U.S. Intelligence Is Taking on a Military Cast

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples (left) is the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander heads the National Security Agency. Luke Frazza/Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Luke Frazza/Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images

A New Career Pipeline?

The roster of military men running U.S. intelligence includes these four:

  • CIA Director: Michael Hayden (Air Force four-star general)
  • Director of National Intelligence: Mike McConnell (retired Navy vice admiral)
  • National Counterterrorism Center Director: Scott Redd (retired Navy vice admiral)
  • Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence: Jim Clapper (retired Air Force lieutenant general)
Central Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Michael Hayden in front of a statue of William Donovan.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Michael Hayden stands in front of a statue of William Donovan, head of the OSS, the CIA's predecessor, during a swearing-in ceremony in Langley, Va. Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

In the next few weeks, the Senate will hold confirmation hearings for Dell Dailey, who has been named to the top counterterrorism job at the State Department. Dailey, an Army lieutenant general, is the latest in a line of Defense officials who've been selected for the nation's senior intelligence posts.

Until recently, positions ranging from the director of the CIA to the chief of counterterrorism were occupied by civilians. The emerging pattern is raising questions about the wisdom of having military officials running nearly all of the large spy agencies in the United States.

"These are people who know how to lead, from their military service," says Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina. "And they have something else, and that's a certain decisiveness."

Still, Kohn, who is teaching this year at the U.S. Army War College, says that on balance, it's a bad idea to overpopulate the nation's intelligence agencies with military officers.

Often, Kohn says, the officers worked in war-time conditions. "And thus," he says, "the emphasis can be far too tactical to lead the larger intelligence community."

That community, Kohn argues, shouldn't allow military priorities to trump broader, strategic ones — whether they be economic, political, or environmental.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says he has nothing personal against any of these men.

"But when you do have the clean sweep of the military controlling every significant position in the intelligence community," Hoekstra says, "you're going to see the intelligence world through the glasses of the military. And that is a problem."

Pat Lang disagrees. The former head of human intelligence at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency says that by the time people climb to senior officer ranks, they've been trained in tactical intelligence collection — but they're also exposed to broad strategic planning.

"The idea that they just think differently and want to think all the time about narrow issues of military tactics and things like this, is just not supported by the facts in my experience," Lang says. "I just don't think that's a real argument."

Meanwhile, there is another key position yet to be filled — deputy director of National Intelligence. That person will report directly to Adm. McConnell. And because it's unlikely both jobs would go to military veterans, it may well be a civilian.

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.