2008: The U.S. Congress is again, as it
did in the 1970s, trying to "rein in" the CIA. Congress wants to outlaw many real, or imagined, techniques that the CIA
has employed since September 11, 2001. Much of this effort is political, to
placate the many people, and politicians, who now take it as fact (or on faith)
that the Islamic terrorist threat was overblown, or that the U.S. response was
not commensurate (and itself a form of terrorism) with the threat.
already been forgotten what the CIA has gone through these past five years.
There was the massive recruiting program (of analysts and field operators), and
the introduction of lots of new technology (especially for the analysts) and
techniques. All this was largely the result of the CIA being put into a sort of
semi-hibernation in the late 1970s. This was an aftereffect of the Church
Committee, an investigative operation sponsored by Congress, that sought to
reform the CIA. The reforms were mainly about eliminating CIA spying inside the
United States, and doing stuff for the president that Congress did not approve
of. There was also a desire to avoid any CIA connection with foreign
unpleasantness (like using unsavory people as spies or informants). This led to
a growing list of restrictions on what the CIA could do overseas, and at home.
Congress was out to make sure no future president (the CIA works for the
president) could use the CIA as had been done during the Vietnam war, and
before. The CIA interpreted this as "no more James Bond stuff," just
use your spy satellites and write up your reports. The Church Committee insured
that the CIA became a much less interesting place to work. A lot of the most
capable people got out over the next two decades. Recruiting became difficult.
September 11, 2001, the CIA was tossed a huge pile of money and told to staff
up and get going. The Church Committee restrictions were largely, if not
completely, discarded. Recruiting efforts were greatly expanded, and since
September 11, 2001, several hundred thousand applications were received. The
agency has had a hard time keeping up with that.
created some interesting personnel problems, especially in the operations
division (the people who go to foreign countries and, well, sometimes do James
Bond stuff.) There were few people left in the agency that remembered how to do
field ops the old school way. By late 2001, many of recently retired field ops
guys were being lured back to active duty. You now had a situation where the
field ops population is like a cross between a college fraternity and
retirement community. There are few people in the middle, age and experience
wise. It's almost as bad in the analysis division (where the data is studied
and reports prepared.)
of the CIA that has flourished in the last three decades has been the geek side
of things. These folks were always flush, thanks to a Congress that felt safer
with spy satellites, than with spies on the ground. But those days are over.
Much of the new technology is going to the analysts (better computerized tools
to dig quickly through information) and the field operatives (like Predator
UAVs, at four million bucks each.) A lot of money is going into training
(learning Arabic, Pushto, Farsi and Dari are encouraged, and sometimes
demanded) and the use of consultants (often former CIA operatives who would not
come back full time.)
restrictions would outlaw things like the use of contractors for interrogations
(even if there were no other source of manpower to do the job in time), the use
of "vigorous interrogation", the detention of foreigners without giving them
access to the U.S. criminal justice system, and many more items that most CIA
officials know, from their own experience, will only get Americans killed. They
know that because they paid attention to what the Church Committee restrictions
did to degrade U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities. However, it looks like history is going to
repeat itself. Not the first time that has happened.