NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. When Porter Goss took over at the CIA two years ago, his title was Director of Central Intelligence. Since then, both the job and the agency have changed. After the failures over 9/11 and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, U.S. intelligence was reorganized, and the CIA placed under a new Director of National Intelligence. It's still very important, of course, but not as important as it use to be. The CIA director, for example, no longer briefs the president every morning. Amid the alphabet soup of U.S. intelligence agencies, the CIA's job is now supposed to focus more on espionage, with less emphasis on its previous position as the central clearinghouse for analysis. The transition has not been easy, which may help explain Porter Goss's abrupt resignation last Friday.
Earlier today, President Bush named General Michael Hayden as his replacement. General Hayden currently serves as National Intelligence Director John Negroponte's right hand man. And while the Senate will have questions about the wisdom of a military officer as the head of a civilian agency, and about General Hayden's part in the controversial program to conduct warrantless wiretaps, he is already accustomed to a subordinate role, as John Negroponte's deputy. Later in the program, writer Ariel Dorfman joins us on the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page to discuss Nuestro Himno, the Spanish version of the National Anthem, that's become a linguistic flashpoint on the immigration debate. But first, we'll focus on the CIA, not the nominee so much; there will be plenty of time for that as the confirmation hearings get underway, but the CIA's role in U.S. intelligence. We'd be especially interested to hear from those of you who now, or formerly were in the intelligence community. What's changed and why? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We begin with Dana Priest, a correspondent for the Washington Post, who joins us from her office here in Washington. She just won the Pulitzer Prize a couple of weeks ago. Congratulations. Nice to have you back on the program.
Ms. DANA PRIEST (National Security Reporter, The Washington Post): Thank you, Neal. Glad to be here.
CONAN: Director of Central Intelligence used to be a pretty grand sounding title, but said less in reality than it did on paper.
Ms. PRIEST: Well, it was suppose to organize the 15 intelligence agencies together, and sort of coordinate them and cut out duplication. That same person happened to wear the hat as the director of the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the premier spy organization. And you're right, that didn't work very well. That's one of the things that the 9/11 Commission pointed out and wanted to separate that. What that has meant for the CIA, that we see today, is a pared down mission, as you suggested. The main job now is supposed to be what they call HUMINT, human intelligence. What that really means is using human beings to collect intelligence, spies. And that is, everyone agrees, the toughest job that the intelligence community has. Now if you bring General Hayden, the nominee into the equation, he is not a HUMINT guy. He's a SIGINT guy. And that is signals intelligence. He ran the National Security Agency, which is responsible for collecting information using, basically, technology. Eavesdropping, spy platforms, that sort of thing, but not human intelligence. And I think that'll be, for those in the intelligence community, that'll be a big question mark for him. Does he know what we're about? He also comes in a military uniform, and they tend to see the world in a more black and white way than many spies would say they are brought up to live.
CONAN: Mm hmm. That gray world that we become -- I guess we only become accustom to it in espionage novels.
Ms. PRIEST: Exactly.
CONAN: But nevertheless, we see a little bit more gray areas there. Interestingly, Porter Goss left after -- well, during his tenure there was, a lot of people left the Central Intelligence Agency. There was almost a cull of some senior officers there. Was that in part what he was there to do?
Ms. PRIEST: I do think that the White House sent Porter Goss, a loyal Republican who had chaired the Intelligence Committee in the House, over to the CIA to conduct a sort of political purge. The White House believed that the CIA was at war with the White House over the Iraq issue. I think, you know, there may have been some people who were upset about how that worked out. But in general, I think, it was seen as a misperception of what the agency is all about. If you give them a different opinion on a subject doesn't mean that you're necessarily a Democrat or a Republican. It just means that you don't agree with how they might see the issue.
