Friday, May 12, 2006

Lost purpose in the CIA

Daniel Henninger elucidates the dividing line between the CIA now and the CIA before the fall of the Berlin Wall -- lacking a raison d'etre. Large bureaucracies need a defining mission. During the Cold War, that was easy to identify and define: thwart, undermine and defeat the USSR and its intentions. Since the Cold War, the CIA has lost its way, whereas the Defense Intelligence Agency is stepping into the breach to some degree:

From 1950 to 1991, America's enemy took the form of a country with hundreds of ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads aimed at the U.S. mainland, and a global espionage force called the KGB with a single address, Moscow. This was the Cold War, and in those days the U.S. intelligence community had a common worldview. That ideology was laid out in the now-famous National Security Council document 68, delivered in April 1950 to President Harry Truman. The Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb the previous August.

NSC-68's first page--"Background of the Current Crisis"--describes a Soviet Union that is "animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world." NSC-68's chapter headings were not about mere policy but the basics, describing "The Fundamental Purpose of the United States" and "The Underlying Conflict in the Realm of Ideas and Values Between the U.S. Purpose and the Kremlin Design."

Who could disagree? Well, many did--ceaselessly outside the government, mostly in academic centers and policy journals. It was a lively, titanic debate. But not inside the government, or at least nothing that compares to what has been leaking out about the war on terror. The most serious bureaucratic disputes within the government's Cold War intelligence agencies involved disagreements over arms-reduction proposals in the SALT talks and the like. But there was no serious disagreement with the ideology or threat described in NSC-68.

Even the leakers and turncoats were rarely antiAmerican, instead they usually were motivated by greed. The US defectors to the USSR were never of the importance of Kim Philby or Donald Burgess. Today's disagreements are geared to publicly undermine the government's stated policy, as Henninger notes:

Today we have neither institutional discipline nor a shared ideology. The foundational U.S. document in the war on terror is the June 2002 Bush Doctrine, a response to September 11. But here the threat itself is debated endlessly. Islamic terror has no address. Obviously swaths of the national security bureaucracy--the Pillars, Wilsons and McCarthys--not only don't buy into the Bush Doctrine but feel obliged to take their disagreements with it outside the government. Since Vietnam, a war as in Iraq is no longer a national commitment but a policy matter.

As a result, the security bureaucracies have become a confused tangle of oppositional ideas over the war in Iraq, discrete policies such as the warrantless wiretaps, and the nature of the threat from Islamic terror. Out of this confusion of policy and purpose have fallen leaks as sensitive as the al Qaeda secret prisons and as oh-golly-gee as yesterday's "leak" about the government analyzing billions of phone-call patterns to pick up terrorist activity.

. . . [But] using a privileged, confidential position inside an intelligence agency to blow up a U.S. government's war policy isn't "dissent." It's something else.

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