Op-ed at Pajamas Media

In a bit of shameless self-promotion – but also because the state of America’s intelligence community merits wider discussion – I have an op-ed up at Pajamas Media:

Why Leon Panetta May Be The Right Man For CIA Chief

Given the extent to which President-elect Barack Obama previously positioned himself on the left wing of the Democratic Party, his appointments in the areas of national security and defense have been remarkable in the degree to which the worst fears of conservatives have not come to pass. Robert Gates as secretary of defense would have been a dream pick for a McCain administration and former commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Jones is someone I wish President Bush had chosen as his wartime national security adviser. The immediate howls of protest from liberal Senate Intelligence Committee members and chairmen that greeted Leon Panetta’s nomination to head the CIA are genuine in their rage. For many reasons, conservatives and advocates of a reinvigorated, reinvented, depoliticized CIA may end up being quite happy with the tenure of Director Panetta

….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

Read the whole thing here.

There are of course, respected bloggers and experts with views of their own on Panetta’s appointment. Here is a sample:

The Glittering Eye:

…As I’ve noted before the incoming administration’s managerial experience is extremely limited and, frankly, I think they’re underestimating its importance. Now it may well be that lawyers and politicians are the best possible picks for these important roles to achieve the confidence of the departments they’ll head, the American people’s, and President Obama’s. If that’s right, we’ll be in for an interesting ride with the new administration. If it’s wrong, the downside risk is probably minimized by the civil bureaucracy.

Steve Coll:

As to the Panetta appointment itself, it is unconvincing. The C.I.A. directorship is a diminished post, no longer in charge of the full intelligence community and subordinate to the Director of National Intelligence (who will apparently be Dennis Blair, a retired admiral.) Still, the C.I.A. director has four important jobs: manage the White House relationship; manage Congress, particularly to obtain budgetary favor; manage the agency’s workforce and daily operations; and manage liaisons with other spy chiefs, friendly and unfriendly. Panetta is thoroughly qualified for the first two functions but unqualified for the latter two. He seems to have been selected as a kind of political auditor and consensus builder. He will make sure the White House is protected from surprises or risks emanating from C.I.A. operations; he will ensure that interrogation and detention practices change, and that the Democratic Congress is satisfied by those changes; he will ensure that all of this occurs with a minimum of disruptive bloodletting. All good, but it is not enough

Dr. Ron Radosh

…The point I was trying to make about the Panetta appointment was that although his hands are not tainted by any acceptance of torture, that alone is hardly a sufficient reason to appoint him. I have learned that our fellow blogger and my friend Michael Ledeen has said Panetta is a good choice, as have Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. Their arguments, that he is a good manager and can possibly clean up a highly ineffective and politicized CIA, hopefully has merit. Counterpoints, however, have been effectively made by J.G. Thayer, who writing on the Commentary magazine’s Contentions, blog…

14 thoughts on “Op-ed at Pajamas Media”

  1. “If you handed Leon Panetta a blank map of Asia, I’d bet my life he couldn’t plot Baghdad, Kabul or Beijing within 500 miles of their actual locations”

    Leon Panetta was an Army intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. I’m sure he can read a map as well as Peters can; they had the same training after all. ;)

    Ralph Peters is actually a smart guy and not a buffoon but he plays one from time to time at the Post.

  2. Peters’ op-ed stuff is not too good.

    He is better with longer pieces where he has time to cool off before he hits “send” to his editor. His articles in Parameters are almost all classics.

    Mark’s analysis is much more thoughtful and realistic than Peters’.

  3. The CIA should be terminated with extreme prejudice. No one can fix the agency. As everybody knows:
    1. It tortures prisoners
    2. It maintains secret prisons where innocent people, including American citizens, are routinely tortured and held without due process
    3. It has destroyed America’s reputation
    4. As the Valerie Plame affair and the leaked NIEs demonstrate, the CIA answers to no one. It is above the law and a danger to our democracy
    5. It provides unreliable intelligence and disinformation to the President and the Congress
    6. It spies on American citizens
    7. It has been penetrated by most foreign goverments and several terrorist organizations and three world religions and four political ideologies. It is no longer loyal to the US.

    By destroying the CIA, the US will take the first step to rebuild its reputation in the World. By destroying the CIA headquarters the US will send a dramatic signal to the world that it no longer embraces the evil that the CIA represents. Naturally, those employees that are loyal to the US can find employment in the US, while the rest will continue on the payroll of their true employers.