What happened in Goss's case is he unleashed a group of staffers that he brought over on Capitol Hill, who were rather brusque in their manner. And according to CIA people who worked there at the time, did not appreciate what they did, did not even really like the culture there, and really got crossways with some of them, including the head of the Clandestine Service at the time, who quit rather than carry out what he considered to be an unfair request. And then his deputy quit. And then after that you saw an exodus of probably over 20. And then, if you go down lower in the ranks, many more people who left because they didn't like that attitude, thought they'd been dissed, and not appreciated for the difficult work that they do.
CONAN: And according to some, this is the best and brightest, an entire generation, who have left. And in the opinion of others, this is a whole raft of dead wood that had to be gotten rid off.
Ms. PRIEST: Well, if you take the opinion that it's dead wood, you'd be hard pressed to prove it, since one of the things that the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, did today was to say that the leading candidate, as Hayden's number two, is the man who I just mentioned who left because he refused to carry out one of the orders given by Goss's underlings. And that would be Steven Kappes, who headed the Clandestine Service branch of the CIA until November of '04, one month after Goss got there, and who left. And so, he's now being talked about as a possible number two for Negroponte, which is going to send a very warm signal to people in the agency that they do understand the value of experience, because Mr. Kappes had a lot of experience.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our email address is email@example.com. And let's begin with Howard. Howard is calling us from San Francisco.
HOWARD (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking the question.
HOWARD: When you start looking at the people that are leaving and the various approaches they take, it feels like the White House, the executive branch, is narrowing any kind of dissent, or plurality of thinking, down to just the people who think the way they think. And that the president is coming in contact with fewer and fewer people on a daily basis. What's your thinking about that?
CONAN: Dana Priest?
Ms. PRIEST: I do think that's the charge, but I think that with the appointment of Hayden, and if it's true that Steven Kappes is going become his deputy, there is a recognition that that's not a good way to operate. And add on to that -- so maybe they're riding a course, you could put it that way. The president's advisory board on intelligence met in the last several months to talk about Goss's leadership of the CIA. And they really came up with the quite disparaging report about his leadership. And one of the things that it said was this fostering of dissent is a good thing in the intelligence world. So, you saw that carried out with the dismissal of Goss. It really was a forced resignation. So perhaps, if your view is correct, and I don't know if it is, but I think you're seeing changing...
Howard: Well, Goss's body language, when you look at any of the press footage, he clearly was falling on his spear and was being cut, right?
CONAN: Let's keep our clichés straight. He's falling on his sword. Dana, go ahead.
Ms. PRIEST: Goss is not falling on his sword. He's being pushed out because he did a bad job. It's really pretty much that simple. He lost the president's confidence early on. I think the White House was reluctant to cut him loose right away because it would make them look bad, and might have possibly been disruptive. I don't really know about that. But I think they took their time to do it, and now they've done it. But I really do not think that he was perceived as very effective, even in the White House, from the very start.
CONAN: Howard, thanks for the call.
HOWARD: Thank you.
CONAN: In today's New York Sun, Eli Lake, reports that, “a senior intelligence community official yesterday said the director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, has indicated he's willing to give up covert operations to the Pentagon.” That -- getting anything like that and is that -- would that be a surprise?
Ms. PRIEST: You know, I've heard about this report, but I'd have to say, that would be a total shocker to me. For one thing, I think its more nuance than that. The Pentagon, has been out to, under Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership, an aggressive push into clandestine operations. They're tiptoeing into covert operations, which is a slight but very important difference. And they have set up units, new units, to do this and lots of money to do this. But they are no way seizing the entire mission, from the CIA. And I don't think that would be wise to do because a lot of those missions are carried out by people who work in a gray world, where the military tends to work in a black and white world. And that's the big difference. So, I think, again, the appointment of Hayden and Kappes, if that comes true, signifies a return to the core mission of the CIA, which is espionage and covert action.
CONAN: Let's get a call from Dennis, Dennis in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
DENNIS (Caller): Hi, I'd just like to start by saying I've got like 25 years of military service, and I'm still going. But I kind of parallel this to Hurricane Katrina. Now had there been one command in control, instead of FEMA, I can guarantee you, if the military were involved in this situation, and all the travesty that surrounded it, that wouldn't happen. And also, likewise, in regard to this appointment of this military person, I think that's going to kind of, you know -- commenting with your black and white perspective there --I think it's going to make it much better, because that's going to establish a command and control as well. So, I'll just listen what your person gets to say about that.
