We have reached the point where the CIA is publicly bucking the right of the Senate Intelligence committee to oversee it. If even half of the charges in Amy Davidson's superb piece are true, the CIA has become totally unmoored and no longer seems even to acknowledge the idea that it has to answer to our elected officials. But you don't have to believe Davidson, or even Dianne Feinstein, to read CIA director John O. Brennan's public statements. Brennan does not speak as if he were answerable to the Senate. When your spies are trying to have the oversight committee's staff arrested, you're down the rabbit hole. Once the spies aren't accountable to the elected leaders, you don't really have a democracy any more.
How to deal with an insubordinate intelligence service? It's a difficult question that the CIA has unfortunately raised before. You can't disrupt their genuinely necessary defense work. But you also can't let them be the ones who decide what's necessary and what's not, or to be the sole judges of their own behavior. Putting in new leadership has been tried. Congressional hearings have been tried. It might be time for the death penalty: not an end to American intelligence work, but the end of a specific dysfunctional intelligence agency. How could that be done?
Step 1: Divide the CIA between other intelligence services. The good news is our complicated security establishment means that the CIA is not the only game in town. The CIA can be carved up, in stages if that's needed to prevent disruption, and transferred to other agencies. Much of the Directorate of Operations, which does the covert-action stuff, could go straight to the Pentagon. Various intelligence-gathering and analysis units could go to the NSA or to military intelligence. A lot of the counter-espionage and domestic counter-terrorism could go to the FBI. Ongoing operations would not be interrupted. But the CIA personnel transferred to those other agencies would be accountable to the supervisors there.
My thinking here is that the CIA certainly contains many valuable officers, but has apparently developed a deep-rooted culture of insubordination to authorities outside the CIA. (I am especially tired of hearing people ask whether the old CIA hands will be willing to accept this or that nominee for Director.) The point here is to keep the officers but break up the unit and its problematic culture. As soon as practical, the former-CIA personnel should be dispersed within their new agencies, so that ex-CIA hands no longer form their own little units or clubs. They need to be supervised, isolated from one another, and absorbed into a different organizational culture.
Of course, an agency that recognizes no authority but its own will resist being broken up, so two more steps would have to be taken right at the beginning:
Step 2. Another authority needs to take immediate custody of ALL CIA records. Either the NSA, the FBI, or some new group created for the purpose needs to take everything the CIA has. The CIA should be able to copy records they need, and to request copies from the custodian, but the custodial agency keeps the originals. Anyone destroying records or holding them back gets charged for national-security crimes. Because destroying or stealing intelligence actually is a crime.
Step 3. A watchdog office needs to be created to supervise CIA employees during the breakup and for at least a decade after. Congress needs to empower a special inspector's office with full security clearance to oversee the CIA's compliance. After all, the agency would be dissolved because of its refusal to comply with authority, and the dissolution would make many of its old hands angry. The new inspector's office would also need a separate criminal-prosecution wing, to whom those who disobeyed lawful commands would be referred. The inspector's office would need to check in periodically on all ex-CIA agents, to make sure they hadn't held onto classified material and that they weren't colluding with each other. And the inspector's office needs to be able to turn their lives inside out if necessary. Those who refuse to accept transfer to new agencies and resign instead should expect the inspector's office to look at them much more closely and much more often. If that means that some ex-spies lose a good deal of their privacy to a surveillance regime in the name of national security, well, it may be us or them.
cross-posted from Dagblog