CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
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President-elect Donald Trump is accusing CIA Director John Brennan of being the source of "fake news" about him, essentially calling our new supreme leader a Russian stooge and accusing him of taking part in a sexual kink in full view of Russian intelligence cameras in a Moscow hotel room several years ago.
I have no idea whether or not Trump, during a visit to Moscow in 2010, hired prostitutes to urinate on a Four Seasons Hotel Presidential Suite mattress because the Obamas had once slept there. I don't care. I also have no idea if the Russian government "hacked" the Democratic National Committee and stole Clinton campaign manager John Podesta's emails. I have not seen any CIA, FBI, or NSA evidence, so I have come to the personal conclusion that the hacking story is overblown. All countries spy on each other. It's a fact of life. The U.S. spies on just about everybody in the world. So I have a problem with the righteous indignation that I'm seeing from so many of my friends and former CIA colleagues about the Russians.
With that said, the Russia hacking story distracts from real and important issues surrounding the CIA and its future in U.S. policy.
One of those real issues is that the CIA has consistently lied to the American people for many, many years. Why would Trump conclude that Brennan was spouting fake news? Well, in the past 15 years, the CIA said that it was not torturing its prisoners. That was a lie. The CIA said that it had not created an archipelago of secret prisons where it was holding hundreds of people, including innocent civilians. That was a lie. The CIA said that it had not created and used a dungeon torture center called the "Salt Pit" in Afghanistan. That was a lie. The CIA said that it was not sending prisoners to third world countries to undergo torture with a wink and a nod from the CIA's leadership. That was a lie. The CIA said that it had not hacked into computers belonging to investigators of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence while they were writing the definitive report on the CIA torture program. That was a lie.
I won't even get into CIA protestations that it hasn't overthrown governments, influenced elections, committed assassinations, or otherwise mucked up U.S. foreign policy since the late 1940s.
I'm no fan of Donald Trump. At all. But he does have a good and important point when he complains about the Intelligence Community. When Trump said recently that the CIA was bloated and inefficient, he was right. When he said that it needed to be pared down and restructured, he was right.
First, it's good for the country that in a few short days John Brennan will be out of a job. Brennan has been a disaster for the CIA. His ill-advised "restructuring" of the organization two years ago, which did away with geographical "divisions" and created 10 new "fusion centers" that paired operators and analysts, was ill-advised and typical of somebody with no operational experience. It diluted expertise, forced the CIA to rely more on electronic eavesdropping, and pushed human source intelligence collection to the side.
Second, try as he might, Brennan was never able to, and indeed, should not have been able to, deny his role in the Bush administration's torture program. He was Bush's Deputy Executive Director of the CIA -- the organization's fourth-ranking officer -- from 2001 to 2003 and director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center from 2003 to 2004. He was in the center of the CIA action and up to his neck in counter-terrorism in the Agency's darkest days. To say that he had no idea there was a CIA torture program at the time is utterly laughable.
Third, I have no idea what kind of CIA director Michael Pompeo will be. I'm not optimistic. But with that said, if he does only one thing during his tenure, I hope he would clean house by forcing out every CIA officer who ever had anything to do with the torture program, every officer who had anything to do with the Senate hacking scandal, and every officer who has ever provided false information to the oversight committees. As my CIA recruiter told me in 1989, "The CIA wants honest people, not perfect people." Well, even all these years later, the dishonest people have to go.
Fourth, we can certainly have a discussion about whether or not the country even needs a CIA. I have come to the conclusion that it does not. The excellent civil servants in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research can do the analysis. The Pentagon's Defense Humint Services can recruit and run human sources around the world. A myriad of DoD and other civilian offices and bureaus can do the science and technology development.
In the meantime, however, the job of the CIA ought to remain simple: To recruit spies to steal secrets. When it can't do that, when a majority of CIA officers are sitting fat and happy in Langley, Virginia, there's a problem. They are doing the American taxpayer a disservice. The top leadership has to go. Employees who don't respect U.S. and international law have to go. The purge should start on January 20.
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