CONAN: Thanks, Dennis.
Ms. PRIEST: Well, I think that what you say is interesting, especially coming from yourself, as a military person. You know, but it's a totally different culture. And whether or not command and control and the type of numbers accountability that the military is used to fits in the spy world, is really, I would say dubious. And it is a gray world. People operate on the borders. They have rules that are very different from the military, and that's for a reason. They are unique in that way. And I think that the feeling in the agency, and on Capitol Hill, where they know in the committees how the agency works, is that these are two very different institutions, and they have a very different mandate. And if you give it over to the military, you're going to lose the edge that the gray world gives you.
Ms. PRIEST: Now some people might debate whether or not it's good to have that edge. But if you look at, for instance, who's captured or killed, the pre...
CONAN: Dana, I'm afraid we've got to go, we're running against the clock. But thanks very much for being with us.
Ms. PRIEST: Thank you.
CONAN: Dana Priest, of The Washington Post. More after a break. This is NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. This morning President Bush announced his choice as Director of Central Intelligence. If he's confirmed to the job, General Michael Hayden would take over an agency in transition. Our focus today is on the CIA itself. What's the role it now plays in a reorganized U.S. intelligence community? If you have questions, give us a call. We're especially interested in hearing from those of you with experience in the intelligence community. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK; e-mail is
For further discussion of what the new CIA will look like and how that contrasts with what it was at its inception, and what it's been in the past years, we turn now to Gregory Treverton, senior analyst at the Rand Corporation, formerly vice chair of the National Intelligence Council under President Clinton. And he joins us by phone from his office in Santa Monica, California. Good to have you with us today.
Mr. GREGORY TREVERTON (Senior Analyst, RAND Corporation; Former Vice Chair, National Intelligence Council): My pleasure, thank you.
CONAN: Also with us is Mark Riebling, author of the book, Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11: How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security. He's currently at work on another book about the fighting between the CIA and the Pentagon, tentatively titled, Soldier Spies. And it's nice of you to be here as well.
Mr. MARK RIEBLING (Author, “Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11: How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security”): Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: And let's begin with you, Mark Riebling. How does the current CIA compare with what President Truman created shortly after the Second World War?
Mr. RIEBLING: Well, if the changes engineered by Mr. Negroponte continue, I would say that it's going to become increasingly scaled down and much like the agency at its inception. What we're seeing, I believe, is a piece-by-piece dismemberment of the CIA, where you're seeing what Dana Priest said, a return to human intelligence, both analysis and collection, human intelligence as a core mission. And the technical stuff is basically going under the Pentagon, which owns most of the hardware in any case.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Mr. RIEBLING: But, Dana mentioned a very interesting phrase to me, which I think is at the key of this whole transition, and really should be at the core of the debate about the future evolution of the intelligence community, and that is, the phrase was the president's confidence and the confidence of policymakers in the CIA. I believe in its entire history, the CIA has only enjoyed consistent confidence of policymakers, and specifically of the president, for five years, from 1955 to 1960, and that that essentially ended with a shoot down of Frances Gary Powers in a U2 spy plane, over Russia on May 1, 1960. Since then, this has been an agency, which has not consistently enjoyed the confidence of the president, especially after President Eisenhower was caught out lying to the American people about the existence of these spy flights. After that point, we've seen a journalistic, kind of interest developing into a kind of feeding frenzy against CIA at times. And I think its position in Washington and his position in the republic has been in erosion since then. So perhaps this is a kind of shake up which is somewhat over due. And, in fact if the military is indeed ascendant, we're returning much more to the model we had before the Cold War, during which for the first 150 years of the republic essentially, the military conducted our intelligence operations.
CONAN: Mm hmm. Gregory Treverton, would you agree?
