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After the CIA-led fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, President John Kennedy was quoted as saying he wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds." I can understand his anger, but a thousand is probably too many.
Better is a Solomon solution; divide the CIA in two. That way we can throw out the bath water and keep the baby.
Covert action and analysis do not belong together in the same agency--never have, never will. That these two very different tasks were thrown together is an accident of history, one that it is high time to acknowledge and to fix.
The effects of this structural fault became clear to President Harry Truman as he watched the agency at work in its first decade and a half. He was aghast.
Like oil on water, covert action fouls the wellspring of objective analysis--the main task for which Truman and the Congress established the CIA in 1947. The operational tail started wagging the substantive tail almost right away. It has done so ever since--with very unfortunate consequences.
An accident of history? How so?
Covert action practitioners, many of whom showed great courage and imagination in the European and Far Eastern theaters of World War II arrived home wondering whether there was still a call for their expertise. With the Soviet Union taking over large chunks of Europe and the KGB plying its covert-action wares worldwide, the question answered itself; a counter capability was needed.
The big mistake was shoehorning it into an agency being created to fulfill an entirely different mission. As former CIA senior analyst Mel Goodman points out in his most recent book, Failure of Intelligence, there was uncertainty and confusion over where to place responsibility for this capability.
The term "covert action" is a euphemism covering the broad genus of dirty tricks, from overthrowing governments (we now blithely call that particular species "regime change") to open but nonattributable broadcasting into denied areas.
Secretary of Defense James Forrestal didn't want the Pentagon to be responsible for covert action in peacetime. And, to their credit, neither did senior leaders of the fledgling CIA. They were no neophytes, and could see that covert operations might easily end up tainting the intelligence product if one Director were responsible for the two incompatible activities.The experience of the past 62 years has showed, time and time again, that their concern was well founded, as the covert action side has not only polluted substantive analysis but also expanded into high-tech warfare.
Trying to overthrow governments via covert action is one thing. Flying Predator drones with Hellfire missiles is quite another. There would be real hellfire on that from Harry Truman, were he still with us.
Even former CIA Director George Tenet of flexible conscience
had second thoughts about the CIA assuming responsibility for flying the
Predator and firing Hellfires. In
his memoir, At the Center of the Storm,
he writes that there was a "legitimate question about whether aircraft firing
missiles"should be the function of the military or CIA." Resorting to the
all-purpose catch-all (and excuse-all), Tenet adds, "But that was before 9/11."
Of equal importance is the kind of question to which Tenet normally paid little heed; namely, what would flying Predators do to CIA credibility.
Think about it for a minute. You are ordered and given funding to conduct Predator attacks on "suspected al-Qaeda bases" in Pakistan. (Our armed forces cannot do it since the Pentagon is not supposed to be striking countries with whom we are not at war.) You salute, find some contractors to help, and conduct those attacks.
The President then asks his CIA morning briefer about the effectiveness of the drone attacks, including the longer-term political as well as military effects. When the briefer checks with the substantive analysts watching Pakistan, he learns that the attacks are very effective--indeed, the very best recruitment tool Osama bin Laden and the Taliban could imagine. Jihadists are flocking to Pakistan and Afghanistan like moths to a light blub.