The ongoing shake-up at the CIA is a welcome development for senior Pentagon officials that promises to end the agency’s below-the-radar opposition to some aspects of President Bush’s war on terrorism.
Defense Department sources privately complained that parts of the CIA’s entrenched bureaucracy of analysts opposed the military’s large role in a war against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
Before the September 11 attacks, the CIA had the lead in hunting al Qaeda. Afterward, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took over that role and put the military on a terrorist-hunting mission that trespassed on some CIA roles.
“Let’s just say that a lot of folks over there were still committed to a pre-9/11 way of doing things,” said a Pentagon adviser who has played a significant role in forming counterterror policy. “It still hasn’t changed.”
The adviser added: “They did not want to combine capabilities within the CIA that could improve their analysis and operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
A former senior Pentagon policy-maker said that in discussions with the CIA some analysts left the impression they still did not realize al Qaeda’s growing threat.
“The feeling in the Pentagon was we had been saying for some time that these guys were dangerous and we didn’t get any backing from the CIA,” said the former official, who asked not to be named because he still does business with the Bush administration. “They had neglected the operational decision that they needed to go after these terrorists. If they saw terrorism as a threat, they … sure didn’t act as if they had to respond to it.”
Defense officials said that while Mr. Rumsfeld and former CIA director George J. Tenet maintained a good working relationship, contacts between Pentagon policy-makers and CIA rank-and-file analysts were often testy.
They say analysts expressed opposition to going to war with Iraq and filed overly pessimistic reports that seemed to always leak to the liberal press.
One senior official told The Washington Times last year of an Iraq station chief’s dire predictions on Iraq. The station chief’s report leaked to the press within days of its arrival in Washington. What seemed odd to this Pentagon official was that the dispatch contained a long list of “CCs” all the way down to Navy battle group commanders at sea, meaning tens of thousands saw the report.
“This report was designed to leak,” the official charged.
Today, the CIA’s Langley headquarters is in the throes of a major shake-up. New agency director Porter J. Goss, a former Republican congressman and CIA officer, has seen three top officials — deputy director John McLaughlin and two top clandestine officers — abruptly resign in the past week.
Mr. Goss, who chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, publicly has criticized the CIA for a lackluster operations branch that has failed to recruit agents who can penetrate Islamist groups. Critics say Mr. Goss needs to change the culture at Langley.
“We were unable to recruit agents in the Middle East, so we had to rely on other countries’ agencies,” said the former Pentagon official who read the intelligence take. “We ought to rely on our own people, not just the intelligence of other countries. You don’t really have a picture of where it’s coming from.”
This source said many reports on terrorists come from the intelligence services of Egypt, Jordan and Israel.
Pentagon officials said Mr. Rumsfeld was not always happy with the CIA’s performance in the field. In response, he has worked to give U.S. Special Operations Command authority to collect its own intelligence on which commandos can act in hours or days to kill or capture terrorists.
Officials said Mr. Rumsfeld believed CIA paramilitary officers were too slow to prepare the battle space in the fall of 2001 before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban. In fact, the CIA’s paramilitary force was so poorly staffed, they said the Pentagon was forced to transfer scores of active duty special operations personnel to the CIA to fill out the army.
Mr. Rumsfeld signed a secret order to the Joint Chiefs and U.S. Special Operations Command in July 2002 authorizing commandos to perform some spying activities. Since then, SoCom has increased intelligence training for Green Berets at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Lewis, Wash.
A joint Senate-House Intelligence Committee report in 2002 disclosed that the CIA was never able to have a spy inside senior al Qaeda circles.
“Former [Counter-Terrorism Center] officers told the joint inquiry that before September 11 the CIA had no penetration of al Qaeda leadership, and the agency never got actionable intelligence,” said the panel’s report.
Meanwhile, some in the Pentagon are amused at complaints coming from the CIA about the rough treatment they are getting from Mr. Goss’ imported personal staff.
A defense intelligence official said: “The CIA operations directorate should stop whining. If they can’t stand up to a group of Hill staffers, how can they be expected to stand up to al Qaeda?”