Mr. TREVERTON: Well, I think I agree in part and disagree in part. I mean, certainly the CIA, as Mr. Truman intended it, was going to be mostly a coordinating operation, not do much of anything itself. That obviously changed as the CIA became organized, became active in all sorts of things. So then, at some point in that history, it stopped being the coordinating center and became another agency to be coordinated. To have it now return, or turn in earnest to the HUNINT, the espionage, covert operations mission, that, in a certain sense, makes a good deal of sense. The other thing that's happened over that time period is that all of the technical collection, that used to not be fast enough...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Mr. TREVERTON: ...we couldn't get pictures back in time to help war fighters on the battlefield. So, all of that technical collection that -- in which the CIA was engaged at the beginning, but decreasingly engaged over time -- now, the big change is that all that's available. It can get back to cockpits and tanks in time to help the war fighters. And that has raised the big question, which your guest referred, and that is, how much of this is really going to be in support of war fighters, and how much are we -- how are we going to preserve the intelligence that the civilian leadership needs for other national priorities...
CONAN: I guess...
Mr. TREVERTON: ...the question in front of us.
CONAN: I guess that would be symbolized -- the U2 pictures, of course, back in the ‘50s were strategic intelligence. They were pictures of missile silos and that sort of thing, in Russia, run by the CIA. Now all of those operations, satellite photography, overhead photography and imagery, I guess, is probably the better word, all that's run by the Pentagon.
Mr. TREVERTON: Well, exactly and at some point the task kind of outgrew the CIA and the Pentagon assets infrastructure, all that became necessary. But the really big change is all that, those pictures, which took us then some time to get back the photograph, we were actually dropping photos out of satellites and picking them up over the ocean, that took some time. Now with technology, we can actually get the pictures, or better said, images, back in time to help some commander in the field locate a tank column that he wants to destroy. The problem is that's an essentially open ended mission. We could spend lots more money to provide even better support to war fighters in the field. And, therefore, the question arises, how do we balance those legitimate, very legitimate Pentagon activities and needs, with still making sure that civilian policymakers get the best intelligence they need for the decisions they're making outside of the military realm?
CONAN: And, Mark Riebling, the trend, certainly for many of the past years has been to move more and more of that into the Pentagon. This battle that you're writing about now, it seems like a little one sided.
Mr. RIEBLING: Well, certainly I think the turning point in recent history, was after Gulf War I, under the first Bush administration. There was a great backlash in the after action and after battle reports written up. And I talked to a number of officials. And nobody in the military was happy about the CIA's support during...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Mr. RIEBLING: ...the first Gulf War. And there was an impression, rightly or wrongly -- I think probably mostly rightly -- that the CIA was not answering the military's mail and, as Mr. Treverton says, was not really equipped to provide actionable, tactical, battlefield intelligence. And so what we saw, I think, during the ‘90s, was a gradual reassignment of a number of functions to the Pentagon, including the use of paramilitary units to collect human intelligence, which I would disagree with Dana Priest, that the military can't fit in, in the covert clandestine world. I think they can, especially in terms of these paramilitary drops where you put people behind lines, you send in the SEALS or the Green Berets to conduct intelligence and forge alliances with tribal groups, as we saw in Afghanistan.
Clearly, I believe what Rumsfeld is doing is trying to solidify control over that. And this has been something the military's done since World War II, was doing even in Vietnam, they took over all the CIA's information...
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Mr. RIEBLING: ...programs in the North Vietnam. So there's a long history of this. And in the course of writing my book, Wedge, I interviewed three former directors of central intelligence, Turner, Helms, and Webster, and they all thought moving covert ops in that sense, real black operations, into the military was a good idea. Because they thought, frankly, stuff like, you know, Iran contras dropping weapons to people in, you know, in Nicaragua and stuff like that, had only served to tarnish the reputation of the agency and get it in trouble with Congress. And they were frankly happy to dump it off into the Pentagon.
Mr. RIEBLING: I don't know that that's changed, but that's one view.
