By Jim Kouri
Gen. David Petraeus’ surprising and abrupt resignation from his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency may have a silver-lining despite the uncertainty of leadership at one of the nation’s most important bureaucracies, according to an Inside-the-Beltway law enforcement and counterintelligence officer. The next director of the CIA could address agency deficiencies and those within the entire intelligence community, according to experts.
A popular and well-respected military leader, Petraeus shocked many when he revealed he had an extramarital affair with West Point graduate and author Paula Broadwell, who had written a book about Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan.
There are some within the intelligence community, the military and law enforcement assigned to counterterrorism units who accused Petraeus of failing to respond decisively to calls for assistance from CIA operatives posted in Libya amid the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, but his integrity remains unquestioned, at least it does during Obama’s reign. When he worked for President George W. Bush, he was almost constantly lambasted by Democrats, especially left-leaning pundits such as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.
However, Gen. Patraeus’ replacement may have an opportunity to correct some of the problems faced by the CIA and its stakeholders, according to intelligence experts.
One complaint often heard privately within law enforcement circles is that the Central Intelligence Agency over the years has morphed into a Liberal think tank rather than maintaining its role as a strategic and tactical intelligence agency. An even bigger concern is that the agency has become overly politicized and prone to leaking information to the mainstream news media in order to have an impact upon the political climate within the Beltway.
The process by which intelligence requirements and priorities are established warrants a dramatic overhaul, according to those who require the CIA’s end products. Requirements for both collection and analysis should be heavily influenced by the needs of policymakers, an imperative that argues against suggestions to isolate the collection agencies further or increase their autonomy.
At the same time, some sort of market constraint, under which intelligence consumers can only receive so much free intelligence before their own agency has to find resources to support a greater intelligence effort, should be introduced.
Prioritization is a must. The highest priorities for U.S. intelligence collection — and, in most cases, analysis — for the foreseeable future include the following: the status of nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union; developments in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea; potential terrorism against US targets in the continental United States and overseas; weapons of mass destruction proliferation; and political and military developments in China. Other targets could be added to this list temporarily if, for example, US forces were to be deployed in significant numbers.
There is also a need for economic intelligence, although many could not agree on how aggressively the United States should collect information on its major economic partners or on how much to emphasize analysis of economic issues.
There is agreement that economic intelligence should not be used offensively to help a US firm win a contract against foreign competition, but should be used defensively to alert policymakers when bribes or other unfair practices are being used against an American firm. Counterintelligence was deemed appropriate to help protect US firms from the espionage efforts of foreign firms and governments.
The need to insulate intelligence from political pressure is a powerful argument for maintaining a strong, centralized capability and not leaving intelligence on national concerns up to individual policymaking departments. Competitive analysis of controversial questions can also help guard against politicization, as can Congress and the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).
“Competitive or redundant analysis needs to be carried out and conveyed to policymakers in those areas where being wrong can have major consequences. The leaders of the intelligence community must reinforce the ethic that speaking the truth to those in power is required, and defend anyone who comes under criticism for so doing,” said an intelligence analyst who specializes in domestic terrorism.
“The best way to ensure high-quality analysis is to bring high quality analysts into the process. Analysis would be improved by increasing the flow of talented people into the intelligence community from outside the government. Greater provision should be made for lateral and mid-career entry of such analysts as well as for their short-term involvement in specific projects,” he said.
“The capability to undertake covert action is an important national security tool, one that can provide policymakers a valuable alternative or complement to other policies, including diplomacy, sanctions, and military intervention. Building a capacity for both espionage and covert action takes time and resources; nurturing such a clandestine capability ought to be one of the highest priorities of the intelligence community. Constraints on clandestine activity need to be reviewed periodically to ensure that they do not unduly limit the effectiveness of this tool,” said a former military intelligence officer and police inspector, Vincent DeSantos.