CIA Director Porter J. Goss invited eight of his predecessors and two of their widows back to the agency recently, prompting his executive secretary to exclaim, "Is this a great day for the CIA or what?" Well, not exactly.
The party was, in fact, a wake, marking the end of Mr. Goss' role as director of central intelligence, the CIA's role as the central intelligence agency in the intelligence community and, most important, President Harry Truman's creation of an authoritative intelligence agency outside the policy community providing objective and balanced intelligence estimates.
Few Americans will mourn the passing of an agency that missed the 10-year decline and fall of the Soviet Union, the five-year planning cycle for 9/11 and the steady deterioration of Iraq's political, social and military instruments that obviated the need for the U.S. invasion of 2003.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand the CIA's important contributions to American national security in its first 30 years as well as the more recent intelligence failures that were not corrected by the work of the 9/11 commission or last year's intelligence reform legislation.
The primary mission of the CIA is to provide strategic assessments to policymakers, telling truth to power. These assessments provided early warning to U.S. policymakers about every Soviet weapon that was procured from 1950 to 1990, the signs of the Sino-Soviet split that enabled the Nixon administration to make a strategic opening in China and the reasons why U.S. military forces would not be successful in Vietnam in the 1960s.
CIA analysis exposed the fictitious bomber gap in the 1950s and the missile gap in the 1960s, and CIA monitoring permitted the successful arms control agreements of the 1970s and 1980s with the former Soviet Union. Many of the most successful strategic monitoring systems were designed and implemented by CIA scientists and technicians, a capability that no longer exists at the CIA.
Over the past 20 years, however, the CIA gradually became another political tool in the policy process.
Under directors William J. Casey and Robert M. Gates, the CIA exaggerated the military and economic power of the Soviet Union, gradually reduced its role in producing strategic intelligence estimates and began to cut back on analysis on controversial military issues in order to avoid contentious battles with the Pentagon.
CIA Director John M. Deutch's creation of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency enabled the Pentagon to become the sole interpreter of satellite photography, our most valuable strategic intelligence collection. In its brief history, this agency - renamed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency - has been responsible for a series of major intelligence disasters, including the failure to monitor Indian nuclear testing in 1998 and the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
It is ironic that the CIA's inept and corrupt handling of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraqi invasion has led to the agency's demise, because intelligence counted for very little in the decision to go to war. The sham case for the invasion was based on the hate and hysteria that followed 9/11. Before the war, British intelligence correctly told Prime Minister Tony Blair that U.S. "intelligence and policy were being fixed around the policy." The fact that CIA Director George J. Tenet thought that such fixes would be a "slam dunk" helped to create the greatest intelligence scandal in U.S. history.
Recent intelligence "reforms" have made matters worse. The creation of a director of national intelligence will reduce the redundancy and competition in intelligence analysis and will do nothing to weaken the power of the Pentagon, which controls more than 85 percent of the budget, personnel and collection requirements of the intelligence community.
Allowing the military to dominate the targeting of satellites and the analysis of satellite imagery creates additional problems. This analysis is used to calibrate the defense budget (spiraling out of control), to gauge the likelihood of military conflict (with intelligence the key to pre-emptive attack) and to verify arms control agreements. More recently, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's appointment of an undersecretary of defense for intelligence has enhanced the power of the military in the intelligence field.
Meanwhile, nothing has been done to revive congressional oversight of the intelligence community, with congressional intelligence chairmen considering themselves "advocates" for the intelligence community.
The term limits on members of the intelligence committees and the increased power of the armed forces committees on intelligence issues have contributed to the decline of oversight responsibility. The oversight committees ignored the poor intelligence provided on the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the absence of strategic analysis on the terrorist threat in the 1990s and inept intelligence on Iraq before the war.
Melvin A. Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, was a CIA analyst from 1966 to 1990.
© 2005 Baltimore Sun