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Safranski: More on 'Appointment Intelligence'

In a similar manner as Michael Tanji has written this week in his "Appointment Intelligence" commentary, Mark Safranski also considers Why Leon Panetta May Be the Right Man for CIA Chief.

The truth is that the CIA has been in an existential crisis since at least 1991 that has waxed and waned, but it never recovered the competence in clandestinity or the esprit de corps it enjoyed in its glory years under Allen Dulles or the brief revival ushered in by William Casey and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The CIA now bleeds talent to better-paying private military companies like CACI or Blackwater and engages in domestic political intrigue and gross waste like any other government agency. Post-9/11 "intelligence reforms" badly battered the CIA as an institution without building up its original core mission of HUMINT collection and strategic influence operations to a robust and dynamic capacity.

The lion's share of the IC budget and agencies is under the control of the Department of Defense and these agencies from the NSA to the DIA do a fine job, but the United States needs a world-class civilian intelligence agency that conducts espionage, covert operations, and analysis from a strategic perspective and in domains or environments where military personnel are simply poorly suited, implausibly deniable, or not competent. The CIA needs to be removed from partisan maneuvering at home and focused abroad where existing and emerging threats to national security can be found.

Will Leon Panetta be able to reform and reinvigorate the CIA? Will the Obama administration permit him to do so? These are questions to which we have no answers, but he is the first nominee to head the CIA in a long time with the potential to do so. Which is why so many veterans of the IC, despite wide political differences, are hopeful and why aging "Watergate babies" in the Democratic caucus are gritting their teeth.

But does Leon Panetta actually intend to "reform and reinvigorate the CIA"? And, if this is his intent, how does he seek to do so?

For my part, this remains a fundamental and unresolved question. Unanswered, the potential benefits and strengths of his appointment remain moot. For, at least on the surface, he has in the past given the appearance of being more inclined to become entrenched on one side of the prevailing 'world view' battle ongoing within the CIA rather than exuding any ability to revive and revitalize the agency's intelligence gathering and analytical responsibilities.

Both commentaries from Michael Tanji and Mark Safranski remain important to consider, as they explore the potential benefits and pitfalls of the Panetta appointment to Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Both Michael and Mark are widely respected and are among the most level-headed thinkers around on the subjects of intelligence and warfare, respectively.

1 Comment

Hi Steve

Thank you for the kind words.

A point that I wished I had discussed but didn't is the NSC decision making process and how the IC fits into it. Each administration comes in and one of the first executive orders (PDD, NSDD) is to establish how the president intends his NSC to function.

Sometimes in the IC rep is designated a principal as under Reagan, at other times they are outsiders as with Clinton, or hated and distrusted as with Nixon. It's one of those paper exercises that will have real effects.

Every president may not get the NSC process they need but they usually get what they deserve if they do not pay attention to getting this first step right

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