The Baltimore Sun
November 14, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama is sending conflicting signals on whether he intends to change the bankrupt culture of Washington's intelligence community and to introduce genuine reform to the Central Intelligence Agency.
He appears to be ready to remove the top two intelligence officials, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden - both retired general officers - which suggests Mr. Obama recognizes the need to change the military culture of the intelligence community. But he also has placed the intelligence transition process in the hands of two senior cronies of former CIA Director George J. Tenet: John O. Brennan and Jami A. Miscik, who were actively engaged in implementing and defending the CIA's corrupt activities during the Bush presidency.
Mr. Obama's apparent willingness to demilitarize the leadership of the intelligence community is an essential ingredient for changing the culture of the national security process. The Bush administration boasted of a "marriage" between the Pentagon and the CIA, which made the intelligence community subordinate to the Pentagon, which controls more than 80 percent of the intelligence budget and more than 85 percent of all intelligence personnel.
Numerous independent reviews of the intelligence community in the past several years, including retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft's review for the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, concluded that it was necessary to weaken the Pentagon's control over budgetary and data collection requirements. Mr. Scowcroft also recommended placing three of the key technical and analytic collection agencies under the authority of the director of national intelligence and not the Pentagon.
Unfortunately, the congressional intelligence committees have been negligent in proposing reforms for the community or reversing the Pentagon's corporate control over the process. The next president should encourage strengthening the oversight mission of the intelligence committees and the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Instead of placing the transition process under a seasoned professional such as Mr. Scowcroft, the Obama team has turned to discredited cronies of the Tenet era. Mr. Brennan, as chief of staff and deputy executive director under Mr. Tenet, was involved in decisions to conduct torture and abuse of suspected terrorists and to render suspected individuals to foreign intelligence services that conducted their own torture and abuse. Mr. Brennan had risen through the analytic ranks and should have known that analytic standards were being ignored in Mr. Tenet's CIA. He was also an active defender of the illegal program of warrantless eavesdropping, implemented at the National Security Agency under the leadership of Mr. Hayden, then director of NSA.
Mr. Miscik was deputy director of intelligence for Mr. Tenet during the run-up to the Iraq war, when intelligence was manipulated to support the Bush administration's decision to use force in Iraq. He endorsed the politicized findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in October 2002, as well as the unclassified White Paper of October 2002 that was designed to sway votes on the authorization to use force against Iraq. Mr. Miscik was also a willing participant in the crafting of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's regrettable speech to the United Nations in February 2003, which was designed to sway the international community.
Other key members of Mr. Obama's intelligence advisory panel have been former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who helped to suppress proof that various sources of intelligence in Iraqi WMD were in fact fabricators, and Rob Richer, a senior clandestine services officer who was a key implementer of the renditions and detentions program.
Mr. Obama will not be able to change the culture of the intelligence community and restore the moral compass of the CIA unless there is a full understanding and repudiation of the operational and analytical crimes committed in the Tenet era. If Mr. Obama genuinely wants to roll back the misdeeds of Vice President Dick Cheney, restore the rule of law at the CIA and create the change that Americans want and can believe in, he should not be relying for advice on the senior officials who endorsed these shameful actions.
Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow and director of the national security program at the Center for International Policy, is author of "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA." He was a senior analyst at the CIA and the State Department for 24 years. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.