Fixing the CIA

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 5, 2011

And yes, despite the success it had in tracking down Osama bin Laden, the CIA can still use some fixing. Paul Miller has put together a to-do list for David Petraeus. The following stands out as a particularly important task on the list:

Get the analysts out of the shadows.

The Directorate of Intelligence (DI) has the capability of being a leading foreign affairs think tank in the world. Instead, it has largely limited itself to being a massive, overpriced, secretive magazine staff for a readership of one, pouring most of its resources in to the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). Analysts live under a maze of restrictions that bar them from public activities, ostensibly to protect their objectivity and credibility. The restrictions are silly. Instead of enhancing their credibility, the restrictions just isolate them and make contact with other experts in their field difficult, awkward, and sporadic.

Analysts can and should be open and regular participants in the world of academia, think tanks, and conferences, encouraged to publish and speak on their areas of expertise. Their writing may actually have a larger impact if they focus less on the PDB and more on the broader foreign policy establishment, which is where policy is shaped in broad outline before it makes it to the President. Petraeus might even experiment with having the DI publish a regular, unclassified product. It’s not like we keep our classified documents secret anyway.

It is astonishing that analysts are not allowed to interact with other people, people from whom those analysts can learn a great deal–thus improving the product the CIA puts out for intelligence consumers.

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  • Isabel

    This is not practical or possible. The CIA like every other government agency is so infected by diversity and credentialism that real analysis based on facts and critical thinking is almost impossible. Sticking your neck out to actually make a prediction or advocate a course of action will be ruthlessly punished by people in the bureaucracy who are either threatened by you if you are right or will look bad or have their careers damaged if you are wrong. CYA will cause most of them to run in circles and hedge their bets until something good accidentally happens and and someone can claim credit for it

  • Chsw

    It might help the CIA to pay their analysts more.

  • Richc1960

    Isabel is right. After working for 30 years as a Naval Intelligence Specialist there is no hope at CIA. Pay really doesn’t have much to do with it. CIA is just another papermill.

    • Isabel

      Agreed. If the CIA was any good, we would have had Bin Laden 5 years ago. I think the fact that they found him now, was probably due to luck, or some other agencies (most likely active duty Joint Forces intel) putting the pieces together.

      I have nothing but respect for David Petreus, but without the carte blanche authority to both fire and hire at all levels in the CIA, (without going through the rigid PC federal recruiting process), he has no hope. If he does get that authority it will still be years before they would be able to get the mess straightened out.

  • yhandlarz

    How about recruiting people as spies. At least you wouldn’t need to wait for the

    news services to tell you what is happening. You might be able to affect policy.

  • Anonymous

    Effective institutions always seem to end up being made ineffective because of regulations, either internal, or external, which encumber the activity that was their original core competency. It may be that the most appropriate thing to do with the CIA would be to significantly down-size it and fold what functions it does well into another agency, such as the NSA, and allow some enterprising blokes to start a new spy organization from scratch.

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