CIA Turmoil from the View of the Rank and File

What does a change of leadership at the top mean for CIA employees on the ground? Melissa Boyle Mahle, a field officer for 14 years, gives Scott Simon her insights. She wrote Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11.

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What does a change of leadership at the very top mean for a CIA officer or analyst on the ground? Melissa Boyle Mahle was a CIA field officer from 1988 to 2002. She wrote the book, Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11. She joins us on the line. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. MELISSA BOYLE MAHLE (Former CIA Field Officer): Thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: And based on your experience, Ms. Mahle, how much does a change in leadership mean to the people working for the agency?

Ms. MAHLE: Basically our senior-most leadership sets the tone, sets our direction, really has an important impact upon morale. And so when you're down at the bottom in the ranks, working in the field or working as an analyst, one of the things that you really want to feel and believe is that you have a leadership that knows what it wants, knows where it's going, will give clear and concise guidance, and will support the troops. And that, I think, is the most important element and it's been lacking over the past few years.

SIMON: Supporting the troops. What does that mean, exactly? I mean, is it as simple as salary? Is it saying, I'll back you up if you get aggressive or make a mistake? What is it?

Ms. MAHLE: I think it's a combination of factors. From the field perspective, you go out and you conduct operations. You take tremendous risks, and they ask you to take risks. You want to know that as long as you make good judgments and you can support those judgments with, you know, and you have tasking authority to go out and do that particular operation, you want to know that your senior management is going to stand behind you if things don't go well. Now that doesn't mean that you will not be accountable for your actions. For the analyst, it's a little different. It means that when the analyst reaches a conclusion or a set of conclusions and puts those in an analytical paper that's forwarded to the rest of the intelligence community, that the senior-most management or leadership will stand behind that analysis and say, this is the view of our agency, and to not politicize it, to not try to bury it, or to not to try to change the tone of it.

SIMON: I mean, I'm reading between the lines and it's your impression that Mr. Goss did not have that kind of confidence from employees at the CIA. The CIA had missed two or three mighty big things. Why is it the responsibility of the new Director to get along with the bureaucracy? With that kind of track record, isn't it the responsibility of the bureaucracy to try and figure out how to please the new Director?

Ms. MAHLE: I think that's an excellent point, and I think that was the standing that Porter Goss had when he arrived there. It's both incumbent upon the leader and on the organization to step forward and acknowledge, yes, you know, we've had some really poor performance here. You take a look at 9/11 or you look at the intelligence failures associated with Iraqi WMD, and to internalize you say, yes, we need really to go beyond discussion of best practices to dramatic changes in how we do business and how we see our mission and how we, in the processes that we use to accomplish our mission. And unfortunately, that didn't happen over the past couple of years.

SIMON: Reports, of course, this morning that another chief of the CIA is going to be named soon, Air Force General Michael Hayden. Do you know anything about him?

Ms. MAHLE: Yeah. I think this is actually an excellent proposition. First of all, what it will do is it will place a person from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence down into a troubled organization and it will reinforce this new structure that is emerging, and more tightly integrate the CIA into this new vision of the intelligence community. General Hayden, he was able to, after 9/11, really turn around the organization in a way that NSA's employees, they bought onto. And so I think he has a good track record. He comes from the military. That's a good background. So I think it's, overall, a very good mix.

SIMON: Melissa Boyle Mahle, former CIA officer and author of the book, Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11. Thank you very much.

Ms. MAHLE: Thank you.

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