Intelligence: How the CIA Lost It's Middle

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December 6, 2005: The CIA is undergoing a very stressful period, brought about by a massive recruiting program (of analysts and field operators), and the introduction of lots of new technology (especially for the analysts) and techniques. This is 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. 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 wrote 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. But after 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, over 100,000 applications have been received. The agency has had a hard time keeping up with that.

This 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 have a situation where the field ops 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.)

The area 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.)

So far, there's been most chaos and a lot of seeming activity. Not much in the way of results, at least as far as the FBI and troops are concerned. While the CIA is actually producing more information, and analysis of it, their traditional clients (FBI and the military), have expanded their own intelligence gathering capabilities, which is forcing the CIA to rethink the way it does business, and cooperates with others. Thus one unexpected, and largely unnoticed, result of 911, is a much changed, some say transformed, CIA. No one will know for sure for another five or ten years.

 


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