CONAN: Let's get some more listeners' involved in the conversation. And let's go to, John. John's calling us from Rockville, Maryland.
JOHN (Caller): Yes, I'm a former senior analyst. I've been both at NSA and CIA. My tenure goes back to 1973, during Vietnam. And I left NSA in 1989. My feelings, based on my experience, are that the core issue has always been the tendency to collect intelligence for the sake of collecting intelligence without outlining priorities and significant and appropriate analysis, and appropriate weight being placed, or given to the analysis. I don't see anything, in that sense, that's changed. Furthermore, as far as the cadre of people who worked at NSA, by the time the late ‘80s rolled around, this was a dispirited, demoralized group of people, who were essentially doing assembly line work, and poorly compensated for it. Again, I don't see anything that's changed. I think we're in a position to predict only in hindsight, and that's very dangerous.
CONAN: That is easier, but dangerous, you're right. Gregory Treverton, is John right?
Mr. TREVERTON: Well, the problem is, I think it's, to some extent, a perennial. That is it's hard to get people to be very specific, policymakers to be very specific, about what they need. You know, they know what they'd like today, but what they're going to need six months from now, and how they're going to prioritize that against other things, is very hard to get them to do. It's also very hard to stop providing something once you provided it. The intelligence community is basically a service industry. And so once you develop consumers, it's hard to go back to them and say, oops, our priorities have changed. You were important yesterday, but not today. Therefore, we're not going to provide you the stuff you've been getting and liking. One of the main purposes of having a Director of National Intelligence would be to really try and do much better at that process of both learning what people need and want, both on the military and civilian side, and then beginning to reshape both current capabilities, but more importantly, longer term capabilities to meet them. And that's in some sense the real reason, in my view, to have a director of national intelligence and so far we've only seen sort of skimpy tracks of his influence on that set of truly a strategic management of the community, making sure we're getting the best for our $40 billion of intelligence across all the agencies, reducing what's called the influence of the stove pipes, getting people to work together more. That's the real reason in my view to have a Director of National Intelligence.
CONAN: John, thanks very much.
JOHN (Caller): Thank you.
CONAN: Let's talk now with Sam, and Sam's calling us from Spokane in Washington.
SAM (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Sam.
SAM: Hi. My comment is that essentially nothing has changed in spite of all the bureaucratic reshuffling. And that the finished product of the intelligence process, which should be a finished intelligence report, is skewed because it's not coordinated.
CONAN: Not coordinated under the old DCI system, and not coordinated now under Mr. Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence?
CONAN: And why is that, do you think Sam?
SAM: Because, well, I don't know why. They just, they don't coordinate the reports. They place more emphasis on that agency where they used to work or which, with which they have close affiliations.
CONAN: Mark Riebling, is that accurate?
Mr. RIEBLING: I think that there's always a problem of institutional bias and it certainly is not confined to the intelligence community. So you see there the same kind of favoring the home team or the world you know, or the conclusions which you want to draw, which you see in other walks of life. Perhaps it's more damaging and more dangerous when national security's at stake. Going back to something Mr. Treverton said, I think he really put his finger on something important when he talked about the role of policymakers. And often when we discuss about intelligence, we're more concerned with what the intelligence community can bring to policymakers. But I think it's also important to remember what policymakers can do for the intelligence community to make their jobs easier. And looking at the broad sweep of American intelligence history, I believe we only had two presidents who came to the job really understanding the intelligence process and the importance of prioritizing things and giving people clear marching orders. And they were, ironically enough, since we're talking about military leadership of the CIA in this case, these were both military commanders, George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower. Both came to the job with a very acute understanding of intelligence.
So I think the more that policymakers can be clear about what their needs are, and look into the future and prioritize, the easier the job of the intelligence community will be. And I'd also just, you know, remind listeners that the intelligence community can only advise and inform, but ultimately the real interpretation of the data in terms of whether it rises to actionable, is in the hands of policymakers and that a lot of this so-called twisting of the intelligence, say from weapons of mass destruction, occurred at the policymaking level, whether within the Pentagon or within the upper levels of the president's team.
