What’s Wrong With the CIA (Analysis)
Herbert E. Meyer Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2003
EFL and Fair Use
The following is adapted from a lecture at a Hillsdale College seminar titled “The History, Purpose and Propriety of U.S. Intelligence Activities,” held on Sept. 14-18, 2003.
It’s obvious that something is wrong with the CIA. The 9/11 attacks were, by definition, the worst intelligence failure in our country’s history. More recently, we have had trouble locating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and have been consumed by the flap over whether the CIA signed off on President Bush’s accurate observation in his State of the Union speech that British intelligence believes Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium ore in Niger.

In each of these cases, the CIA was asleep at the switch, not quite on the ball, or tossing a banana peel under the president’s feet. In the midst of a war in which intelligence must play a central role, we need a CIA that is razor sharp and playing offense, not one that blindsides the country or embarrasses the commander-in-chief. So what’s the problem? Before answering this question, we need to acknowledge two points:
First, intelligence is the riskiest, toughest business in the world. Compared with trying to project the future of world politics or discovering a country’s most closely guarded secrets, day trading in the stock market is child’s play and exploring for diamonds is a piece of cake. In the intelligence business, no one gets it right every time – or even most of the time – and it’s easy to take potshots at honorable people who are doing their best under difficult circumstances.

The second point is that the CIA employs some of the hardest working and most decent men and women I have ever known. They are absolutely wonderful; we are lucky to have them and we owe them our gratitude.
Problems in Structure and Culture
The problem with the CIA lies within its structure and culture. It doesn’t match the task, because the analytic side of intelligence is unlike any other function of government. It is unlike budget-making, diplomacy, or the setting of policy for trade or agriculture. Intelligence is like science, which means that success depends utterly on having the most brilliant people studying a problem. Only they will know how to go about finding the right answer – and how to communicate it clearly and early enough to make a difference. As geniuses like Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk remind us, in science there is no substitute for sheer intellectual firepower – in other words, for brains. This is why scientific research institutes hire the smartest people they can find, and why they place scientists at the top who are even more brilliant to manage the team and, when necessary, to decide which of their proposed experiments to back and which to stop. That’s why so many leading research institutes are headed by Nobel laureates. And it’s why the big breakthroughs in science come from research institutes rather than government-operated labs.
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Okay Spooks, Ex-Spooks, and Amateur Spooks, have fun! Much of his analysis seems on-target to me, but I’m in that last category...
Posted by: .com 2003-10-22