- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

Reforming our intelligence agencies

As a regular reader and adherent of Victor Davis Hanson’s work, I routinely find myself in agreement with his positions. However, in his latest column, “Repairing the CIA” (Commentary, Saturday), an otherwise insightful piece includes some critical and surprising errors, something rarely found in his writings.

In particular, I am disappointed by his assertion that if Gen. Michael Hayden succeeds Porter Goss as director of CIA, he will have to justify an intelligence agency that has become political and lacking in competence. He cites the duplication in State (INR), military branches, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Just like the CIA, all of these organizations have very specific and necessary missions. I would contend that there is minimal overlap or replication. As a former employee who spent 21 years in the intelligence community, I hope that I can offer some clarification.

While State does collect political “intelligence,” what an official of a target country openly tells an embassy officer will differ significantly from what he might disclose to his “case officer” in a clandestine relationship. It is often very revealing to compare and analyze these different threads of information. The missions of the various intelligence arms of the uniformed services also differ from the CIA, as their domain is tactical intelligence for use by field commanders. The FBI has even more of a divergent mission, as it serves as a domestic law enforcement agency with investigative and arrest powers. The CIA has no crime-fighting function. Meanwhile, the NSA collects strategic signals intelligence, while its sister agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, (an organization Mr. Hanson failed to list) collects overhead imagery. Neither of these two products by themselves give any indication of an adversary’s intentions, one of the most critical objectives of intelligence collection, the other being capability. DIA is probably the most similar of the organizations to the CIA. However, they focus on the military information and often move in very different circles.

The efforts of all the members of the intelligence community (IC) make available a collective package of information and analysis to the administration for policy decisions. Throughout my career I often heard the maxim that the IC provides the intelligence; it is up to the president and his cabinet to make the difficult foreign-policy decisions. While there may be some merit to the argument that the CIA has been politicized and there is a perception of incompetence (because any failure is emblazoned across news headlines), I believe that dysfunction is not as deep as popularly believed.

Granted, some major events were not predicted, but that failure can be attributed to all the IC members. At the same time, I would argue that precise reading of the crystal ball was never the intention or expectation of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. There are just too many centers of danger and the world is much more complicated than, say, Dec. 6, 1941. (This is not to say that trying to furnish the best possible information is not a worthy goal and that preventing the likes of Pearl Harbor or September 11 is not possible.) Meanwhile the dedicated professionals within the IC go about their work and are never recognized for the intelligence successes, because by their very nature, they remain secret.

The IC has evolved since the National Security Act of 1947 to become what it is today. It even evolved during my short 20-year tenure, sometimes to the good and sometimes not. Like our democratic system, as bad as it sometimes appears, it is the best in the world. No doubt some future evolution will take place, driven primarily by the nature of the target and technology; hopefully, it will not be in response to political whims.

Mr. Hanson is correct that as director of CIA, Gen. Hayden will have a tremendous challenge, not least of which is to eliminate any possibility of an “arrogant entrenched enclave” of “self-appointed moralists” and those who have forgotten their original mission. We must all hope that any “changing of the deck chairs” will not be at the expense of the professionals who honestly serve their country with skill and dedication. The worst development would be a repeat of the “Halloween Massacre” when Stansfield Turner’s assignment to “clean up” the CIA resulted in the plundering of experience and capability.


North Las Vegas, Nev.

The New Orleans election

It is clear that the runoff election for mayor of New Orleans was not about qualifications or leadership ability; it boiled down to race, with black victor C. Ray Nagin garnering 80 percent support from black voters, the converse for white challenger Mitch Landrieu (“Nagin looks to ‘the process of healing’ after win,” Nation, yesterday).

Mr. Nagin has succeeded in demonstrating that incompetence and racism may be no barrier to retaining high elective office.

Let us recall that although all branches of government failed the people of New Orleans throughout Hurricane Katrina, the first line of defense, local government, was in a state of total collapse and inaction from the start. With the exception of evacuations to the Superdome and Convention Center, which turned calamitous, its “rescue effort” amounted to persistent cries for help from the state and federal governments.

More recently, Mr. Nagin proclaimed his desire to remake New Orleans as a “chocolate city.” If a white politician had made a clear call to make the city majority Caucasian, it would have become a long-running national story; Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would have descended upon the city to demand his resignation, and they would have succeeded.

We get the kind of government we deserve. Apparently, the people of New Orleans deserve Ray Nagin.


Upper Saint Clair, Pa.

Fix the public schools

In “NAACP vs. vouchers” (Commentary, Saturday) Star Parker fails to account for those students who do not use a voucher and are forced by whatever circumstance to remain in a substandard school. It goes without saying that having an opportunity to attend a better school is a positive step with great future benefits.

However, “The poor service provided the black community by the public school monopoly is so notorious many blacks themselves poll in favor of vouchers,” the columnist notes, showing that the real problem is being ignored. If we are really concerned about the public-school system we would fix the schools instead of running from it.

Like the NAACP and the many of us who have had the experience of sending our children through the public school system know, the solution is not to send our children out of the community through vouchers or busing. The public-school system needs to be fixed from the inside and from the ground up. Some of our schools in the poorest communities are in the worst buildings. Coupled with overcrowding, low teacher pay and poor administration, what chance does a child coming from the poorest communities have of success? Why don’t we just give everybody a voucher and close the public-school system in the poor neighborhoods?

If the system is broken why can’t we fix it? We have been able to achieve almost anything, but we can’t fix the problem of the public schools in the poorest communities. Hard work and a well-financed plan can cure a multitude of problems. Spend the most money and put in the most work where it is needed, in the poorest achieving schools in the poorest communities, and keep the vouchers for very special and an exceptional cases.


Upper Marlboro

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