26 May 2006

The Meaning of Hayden's Confirmation

One of the administration's strongest proponents of illegal warrantless spying on American's phone conversations during his tenure as NSA director from 1999-2005, the four star Air Force General Michael Hayden, has been confirmed 78-15 by the U.S. Senate to the post of CIA director. He is the first military office to fill this civilian intelligence agency leadership post in 25 years. He currently is the top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

He replaces former intelligence committee Congressman Peter Goss who alienated a large share of the career agents at the agency in his brief and tumultuous tenure and was believed to be implicated in scandals involving poker parties with prostitutes designed to influence key government contracts.

Hayden's appointment sends a great many bad signals. It points to a militarization of U.S. intelligence operations, at the hands of someone more attuned to planning air strikes of the type U.S. military planners no doubt have planned as an option for action against nations like Iran or North Korea, rather than someone oriented to the Iraq style counter-insurgency and "War on Terror" style anti-terrorism missions that Marine and Army doctrine make generals familiar with considering. It puts a man whose backgrond is in electronic surveillance and spy satellites at a moment in our history when there is a widespread consensus that the nation needs to remphasize human intelligence (i.e. spies) and recognize the limits of high technology spying. It rewards someone who has shown a manifest disregard for the law and the constitution, signaling that the President intends unlawful covert actions such as extraordinary rendition and torture to continue at the CIA.

Disappointingly, most Democrats backed his appointment anyway, allowing his nomination to move through the Senate with remarkable speed, signaling that they, once again, have chosen not to protect American's civil liberties from a lawless administration a priority. He should have been impeached, not promoted repeatedly.

The intelligence community needs a major overhaul. It has too many agencies. It compartamentalizes access to the information it gathers so closely that the value of the information is diminished -- making the task of "connecting the dots" virtually impossible. It devotes vast resources to gathering information with dubious relevance. And, perhaps most important, for knowing the inside details of operations is always difficult, the community is producing results that are at best uninformative, and at worst, counterproductive.

CIA torture and rendition practices show little if any sign of having produced major results in the "war on terror", but have definitively alienated almost all of our European allies, reducing our ability to obtain cooperation from them. Our most important Iraq War and Afghan War ally, Britain is berating us for our actions. Italy, whose territory is home to our most important air base for Middle Eastern operations, has a warrant our for the arrest of a number of CIA agents.

The CIA failed to get the administration to acknowledge that the intelligence leading up to the Iraq War was wrong. This failure, publicized by incorrect claims touted on a national stage at the United Nations by Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State, has set back CIA credibility for decades. And, the memory of the CIA's utter failure to notice that the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse in the late 1980s won't be quickly forgotten either.

The leak of the identity of Valerie Plame has revealed an administration willing, indeed, eager, to betray those who reveal blunders like the fraudulent Nigerian uranium claim made in the President's State of the Union address disclosed by Plame's husband. We will never know, but it is entirely possible that covert operatives and sources who worked with Plame may end up dead as a result of the leak.

Yet, while the CIA has been publically muted about the Plame affair, Hayden has been vocal in his fierce desire to punish those who, rather than revealing classified operational secrets, have instead revealed illegal activity by the agency in general terms, allegations that were not appropriately addressed through normal agency channels by supervisors.

John Negroponte has the authority to dramatically overhaul the U.S. intelligence scene. Thus far, it isn't obvious that he's done anything other than to set up house and added an extra layer of bureacracy between the CIA and the President. A far more dramatic shakeup is necessary and he is really the only person in a good position to make it happen. Let's hope that he has vision necessary to make the kind of bold reorganization and remphasis of the intelligence community's operations and doctrine necessary to give the U.S. the kind of intelligence community that our democratic nation needs and deserves. When the dust settles, many organizations, the CIA among them, should probably no longer exist at all.

The appointment of Hayden to the post of CIA director is one more sign that reform within the existing CIA structure is hopeless.

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