Precinct 333

Saturday, November 27, 2004

A Reflection On The CIA Shake-Up

Recent headlines about the "purge" being conducted by Porter Goss at CIA are causing me to flash back to my younger days.

While in grad school about 15 years ago, I applied to work for the CIA, made it through all of the low-level testing and meetings and was invited to Langley for an interview (I wrote a paper for an Asian Politics class about relations between the PRC and Taiwan that impressed someone ).

One of the reasons I turned down that interview was a conversation I had with one of the recruiters. I expressed an interest in being in the Directorate of Operations. For those not familiar with the CIA, that is the part that deals with clandestine operations, agents in the field, and the "hands on" work of intelligence gathering. The recruiter's response was telling.

"Oh, no, you don't want to be in Ops," he told me. "That's not what we do any more. The real action and advancement is in the Directorate of Intelligence, doing analysis of foreign intelligence agency reports, satellite reconnaissance photos, and the stuff that Ops brings in. And you'll probably never have to relocate outside of the Washington area."

The recruiter made it clear that the agency wasn't looking for "James Bond wannabes," and that such field work had pretty much been marginalized since the Carter administration.

Which took me back to an earlier memory as a junior high kid. My father was career Navy, and spent a fair chunk of time in military intelligence. The day that Carter appointed Adm. Stansfield Turner to run CIA, I remember my father telling my mother that it was "bad news."

After hearing that recruiter about a decade later, I finally understood what my father meant. Following the excesses of the 1960s and early 1970s, it was Turner's job to "rein-in" a rogue agency. But in doing so, Turner changed the culture from one of intelligence gathering to one of paper pushing. It appears to me that Porter Goss is trying to change that culture by rooting out the spinners, leakers, and turf-guardians that inhabit any bureaucracy. The reelection of George W. Bush might just give him a chance, if Congress and the press don't get in the way.


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