A “Devine” case of Special Pleading

Dniseal_small_1 "Admittedly, the CIA has suffered greatly in recent years primarily because of policy shortfalls and leadership issues. But no one should underestimate the quality of its staff, its foreign ties and its unique capabilities, which are the cornerstone of the intelligence community. These strengths remain the base for building a robust intelligence agency.

Because Congress was instrumental in setting up the DNI, there may be an inclination there to avoid the issue and the embarrassment that its poor performance could cause to those who supported its creation and who still mistakenly point to it as the reason there has not been another terrorist attack in the United States. But our ability to tackle the national security challenges of this decade is central to our survival and should trump any hesitation to confront this issue head-on, even if it means scrapping the ill-conceived notion of the DNI and its super-bureaucracy.

If Congress is reluctant to initiate the review, a broad-based private-sector initiative should be undertaken to jump-start public debate about the state of U.S. intelligence — a debate that never took place in 2004. The key issues that unfold from this debate should be high on the new president’s agenda for change."  Jack Devine


I don’t believe I have ever met Devine.  My CIA friends all know him, and think well of him.  They should.  In this oped he is making a brave attempt to resuscitate a dead past, to return the CIA to its previous status as the overlord of the intelligence community.

The reforms he is unhappy with reduced the CIA to the status of primary responsibility for overseas espionage (HUMINT) on behalf of the US government.

Before the reforms, the CIA had that reponsibility and also controlled the actions and in large part the budgets of most of the other agencies of the intelligence community.

They had that control because the head of the CIA then also "wore" another "hat" as head of the community.  Unfortunately, THAT CIA used the community head role of its director to ruthlessly obstruct and hamstring the function and development of the other agencies whenever it could or wished.  THAT CIA also had primacy in the peacetime covert actions for which they were well known.  THAT CIA also controlled the National Intelligence Council where National Estimates are written.  If you don’t think that was important, think of the Iraq NIE of October, 2002.

The CIA has lost all those functions to the Director of National Intelligence or to the armed forces.  So sad.  I like it this way and think the country is better served.

How do I know all this?  I will post a photo of my scars.  When Devine says "intelligence professionals" he means CIA people.  pl


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21 Responses to A “Devine” case of Special Pleading

  1. J says:

    so mr. devine is just a wee bit ‘prejudice’ against mi types, and is also ‘narrow-minded’ in his definition of ‘intelligence professionals’.
    one now has to wonder just how ‘smooth and un-scar-d’ that mr. devine’s backsides are compared to seasoned/experienced ‘scar-d’ mil keesters. hmmmm……i’ll put my nickles in the corner of the ‘scar-d’ mil keesters anyday, guess that’s cauze i’m just a wee bit ‘prejuduced’ in favor of mil scar experience over civi baby-powder smoothie diapered types.

  2. Babak Makkinejadq says:

    Col. Lang:
    Is this not hyperbole?
    “our ability to tackle the national security challenges of this decade is central to our survival ”
    Surely the survival of the United States is not at stake here?

  3. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I do think that this is hyperbole. He should know better. pl

  4. Walrus says:

    The trouble with intelligence is ultimately one of trust.
    Is/was a threat real? Was Switzerland really going to attack America until the CIA foiled its dastardly plot at birth, leaving no trace? Or was the whole thing a ploy to increase the spying budget?
    My personal view (based on no experience whatever other than LeCarre novels)is that academics and intellectuals are best equipped to manage (and survive) in this murky world.
    Of course if you then accept Col. Lang’s position regarding the education of Military Officers, then this is no bar to their participation.

  5. china_hand says:

    The fight, i would suggest, is a fight among the overwhelmingly influential boomer-generation for the love and attention of the mass of others who have followed them. A fight, in other words, among figures of authority who fear more for the legacy they leave behind than for the future envisioned by those they supposedly serve.
    Thus, i think Mr. Devine is arguing at a rhetorical disadvantage, with a vocabulary incapable of adequately expressing his own misgivings. I think what motivates him is less to return the CIA to its overlord glory and more to return to some time when intelligence agencies were still able to limit each other. Of course there was corruption. Yes, such flimsy stopgaps are open to the sort of manipulation that people like Clinton(s) and Blair excelled at. But there are benefits, too, and these seem to have been utterly ignored by all.
    So in effect, i agree with him; the office of the DNI will gain only evil for the U.S. Remember, the CIA was invented as a counter-balance to Hoover’s FBI. In the office of the DNI we have a return to that same top-down, overarching control of the Hoover era, a power so great that even Roosevelt couldn’t overcome it. It took Eisenhower — a military Leader — to see the only way out; he gave what he could, and a warning, and we’ve ignored it.
    We have returned to that era of fear-mongering and suspicion of our neighbors, but this time we are without any of the counterbalances of community and camaraderie that helped to set it right. Just as in the 1930’s, all of the secret and advisory pathways to our four-year Executive are now concentrated into a single office, subsumed under the twin mantles of “DNI” and “Homeland Security”. But now, the “Executive” is far more powerful and unanswerable.
    The trends in recent years have been more than evident for those of us unconnected peons who — lacking a uniform, money, or political connection of any sort — are forced to deal with unpleasant and hostile agents at the gateways to airports and border-crossings, or even — as my last time back proved — on streetcorners, or the town square. It seems absurd to say it, but the overwhelming consensus among foreigners (and many natives) is that travel in the civilized world remains much more pleasant and fair so long as one is able to avoid the U.S. and its airlines.
    That’s the greatest danger to U.S. influence, and it’s entirely a product of ourselves.
    While i have always supported divesting the CIA of its overwhelming influence, my own inclinations are that Mr. Devine’s plea — as imperfect as it is — is at least voicing a more rational and balanced system than the one that has replaced it.
    I have a lot of respect for MI. I also have a lot of respect for the FBI, CIA, and DEA (almost none for the BATF and Immigration, though).
    However, subsuming all of these agencies under a single cabinet-level post filled with bureaucrats who will rarely leave their offices terrifies me — and the last few years have seemed to bear out my fears.

  6. Curious says:

    This decade has only 2 more year left. I think the chance of surviving that is quite high.
    Joking aside, I think what will cause the biggest problem is “uni-polar” view, specially policy review and paper coming out of institution like Pentagon.
    This ultimately will produce soviet like condition, paranoid, seeing the entire world as potential enemy, and the usual bunker mentality that follows.
    One only needs to see large weapons purchases, long term investment and programs. (SDI, carrier, hypersonic bomber, large satellite, various permanent bases, central asian adventure, and massive domestic spying database.)
    The large trend seems to return to pre WWI, situation. Where most global wealth is produced from interaction between Europe and Asia while US retracted to the new world.
    The forces are all the usual ones: geography, human resources, population density, capital movement, stability and maturation of larger institution in europe and Asia.
    Basically: it’s easier for people, capital and corporations to move around in Europe and Asia.
    Taiwan case will be an important indicator. It will tell the shape of US – China relationship.
    CIA will be pretty much act like any other secret service when government is in decline. It will help accelerate by a) poaching the best minds and taking out resource needed b) tool of oppression and maintaining corrupt leadership and c) ultimately turn into rouge organization during internal factional war. (Story like this is a dime a dozen and generally works the same everywhere.)

  7. frank durkee says:

    It seems odd to me that at a time when the business model has been to flatten hierarchy the executive has been adding more layers. There is something about having a clear bottom line, profit or loss that focuses the mind on getting on the right side of that equation. Government and business are not the same and yet there are probably some very astute lessons to be learned from global businesses for ou organization of government. First make sure that every level has a clear task, that is required for effectiveness; and if that cannot be demonstrated get rid of it. Trust more to learning from mistakes, than creating multiple organizational units to try and avoid them. There is an unmistakable tendency to move decisions upward in the hierarchy, move toward rewarding competency at lower levels and allow decision making at the lowest effective layer. The key from the top is ‘trust and verify’, but don’t impede. Ass this requires real clarity of goals and objectives with the operational capacity to deliver them. Add to that genuine accountability. Without accountability all goals and objectives and operations tend to become blurred and lose their clarity, Finally preserve the voice of those who disagree, challange them bur respect their challanges to the larger system.i.e. “The emperor has no clothes guys”.

  8. john in the boro says:

    Too bad we didn’t get a “Devine” case for pulling the plug on the Department of Homeland Security as well. The DNI and the DHS are the lowest cost political accounting for the attacks of September 11, 2001. Rather than correct procedural and performance deficiencies including that of office holders, the government decided on the less personally embarrassing institutional reform or, more correctly, expansion. Despite the “Devine” case for a return to pre-DNI days, the only thing harder to kill than a cockroach is a federal agency. As for the old DCI role as head of the IC, I always found it amusing that an agency head had any, albeit limited, authority over the resources of cabinet secretaries.