  4. Sol: The Brown Acid is bad. Go to the medical tent right away.

    I wish I could care who ran the CIA, but I can’t, because I think the agency is in terminal bureaucratic decline. One of George bush’s worst mistakes was not firing the top 10 people at the CIA and the FBI on the morning of 9/12/2001. The Director of the CIA, has for better or worse, lost his pride of place in the Intelligence hierarchy. Now that the CIA is no longer useful to the Donkey Party as a stick with which to beat the President, perhaps they can get around to replacing it something that works, if only a little bit.

  5. This is all wishful thinking, as is the notion that Obama’s retention of Gates was a good sign. What Obama’s personnel choices signify is that he cares little about foreign, military and intelligence issues except to the extent that they might damage him politically. So he appoints hacks and followers of conventional wisdom. This is the point that Peters seems to be making.

    Perhaps Obama will appoint James Baker to represent him in the coming negotiations with Hamas.

  6. Right, we know that if he appoints terrible people, its because he’s awful. And if he appoints good people, that just means he’s clever and deceptive in addition to being awful. There can be no basis for hoping for anything less that utter awfulness. That is a given. We know categorically that he is awful and all facts necessarily conform to that preexisting knowledge. Any seeming ray of light is a mirage to dupe the naive.

  7. That’s not what I wrote. The people Obama is appointing for these posts are not necessarily the worst people for their respective positions. However, Obama appears to be selecting them based mainly on domestic political considerations. IMO this appointment pattern, which resembles that of Bill Clinton, does not predict best results.

  8. Why try to save the CIA? It has a bad reputation and its intelligence is unreliable. Its existence gives the US a bad name. What better way is there to improve the image of the US than to eliminate the CIA. Intelligence gathering will go on. Indeed, the best employees of the CIA will find work with any of the 50 different intelligence agencies that already exist in the Federal government or with any of the 10 privately owned agencies.

    This will not stop movies from being made about the CIA. They still make movies about the NAZIs. Indeed hatred of the CIA is so extreme that Valerie Plame claimed that exposing her as a CIA employee endangered her life.

    It is customary to eliminate intelligence agencies when they become unpopular. All governments do this. The GPU, NKVD, and KGB no longer exist. Neither do the Gestapo or the Stasi. But their functions are still performed for the very people who eliminated their predecessors.

    PR requires eliminating the CIA, divorcing ourselves from its evil, and handing out its functions to agencies nobody ever heard of.

  9. Sol Vason,

    Eliminating the CIA won’t help our image because the same people who believe the CIA is evil will simply project their fantasies onto its successor/s. The most vehement objections to the CIA come from those who adopt Stalin’s view of the America’s role in the world. The CIA becomes the evil tool of an evil capitalist, imperialist country. People that hold that view of America won’t be mollified by an intelligence reorganization.

  10. The CIA was established to gather together the information/intelligence output of all the Federal agencies dealing with other countries for the President. The Director of National Intelligence now has this role. I think Bush already relies on other, more obscure agencies for intelligence rather than use CIA product, and that Bush uses the CIA as a lightning rod. To this end he has given the swashbuckling, movie star jobs to the CIA. Panetta is the good choice to head this type of agency – Matt Damon would be better — provided he has his current script writer and director.

  11. I’d say the CIA has been in existential crisis since 1961 and has been a dead man walking since the Church Committee finished with it. Those Reagan years seem to be mostly good PR as resorting to the unfortunate use of the comic Ollie North to support the Central America’s democratic forces indicates.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that Rumsfeld began a process of moving ops from CIA to DIA years ago. I cannot believe this was irrelevant or coincidental in the choice of Gates to succeed him. I must confess that I was quite disappointed in the selection of Gates, but that his performance has been far from disappointing. I suspect he has also been very active in the aspects of the GWOT that we cannot see and that this success was part of The One’s decision to retain him in place.

    Given that Gates is a former DCI and career employee of CIA and given that the primary problems at the CIA are its involvement in domestic political intrigues, it makes a lot of sense to put a politician in place to clean it up. I suspect that the CIA will not go away, but that the Directorate of Operations will be making substantial contributions to deficit reduction and will wither on the vine if not disappear. DIA will become much more involved in covert ops, either directly or through subcontractors.

    I believe many Washington insiders recognize what is going down and are upset exactly because the CIA will lose a lot of its ability to play games in domestic politics. Sources will be drying up. Playing political footsie will not be the same career builder at DIA that it was at CIA. This is a major victory for OpSec.

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