There are 117 stars on the wall of the CIA that mark the sacrifice made by the men and women of the CIA for their country. Their names are not public, because their work is done in anonymity. Yet, they have been an essential part of keeping America safe, particularly in the post 9/11 world.
The recent attacks in Germany and Turkey, which may be linked to terrorist organizations, underscore the need for a fully functioning, fully supported intelligence community. The CIA and the intelligence community provide operational capability and analysis for policy makers in order to determine what happened, why it happened and what an effective response should be to these kind of horrific events.
Calling into question the validity of the work of the CIA and other members of the intelligence community is not only demoralizing for the men and women who work every day of the year to serve the President, it is dangerous. The cacophony of comments about whether there is sufficient proof of Russian involvement in our recent elections, including calling the intelligence community analysis laughable, undermines the effectiveness of the analysts, who are apolitical in their approach to their work, whether on Russia or any other issue.
In order for policy makers to have the information they need to make informed decisions, they need facts. They get facts and analysis from the intelligence community. This analysis is not biased. It is a result of the work of trained experts who look at information gathered from a number of different sources, including the operational side of the CIA. They then analyze issues based on the information gathered, as well as years of experience examining issues affecting US national security. If the validity of analysis (which is different from how it is applied) is called into question, ignored, or only used to justify a policy decision, rather than inform a policy maker, it undermines the work of the intelligence community.
The CIA plays various roles. It has an operational side that gathers information globally through clandestine operations. The men and women who work operations do so in the shadows and get no recognition for their work beyond their colleagues, the leadership in the intelligence community, and those executive branch policy makers who are privy to the details of their operations. They do this work because they care about their country. They are patriots.
The analytical side of the CIA is focused on gathering information from all sources, clandestine and open, in order to synthesize it and keep policy makers informed in real time. Analysts work day in and day out to make sure their analysis is accurate and up to date. They are trained to be rigorous. They challenge assumptions, and don't present conclusions until they are confident the information is accurate and ready to be shared. Even then, they present their conclusions with varying degrees of certainty, so policy makers have a clearer picture of the information they are being given.
The science and technology part of the CIA develops the technology that the operational part of the house uses. They are very good at what they do, helping with the effort to gather information, as well protecting those who gather it. The support side of the CIA ensures that the logistics of all the Agency does, runs smoothly and quietly, behind the scenes.
The CIA is also responsible for managing covert action programs, which are undertaken as a result of Presidential direction. These programs are specific, highly classified and are an integral part of the CIA's work. Those who ensure these programs are effective also labor in obscurity.
It is wrong to think the world of the CIA and intelligence community at large is totally opaque. Congress formed two special committees in the 1970's, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to oversee the work of the intelligence community. These committees have access to the most highly classified information and meet with the leadership and staff of the intelligence community agencies regularly. The oversight function is respected by both the intelligence community and the Congress.
This is not to say the CIA and their colleagues in the intelligence community are above reproach. They make mistakes. Intelligence is an art not a science. It is worth considering, however, just how significant an impact their work has had on keeping Americans safe. This includes getting bin Laden, Anwar Al-Awlaki, others in Al Qaeda and ISIS leadership, but most important preventing major terrorist attacks on the US homeland. There are many other successes that can't be talked about, because of the need to protect classified information. It's with the "dogs that didn't bark" where the CIA and the intelligence community does its most important work, quietly and without public acknowledgement.
Dismissing out of hand the analysis of the CIA and other intelligence agencies hurts US national security interests. Intelligence informs policy, it does not create it or justify it. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) is prepared six days a week, so the President can be kept abreast of the most sensitive and pressing national security issues facing the nation. These briefings also help to build up a knowledge and understanding for the President and his national security advisors.
A President can't delegate the responsibility of knowing what is going on in the world and deciding how to react to a subordinate, no matter how qualified. As Harry Truman famously said, the buck stops with the President. He is the decider, and an informed President who relies on his daily briefings and the excellent analysis of the intelligence community is going to do a better job in protecting the American people. Dismissing the work of the CIA and the intelligence community makes their job tougher, and the President less able to make informed decisions.