After yesterday’s boffo performance by James Clapper and Leon Panetta, conservatives are justifiably upset at our intelligence community.
But there’s nothing new about this, as this wrap on the CIA’s (in particular) uninspiring performance in the Cold War, from Derek Leebaert’s The Fifty Year Wound: The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory should remind us:
In a complex world, we will always be taken by surprise. What occurred during the Cold War, however, and what carries on today, is the absence of an institutional cushion – such as a top intelligence capability – to prevent the country from often stumbling badly. And from laying itself open to assault.
In adding up the price of Cold War victory, the cost of the Central Intelligence Agency is unique. No other single government body has blundered so often in so many ways integral to its designated purpose. Yet another comprehensive review of U.S. intelligence capabilities, ordered by President Bush early in 2001, was already under way when America was attacked. Led by the director of Central Intelligence, and calling upon other establishment experts, it was focusing on ways to end bureaucratic rivalries, to cut waste, and to improve the clandestine service. Even at that time, no attention was paid to prospects for radical change – let alone going as far as Patrick Moynihan, long a member of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, had urged: disband the Agency and give its vital analytical and intelligence gathering functions to the Pentagon (which already handles 85 percent of the intelligence community budget) and the State Department, which could then finally fund a larger, even more accomplished corps of Foreign Service Officers. Since the Agency needs to continue in some form, given that its key function is to steal secrets, it has to be smarter, which does not at all mean bigger.
Ever since the 1970’s, conservatives have felt duty-bound to defend the CIA. But it’s time to face reality. Although Moynihan’s proposal isn’t the cure-all, it’s a start, and our new Congress could do worse than make major changes in the way we gather intelligence.
And the performance of the Obama Administration in its handling of the Egyptian crisis brings this (from a 2007 post) back to memory:
This kind of scenario invites conspiracy theorists. And I’m sure there are people out there (such as George Soros) who are pleased with this weakening. It’s the same question that Pavel Miliukov asked the Russian Duma in 1916 over a litany of Tsar Nicholas II’s mistakes (one of which actually buoyed the stock market:) “Is this stupidity, or is this treason?” In the case of Imperial Russia, it was mostly the former, and I suspect that it is also the case here. But, as Miliukov went on to say, “Choose either one, the consequences are the same.”
And those consequences aren’t pleasant to contemplate.