to work with the Directorate of Operations people, the case officers, who were supposed to recruit spies and abort operations, and that would give them mass and would be a force multiplier on the operations officers' capabilities.

I have heard that when President George W. Bush's father was at the Central Intelligence Agency, he was beloved and it was a great time. True story?

Very, very true. By chance I got to know him rather well and it was all connected, in a way, with terrorism. I was running Arab operations at that time when he was DCI. And one of the major issues of the day was Libyan terrorism and [Muammar al-Qaddafi]. That was a big preoccupation when he was DCI. So there used to be a lot of meetings, all the time, about it. ... And I used to be up there a lot with him. He was a great listener. His whole approach was, "Look. You guys are the experts. Tell me what you want to do, and what I can do to support you. Okay?"

And not the way it was often done.

And then there were little things that would happen. Another big issue that was going on at that time were the evacuations of the embassy in Beirut. ... These were sort of big events, so we had an operations center set up in the Agency and one over in the White House in the Situation Room. I remember the president went over to the one in the White House, but he left and came over and sat with us. ... He came and was with his troops, rather than the other guys. ...


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posted june 20, 2006

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