Day By Day

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Panetta Choice

For a long time now it has been blatantly apparent that the American intelligence community, and especially the CIA, has been woefully incompetent. More, it has provided employment to a substantial number of officials whose loyalties lie more with the agency in which they serve than with the nation [a common problem in Washington]. In broader terms one might consider this a generalized resistance on the part of professional managers to direction from political appointees.

Recognizing the widespread dysfunctionality rampant corruption of the intelligence community the Bush administration sought to reform it. Unfortunately its efforts -- shifting functions away from the CIA toward the military, reorganizing the top administrative structures, and the like were inadequate to the task. Veteran Intelligence Professionals (VIPS), with the cooperation of a compliant media and opportunistic Democrats, struck back effectively. They failed to bring down the administration, but their efforts did seriously undermine the war effort and impede efforts to protect the country from terrorism.

It can be plausibly argued that the great failure of the Bush administration was that it lacked sufficient ruthlessness in dealing with bureaucratic obstruction. Officials soon recognized that there was no price to be paid for obstructing and subverting administration policies. That, I suspect, is about to change. Obama's appointment of Leon Panetta to head the CIA suggests that now we are playing by Chicago rules. If the VIPS do anything to embarrass the administration there will be reprisals. Administrators will be held responsible for the actions of their subordinates. Heads will roll. At least we can hope they will.

In many ways I find Obama's combination of naivete and ruthlessness alarming but in this case I think it is just what the country needs. Under Bush the military was effectively reformed and the obstructionist officers removed. It now falls to Obama to effect comparable reforms in the intelligence community. I think..., I hope he will succeed. A left leaning, celebrity smitten media is not likely to be as receptive to VIP subversion in the future as they have been and the opposition party is unlikely to be as cynically opportunistic as the Democrats have been. This will give Director Panetta the freedom to effect necessary reforms, even if it means the eradication of entire levels of intelligence managers. The CIA's days as a rogue agency may be coming to an end. At least that is change we can hope for.


K-Lo has a fascinating interview with former CIA officer "Ishmael Jones" over at NRO's Corner.

A key quote:

Bush felt a misplaced sense of loyalty to the CIA, a loyalty the CIA never returned.

Partisan political conflict during the Bush years allowed CIA dysfunction to thrive and grow. The CIA may have difficulty running basic espionage operations, but when its way of life is at stake, it fights like a retrovirus regardless of the commander-in-chief’s political party. The CIA’s sophisticated system of press leaks has been a textbook covert-action operation, in which journalists are given leaked information in exchange for articles which support the CIA’s agenda. CIA-stoked controversies over terrorist interrogations, wiretapping, the Libby case, and Iraqi WMD kept President Bush off balance, and at times even threatened to put his people in jail.

Former CIA director Porter Goss attempted some minor reform, but without White House support he was quickly expelled by CIA bureaucrats. Obama’s choice of a loyalist shows he understands the threat he faces from a dysfunctional CIA. That the CIA served President Bush poorly doesn’t make it the Democrats’ ally.
Lots of nuggets of wisdom here. Check it out here.