by Alan Simpson
Burying CIA Mistakes
There is one argument for renaming, and splitting up the CIA the politicians aren't discussing on camera, that of burying half a century of very public screw ups!
Even if the CIA was renamed Langley Country Club it wouldn't matter for in the public's mind it would be the end of a thoroughly disagreeable taste in their mouths. For Joe Public doesn't know how invaluable the agency is, or of the essential work it has performed. The fact is that in public it has botched everything from the Bay of Pigs, through Guatemala, to 9/11, and many things in between. It totally missed the Arab/Israeli 6 day War, and learned of the Indian Nuclear Tests from CNN.
Of course splitting up the Agency at this moment in time is a totally stupid move, but President Bush doesn't mind doing stupid things. The Congress have to shoulder much of the blame for 9/11, Iraq and the other problems facing the US. But at the moment the highest profile political football is the dysfunctional intelligence gathering network. There is little political capital in reforming Congressional oversight.
A couple of years ago I rattled many cages by suggesting reform and retooling of the NSA and CIA on the academic IntelForum.org. My suggestions were constantly ridiculed by the Old Guard of retired employees of the NSA and CIA. One particularly offensive series of exchanges with an ex-spokesman of NSA, a Mr Mike Levin should be read by all those fighting for their jobs today. At that time anyone with current insight of intelligence gathering should have seen the looming storm clouds. But these vocal storm troopers of the "Way they were" would hear no criticism, suggestions and offers of media assistance with their upcoming plight.
There was an interesting TV program, The Agency which showed the CIA as out of control, attacking people in the USA, and conducting operations in clear violation of any Code of Ethics created by Congress. The PR unit at Langley should have worked more closely with the scriptwriters. I won't even touch the film Enemy of the State which many people still believe is true.
The International Spy Museum has failed to deliver what it promised, although a commercial success it hasn't really embraced the genre and created large scale understanding of the process of intelligence. I do agree it is a successful themed attraction for downtown Washington, DC and an employment source for retired FBI and CIA staff.
In all the taxpayers, and voting public don't see much return for their $40,000,000, 000 in a time when most families are struggling to pay the bills, and millions are risking death because they haven't the money to pay for their medications.
Notice for the Slime Merchants I haven't criticized the work of the CIA and NSA. I have criticized their public perception! Just for extra effect, in view of these critics with failing eyesight, and body functions I have made public perception bold.
For it is public perceptions that are driving the political process in Washington. Facts have never bothered our elected, or appointed leaders. Its all about votes.
The politicians know the successes, they also know that because of their security classification the public (voters) do not.
The latest statements of a completely new intelligence structure, highly efficient, well equipped, and well funded is a dream beyond the abilities of Washington. It exists in the realm of Virtual Reality, like the Department of Homeland Security.Oh yes it a great concept, and plays well in televised news conferences. But if any of these Congressional Committee members think Donald Rumsfeld will allow Young Bush to sign anything that takes away his powers, or budgets they are smoking something exotic.
Donald Rumsfeld knows he has the public perceptions on his side, the successful invasion of Iraq, and Kuwait. The failures in Iraq were clearly the fault of George Tenet, adequately portrayed in his many televised appearances before Congress. He misled Secretary of State Colin Powell to make a fool of himself, and the USA before The United Nations. Just look at the video on your TV screen, Tenet is behind Powell whispering lies into his ear! The power of television images.
Try prying military intelligence away from the military.
The NSA is military. The myth of Echelon has grabbed the imagination of the public. In times of constantly being reminded that we are in a war against terrorism the fact that this military agency can listen into Bin Laden's cellphone from a cave in remote Afghanistan is WoW!! James Bond.
Don't mess with that, its Wow! James Bond.
Reality hasn't ever been a strong point in the perceptions of the average voter.
The other spaghetti agencies seem to be all about pouring over maps and photographs of tanks and soldiers. Boring, boring, boring. That clearly is for soldiers, for they spend hours looking at maps, watch any war movie to find out for yourself.
So far Joe Public wonders if it would be better to give the whole lot to Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon.
But the public are crying out to do something and reform the intelligence agencies. They are totally fed up with hearing Intelligence Failures whenever they turn on the TV News.
The politicians have made their sweeping statements in a crucial election year. It's too late to turn back, and so something very visible must be done, in the full glare of the TV floodlights.
The problem is that to do something useful and creative will take years. These politicians haven't got months let alone years.
The easiest road to easing public anger and getting maximum political capital is to change the management of the CIA, and it's name. Make it part of another entity, and remove all traces of half a century of visible disasters.
Will this help intelligence gathering and analysis. Hell no!
But the centralized intelligence agencies are ineffective against a stateless, distributed and low tech terrorist threat. You could send them all on vacation for six months and the search for Bin Laden would not be affected. India and Pakistan may be destroyed by nuclear war, and China may have grabbed Taiwan, but these issues aren't front and center in Washington, obsessed with one single act of terrorism.
Washington politics is about sound bites on the evening news and this is a made for TV movie. That is what the retired and present employees of intelligence services don't seem to realize. It doesn't matter how good you know you are, it's how good the public thinks you are that matters.
The NSA had half a good idea with The National Cryptological Museum, then made it almost impossible to find, and access.
The CIA should have created a similar resource on the main road, by the gates of Langley. That valuable real estate will probably now be available to real estate developers when CIA are absorbed into the lower value real estate in Maryland. They could have had control over their public perception.
Now it's up to the politicians, and their media and re-election advisers.
Looking at a similar concept, The Department of Homeland Security, it will be something between a horror movie, and The Keystone Cops.