  9. Charles I says:

    Pat, I’ll rely on your expertise to believe that the DNI system better serves the U.S. But surely the DNI post will remain hostage to partisan and bureaucratic siloing, infighting, endless pissing matches and the vagaries of political appointments.
    Can a government of an ilk that vets Green-zoners by whether they voted x or y, go to church and oppose abortion be trusted to put the nation’s interests above their own partisan and religio-ideological imperatives? Particularly in a situation where more layers of hierarchy allow more partisans to be seeded, and more access points/layers for political interjection into objective intelligence requirements, and a dispersal of accountability replete with layer upon layer for the shit to roll down hill? We have seen these imperatives destroy the U.S. reputation, the constitution, the economy, national security and the lives of thousands and thousands of American families – and castigate concerned interlocutors as traitors and ignoramuses. There has been precious little accountability for any of it. Tenet wears a medal. Shrub is not impeached. A new Congress is supine. All the candidates back Israel to the hilt, surely inviting more tails wagging dogs.
    A political appointment can change this? An election did squat.

  10. Andy says:

    The dual-hat CIA is gone – good riddance and I hope it never comes back.
    That said, the 2004 reforms were an imperfect improvement – no surprise there. It’s still way too early in my opinion to pass judgment on the new system.
    Personally, I had hoped the NRO would be abolished as it’s the only “intelligence” agency that produces no intelligence and prefers complicated expensive solutions to intelligence problems over all others.

  11. “Personally, I had hoped the NRO would be abolished as it’s the only “intelligence” agency that produces no intelligence…”
    Quite frankly, unless you worked there, I’d be very surprised if you knew enough about their mission to make such a statement. We never knew what the Hell they were doing. I think we had some guys read on to their mission and supporting some gear in a mysterious room, but they kept their mouth shut about who owned that stuff and the rest of us were just guessing.

  12. Question? The culture of intelligence seems to require careers of 20 and out in both the military and civilian arena. Why is this so? Could this be a reform?Bottomline is who determines the approximately $45B is well spent?

  13. Pan says:

    Pat, I agree with you that CIA dinosaurs like Devine are pining for the good old days when they had the run of the IC. That culture still exists to a great degree and the secretiveness of the CIA, especially the NCS, continues. But with the rest of the community getting along pretty well, the CIA will be irrelevant if they continue to play these games and not delivering results. The DNI certainly has its share of problems. It needs to remain a small organization, not become another massive CMS. But overall some of the technical innovations it is pursuing like Intellipedia are winners.

  14. As a follow-on from my post last night.
    All I can say is Holy Crap!
    Back in my day, the NRO was a very closed door organization.
    Now they have a website that explains all!
    Wow. I’ve been out of the intel business too long.
    I hereby declare myself 100% obsolete.

  15. jonst says:

    I find the last two posts on the Col’s site somewhat ironic.
    You can have all the reforms in the world. Or none of them. You pick the wisest people in the world to work in the intel community. Or the dumbest. Is any of it going to make much of a difference if we are swiftly becoming a nation “of illiterates”? Which, by the way, i think we are. Or do we imagine that we can erect some firewall, with the illiterates on one side…and the wise on the other? In govt? I have seen little evidence that this is possible. And a great deal of evidence that indicates it is impossible. We seem to be getting the leaders we deserve as a nation. Perhaps in the coming crisis, this long march backwards will finally stop. And, hopefully reverse.

  16. Yes, I’ve slid off onto a tangent…
    There is just something deeply disturbing about the NRO developing a children’s website:
    NRO’s Junior Site
    (Warning – turn up your speakers and venture into the menu options at your peril.)
    Us SIGINT guys remember the days when the NRO’s mere existence was classified.
    Time to lose myself in more WC Fields movie clips on YouTube.

  17. Pan says:

    The NRO couldn’t hide once everyone knew where their fancy headquarters were. It’s pretty hard to miss. Kinda like the NSA sign on the BW Parkway.

  18. Andy says:

    Yeah, the NRO was forced into the limelight by a series of scandals and the need to justify its budget to Congress.
    It’s essentially a middle-man that controls large portions of the budget for IMINT and SIGINT Former heads of the NSA and NGA (NIMA) have little good to say about the NRO and would much prefer total control over satellite procurement. For a particularly brutal criticism of the NRO, look at former NSA director William Odom’s book “Fixing Intelligence.”

  19. china_hand says:

    Having witnessed your past blog-level interactions with Larry Johnson, i am curious to know what you think about this latest post of his, which was published today:
    Should i presume that, regarding these observations, you are in fundamental disagreement with him?

  20. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The post on NQ is really from Mel Goodman. In looking at it I don’t see much to criticize so long as the sub-text is not “let’s solve all these problems by putting the CIA back in charge of everything.” pl

  21. china_hand says:

    Thank you for the clarification, Colonel.

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