The Growing Politicization of America's Intelligence Services

Now on the fourth day of my book tour for Fair Game and I am delighted because I have been given abundant opportunity to discuss something I feel passionately about: the politicization of our intelligence services. There has been an increasing trend to allow politics to spill over into the world of intelligence and I believe that it degrades the intelligence mission, its product, and is detrimental to our national security. Americans of all political stripes want to know that whatever intelligence lands on the president's desk is devoid of ideological taint and political pressure. As we now know, Vice President Cheney and his then Chief of Staff Scooter Libby made an unprecedented number of visits to CIA Headquarters in the run-up to the Iraq war to meet with analysts. Apparently, the vice president kept asking the same questions until he began to hear the answers he wanted. Although there might not have been overt pressure to slant intelligence toward the administration's stance on Iraq and its perceived WMD threat, the very fact that the vice president had taken time out of his day, come into Headquarters and asked a certain line of questions invisibly and insidiously has the effect of conveying a high level of dissatisfaction with what the CIA has already produced. CIA analysts are not dumb.

So, if I were Queen for a day, here's just a few of the things I might do to help push politics out of the intelligence realm so operations officers and analysts can do their jobs without political interference:

1. Divorce the CIA Director's job from the presidential election cycle. While it is critical that the CIA Director has the ear of the president (which, for example, James Woolsey famously did not and the 1994 incident where a man crashed his plane into the White House was Washington fodder for a joke that said it was just Woolsey trying to get an appointment with the president), he also has to be independent and serve up the facts as the intelligence professionals find them, without feeling he or she needs to "be on the team". I envision something like the way the Federal Reserve Chairman operates; with authority but not beholden to whatever political party controls the White House.

2. Don't allow any Executive Branch members to make trips to CIA Headquarters to meet with officers about specific intelligence issues, as Vice President Cheney and Mr. Libby did during the run up to the war with Iraq. There are established channels and protocols for senior administration officials to ask questions and clarify points about the intelligence they do receive.

3. Put into a place a regulation which says that any military officer designated for the CIA Director's position must resign his commission. This would help to ensure that loyalties are not divided between the intelligence community and the Pentagon.

I wanted to see what General Brent Scowcroft's report from 2002 said about ways to reform the CIA. This is the same General who served as National Security Advisor under the first President Bush AND was derided by the neocons for his "realist" views on the war on Iraq. But I could not. The report has been classified and has not been released by the White House. I think the report went directly into the circular file.

One more thing on a slightly different topic: I understand that there may be a filibuster in Congress on whether to extend or change the current laws in place on the issue of NSA wiretapping US citizens as part of the "war on terror." The administration claims that it needs enhanced abilities to do to this because the laws as currently written are archaic and permission to do wiretaps on targets of interest take too much time in this dangerous world in which we are living. I can tell you that as part of my responsibilities at the CIA, we did indeed sometimes have to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court for permission to surveil a target. We needed to provide a reason why it was imperative to national security. We almost always received a prompt and positive response from the court to our request. So I believe that the administration's request to expand these powers with the rationale given that the present laws are too clumsy and slow is wrong and demonstrates another attempt at accruing power in the Executive Branch at the expense of our civil liberties.