One of a national government’s chief jobs is to provide security for its citizens. Specialized organizations are established to carry out this essential task, including offensive and defensive agencies with varying approaches featuring military, policy, and intelligence perspectives. So there you have your armies, your think tanks, and your gatherers of secrets. Done right, all the citizens should feel safe and proceed without worry to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as the U.S. Declaration of Independence would have it. Done wrong, the citizens are subjected to all sorts of restrictions, from travel to communication and access to information. Belief in the integrity and morality of leaders is in the balance as well.
Most American support the troops deployed in combat zones. But many no longer trust that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), operating in the same foreign theaters and targeting specific terrorists, is delivering even adequate information of national security significance. Proof not needed was the killing of seven CIA officers by an apparent double agent in Pakistan last December. Heads should roll, figuratively speaking, for that particular debacle, but it is likely that bureaucratic red tape will seal up the details, protect any responsible parties, and/or blame those already dead.
Reform of the CIA, an agency sometimes derided as insular, bloated, and inept, is currently under the purview of Leon Panetta, a generally well-regarded political veteran and expert manager. Since heading up the agency in early 2009, Panetta has come out firmly against previously sanctioned interrogation techniques described by many in no uncertain terms as torture. He has proved his mettle in turf battles with competing intelligence-industry organizations. Insisting on attention to the basics, he has promoted foreign-language requirements for case officers assigned overseas. Amazingly, such requirements were never standard in the six-decade history of the CIA.
Leon Panetta, a native Californian who became a noted Washington insider, has experience as a lawyer, a Congressman, a White House staffer, and a founder of an educational public policy institute. He is on familiar terms with Obama Administration officials as well as with Congressional movers and shakers. Despite some concerns that Panetta may have gone native, become an apologist for espionage professionals, Panetta still looks to be the best hope for prodding the various analysts, bureaucrats, and operatives into producing real results, like actually finding Bin Laden, decimating the Taliban, and providing useful intelligence for thinly spread armed forces, U.S. and NATO units, attempting to pacify that strange and dangerous place known as Afghanistan. Moreover, delivering key insights into what’s going on in North Korea, Iran, and other potential trouble spots should be achievable goals. World-class management skills and political savvy, combined with a steady moral compass, may yet accomplish what others, notably George Tenet, could not–presenting a reputable CIA, confident and exuding 21st-century intelligence expertise Americans can respect and others can applaud.
“Statement on CIA Casualties in Afghanistan”, CIA Press Release
Philip Giraldi, “Counter Intelligence”, The American Conservative
Gary Schmitt, “Catfights Inside U.S. Intelligence”, The Weekly Standard
Jane Mayer, “The Secret History”, The New Yorker