More Change May Be Coming at CIA

The departure of CIA Director Porter Goss may lead to a new push for plans to refocus the agency on terrorism. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution discusses potential changes in the U.S. intelligence community with Liane Hansen.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The resignation Friday of CIA Director Porter Goss opens the way for the Bush administration to move forward to overhaul the intelligence gathering agency.

The president is expected to nominate Air Force General Michael V. Hayden to the post. Hayden has been deputy to John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence.

Hayden has reportedly pressed hard for a restructuring of the CIA to refocus its efforts on fighting terrorism.

We're joined by Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution here in Washington.

Welcome back to the show, Mike.

Mr. MICHAEL O'HANLON (Brookings Institution): Thanks, Liane.

HANSEN: Did the resignation of Porter Goss surprise you?

Mr. O'HANLON: Absolutely, in the sense that there's no way to put a positive spin on someone leaving after 19 months. And so this is essentially, frankly, a failed tenure by a person who I think is capable and well-liked by many. And so it's regrettable and it's a bit surprising the Bush administration would want to have things come off this way.

But that said, I guess they feel that it's better to get a strong start and have two and a half more years to work under a new person. And Gen. Hayden certainly is capable if he's ultimately the choice.

HANSEN: Now your specialty is military affairs, so how does a refocus on terrorism change this calculus of this intelligence gathering by the United States in relation to military plans and actions?

Mr. O'HANLON: Well, of course, if we're worried about this, as we must be, we have to spend a lot of time and money getting people trained in languages, getting people infiltrated into key Islamic countries, developing contacts in those countries. It puts more of a premium on the human skills and the linguistics skills and the cultural ties, and less of a premium on the hardware, watching, say, the Chinese or Russian militaries.

And so certainly there's a big transition underway. With a $44 billion a year budget, which was a number recently revealed by the Bush Administration, perhaps inadvertently, which is what we spend on intelligence, there's room to do a lot of things. So it's not as if the tradeoff has to be drastic. But there certainly has begun this move, even under Porter Goss, towards more human intelligence and a little bit less relative emphasis on technical assets.

HANSEN: Now, the military has its own large intelligence gathering apparatus, notably the Defense Intelligence Agency. What do the moves that the CIA indicate, if anything, about maybe further changes elsewhere in what is really a sprawling American intelligence community?

Mr. O'HANLON: Well, sprawling is the word. There's more than just the DIA. There are many agencies. Even each military service and each military regional command has its own intelligence wing. And so we're talking about, of that $44 billion I mentioned, perhaps 75, 80, 85 percent is within the DOD budget, and it's probably a dozen organizations within the Pentagon. So you're talking about a lot of overlap.

And Gen. Hayden may be well positioned if he is the choice, because, of course, you might think he would have a natural bias in favor of military intelligence, where there is some competition now between DIA and CIA to do the same thing. But I think Hayden is concerned enough about the mission being effective that he may actually be capable of facing down the Pentagon on this question. Perhaps even better than Porter Goss was.

HANSEN: Let's talk some specifics and turn to our American military men and women who are fighting and dying every day. Iraq and Afghanistan. The insurgency doesn't show any signs of relenting. How is the America military posture adjusting to deal with this continued, what could be called guerilla warfare?

Mr. O'HANLON: Well, the posture is changing only gradually, in the sense the Marine Corps hasn't really rebuilt its force structure. The Army is building a different kind of brigade, but it's not totally focused on counterinsurgency. The main issue I think that's changing is we're training much differently and we're thinking more about counterinsurgency.

The irony here is that a U.S. military that was last defeated in a counterinsurgency, in Vietnam, really decided after Vietnam the main thing that they wanted to do to do better next time was not fight that kind of war. And so there was not really a lot of emphasis on preparing for counterinsurgency in the ensuing years.

Under Gen. Petraeus and others there has become more of an emphasis in the last couple of years, but we weren't that well prepared in 2003. We were in very good shape for high intensity combat, a la Desert Storm, good shape for peacekeeping, a la Bosnia. But the counterinsurgency piece really wasn't properly addressed or trained for. And now that's changing. So the training is I think the main area of improvement.

HANSON: There's also been considerable fighting in Afghanistan between the U.S.-led forces and the supporters of the old Taliban regime. In your opinion, is this situation getting worse?

Mr. O'HANLON: The situation is getting worse in the eyes of American commanders that I've spoken with over the last year or so. And of course we just had a tragedy yesterday with ten Americans being lost in this helicopter crash, apparently not from hostile fire. But nonetheless, there have been more casualties and there is more activity in the Southeast.

I still think overall the Taliban and al-Qaida are very unlikely to mount a full-scale comeback, but they are making it very hard to build a strong Afghan state and complicating things a great deal in that sector of the country in particular.

HANSEN: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been dragging on for years, and there's no indication that there's light at the end of this tunnel, yet anyway. What's your impression of the ability of the U.S. military to keep up the pace?

Mr. O'HANLON: On the one hand you have to take your hat off, and we all do, I know, to just how hard they've worked. In the words of one general, never have we asked so much of so few for so long. But they're really doing a great job. The retention rates are high. The level of commitment to the mission is high.

But there are two troubling things. One, I sense a bit more pessimism creeping into the attitudes of many people I've spoken to about where we're going; and two, we just can't keep doing this indefinitely. So the idea we can somehow slow down in Iraq, slow down the transition, stay a lot longer, not really all that plausible.

HANSEN: Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon.

Michael, it's really good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. O'HANLON: Great to be here, Liane.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.