Potential Upheaval At The CIA

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 24, 2009

So reports ABC News, indicating that Director Leon Panetta is tired of reporting through Admiral Dennis Blair, angry about reports that CIA officials may get prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department, and angry as well about other aspects of his job. One sympathizes somewhat with Panetta; apart from dealing with Robert Gates, who is exceedingly competent and who, of course, has experience with the CIA, I cannot imagine that there is much joy involved in working with other members of the Obama national security team. After all, Hillary Clinton is increasingly demonstrating that she brings nothing to Foggy Bottom save a famous name, and James Jones remains very much an outsider in the Administration, with constant talk of his ouster or resignation swirling around him.

Recall that we were told that it did not matter that Panetta had no intelligence experience, that he would adjust very well to the demands of being Director of Central Intelligence (DCI). That does not appear to be the case, and I have a hard time believing that Panetta’s lack of experience helped him get off on the right foot with CIA. According to the ABC report, there are already deliberations afoot concerning a replacement, and “informal discussions” are taking place with “candidates.” Anyone who thought that Panetta’s tenure would mean that CIA would finally enjoy some stability at the top of the food chain has another think coming.

I suppose, by the way, that I could point out that there were serious problems with the vetting of Panetta, seeing as how he is clearly not a good fit at CIA or in the Obama Administration. I know that the standard rule is that only Republicans ought to get criticized for their vetting procedures, but only the most purblind and partisan person on the port side of politics could still maintain that line.

Of course, it would not be fair to put all of the blame for the current situation on the inner workings of the Obama Administration. At least part of that blame ought to go to the Bush Administration and Congress for having designed an unworkable intelligence operations system. The intelligence reforms of the Bush Administration, well-meaning though they might have been, have only confused the bureaucratic situation in the intelligence community, and to the extent that Panetta’s potentially imminent departure has to do with his frustrations about having to work through Blair, those intelligence reforms are clearly to blame. I warned against the creation of an overlapping system in which a DCI would have to work with a National Intelligence Director (NID) (see also this). It gives me no pleasure to report that in addition to the utterly unnecessary increase in the intelligence bureaucracy, the intelligence reforms of the Bush era have led to inevitable and predictable situations in which DCIs would clash with NIDs, and the work of the intelligence community would suffer thanks to the attendant soap operas.

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