CONAN: Sam, thank you.
SAM: I have another comment, if I may?
CONAN: Can you hold on just a moment?
CONAN: I have to explain that we're talking with Gregory Treverton at Rand Corporation and Mark Riebling, author of Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11: How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security, and that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Sam, if you'd go ahead.
SAM: Yes, one of your previous callers mentioned low morale at one of the agencies. I think that has to do directly with the lack of civil service commission participation in the intelligence agencies and the counter-intelligence activities which create a climate of fear among the employees, so that they are afraid to do anything.
CONAN: All right, Sam. Thanks very much. Appreciate the phone call.
SAM: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's go now to Marcos, and Marcos calling us from Miami.
MARCOS (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen.
CONAN: Good afternoon.
MARCOS: My question was, as our government has check and balances between military and civil, I thought the gathering of information would also have that check and balance. In other words, CIA would confirm or not confirm, but you know, but they would keep each other in check. And then my other question would be, if the military takes over the CIA and the spying, let's put it this way, and a spy is caught, wouldn't that be considered an act of war?
CONAN: Hmm. I'm not sure that matters whether or not the CIA is run by a military officer or not, but Mark Riebling, on that first point, is the CIA supposed to be some sort of check and balance on the Pentagon?
Mr. RIEBLING: I think that's certainly the view within the CIA In fact, I talked to a person named Richard Anderson who was an analyst in the CIA for many years and then on congressional committees overseeing the intelligence community. And he said, you know, one of the things he really learned was that the CIA exists to give the nation skeptical opinion about whatever the defense department says and that the CIA is basically the president's truth squad when it comes to the Pentagon. You know, the people in the Pentagon would take a different view. But I think there is this sense that the military, because it's job is protecting the nation, has a vested interest in accumulating as many resources as possible for that task, since we've never lost a war by being too strong. So, they will argue that it's better to err on the side of, you know, seeing the threat in a dark way and therefore appropriately resources accordingly.
And so, whenever there are these B teams brought in by the Pentagon, as we saw under Rumsfeld to review the CIA's work, sometimes you end up with a disaster. And this is definitely attention which comes from two conflicting world views. CIA tends to be more like the state department, rather liberal, some independent I would say, utopian in its belief and the perfectibility of human nature or the effectiveness of dialogue and engagement. The Pentagon takes a darker and perhaps more politically conservative view about human nature, that things will go wrong, utopia will never arrive, and therefore it's best to plan for the worst.
CONAN: Gregory Treverton, we just have a minute or so left, but I was wondering if you would endorse that?
Mr. TREVERTON: Well, I think in general. I mean, certainly we pay the military to take to some extent a worst case view. Now, intelligence, I've coordinated a lot of national intelligence estimates in my time and there's a temptation I think in the intelligence world too to say, to focus on what could go wrong, where policymakers are always focusing on what could go right. I think one of the happy things, the good things, or good possible things, that's come out of both the 9/11 and the WMD commissions is that we're now thinking hard about analysis, about how to do better by way of, not collecting the information, but putting it together in ways that will be useful to policymakers. A long way to go, but at least there is a discussion of it and support for innovation, new efforts out there, that I think that across the agencies is really an important possibility. It's really trying to make the most of those separate initiatives, innovations, across different agencies, to really produce better support to policymakers for better decisions. That, after all, is the point of the whole enterprise.
CONAN: Thank you both very much. I'm sure this is a subject to which we will return as developments warrant. Gregory Treverton, Senior Analyst as the Rand Corporation, Vice Chair of the National Intelligence Council during the Clinton Administration, thanks very much for your time today.
Mr. TREVERTON: Thank you.
CONAN: And Mark Riebling, author of Author of Wedge and a fourth-coming book that is tentatively titled, The Soldier Spies. And thank you for your time today.
Mr. RIEBLING: Thank you very much.