Can the CIA be fixed? (1995) | THINK TANK

Ben: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. The Central Intelligence Agency is under heavy
fire. A traitor at CIA headquarters betrayed spies
in the field, sold secrets to the Soviets, and now it is charged that the agency knowingly
gave tainted information to the president. Can the CIA be fixed or has it outlived its
usefulness? Joining us to evaluate the intelligence community
are: Richard Pipes, Baird Professor of History at Harvard and former director for East European
and Soviet affairs on the National Security Council during the Reagan administration,
General William Odom, Director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988, now at
the Hudson Institute, Neil Lewis, correspondent for “The New York Times” and co-author of
the recent book “Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy,” and Jeffrey Richelson,
author of the recent book “A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century.” The topic before this house, can the CIA be
fixed? This week on “Think Tank.” [00:01:09]
[music] [00:01:25]
Moles, murdered agents, compromised sources, Cold War cloak-and-dagger games all played
parts in the recent scandals that are rocking the Central Intelligence Agency. Despite unheralded successes, CIA flops have
always grabbed headlines from the disastrous attempt to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro at
the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to its perceived failure to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1994, Aldrich Ames, the man in charge of
Soviet counterintelligence for the CIA was arrested as a Soviet spy. He passed on many sensitive documents to the
Soviets and gave them names of at least 10 CIA agents working for the United States who
were subsequently killed. More recently, the CIA stands accused of passing
on tainted reports from known double agents to presidents Bush and Clinton. The current Director of Central Intelligence,
John Deutch, has promised Congress that he will clean house. John: “But I will say this that we will do
the rebuilding necessary, changing the practices, the attitudes, the performance of the director
of operations. So that we once again have the most effective
clandestine intelligence service in the world, and I am dedicated to making sure those changes
take place.” Ben: The latest scandals are causing some
in Congress to ask whether spending $3.1 billion annually on the CIA is worth it. Gentlemen, thank you for joining me. Let’s go around the room starting with you,
General Odom, and then up to Boston for Dick Pipes. What is wrong with the CIA? General Odom: Well, there’s a bigger problem
with the CIA, the intelligence community. It’s formed well over a long period of time,
but increasingly, like IBM, when it ran into business competition, or General Motors or
Chrysler or Rocky [SP], and they got into real trouble. They needed restructuring. The intelligence community needs fundamental
restructuring. What you’re seeing at CIA is essentially symptomatic
of these larger issues. Some fairly, major structural changes are
long overdue. Ben: We will come back to that. Jeffrey Richelson, what’s wrong with the CIA? Jeffrey: Not as much as people would think. I think the myth…there has been a myth that
they failed to protect the Soviet collapse, which isn’t true. And the real problem that’s merged with the
CIA is really in the directorate of operations as opposed to the agency as a whole. Other than that, I would mention that I would
disagree with General Odom, and I think that revolutionary change in the structure of the
intelligence community would be a very bad idea. Ben: All right. Well, that bodes well. Neil Lewis. Neil: I think the CIA’s greatest problem now
is that it’s lost the trust of policymakers. Current policymakers and any policymakers
in the future would be reluctant to rely on the agency. It also…this happens at a time when the
kind of people who would be traditional allies of the CIA, the most fervent allies, Republicans
in Congress, are much focused on budget cutting, and the CIA and the state is very vulnerable. Ben: Dick Pipes in Boston. Professor Pipes: What I would say in the first
place, the CIA is too large. Most successful intelligence agencies in the
past abroad and even in this country have been composed of a small number of very bright
people. The CIA’s tremendously bureaucratized. And its recommendations generally get terribly
diluted. It’s very difficult in the agency to come
up with strong recommendations because they go through a process which dilutes them and
eventually ends up the hedging. The CIA knew what was wrong with the Soviet
Union, and it is not true that it did not expect it to collapse, but not exactly when
it happened. But the recommendations on this subject was
so diluted that in the end they got the black eye. Ben: General Odom, you mentioned in your original
statement that, of course, the CIA is not the whole intelligence community. Could you sketch in for us how the American
Intelligence System operates, how it’s structured, but briefly, if you could? General Odom: Basically, there are three military
service…four military service intelligence, in other words, the Army, Navy, Air Force,
and Marines. That plays probably the biggest role, most
of them. Ben: They each have their own intelligence. General Odom: Each have their own intelligence,
but it’s not centrally duplicate deep [SP], except in some ways. Then there is the National Security Agency,
which has all of the signals communications intelligence. There is… Ben: And that’s what you headed. General Odom: That’s what I headed. Ben: As a lieutenant general. General Odom: That’s the largest agency, two
or three times as large than the others. Then there’s the Defense Intelligence Agency,
which is largely an analytic element, although it runs some activities such as the Attaché
Program abroad. And then there’s the (INR) Intelligence and
Research State Department. Ben: State, right. General Odom: And there are many other analytic
elements in some of the other departments. Then there’s CIA, and CIA is essentially three
things, an SMT [SP], Directorate…. Ben: What does that mean? General Odom: A clandestine service, a science
and technology directorate, an intelligent analytic directorate, and a clandestine service. The… Ben: And the directorate of operations is
this clandestine service? General Odom: That’s the clandestine service. Ben: And that Jeffrey was talking about. General Odom: And what you’re reading about
in the newspaper and what the books have been about are largely about the clandestine service. So we’re talking about a very, very small
part. Ben: Can someone explain to us what this recent
case was where the front page of “The Washington Post” had a big story about how beyond Aldrich
Ames there were many people at the CIA who were, according to Walter Pincus’s story,
doing terribly evil things by sending along tainted information to the president and to
the Secretary of Defense. And down in paragraph 37, buried in that story
was a little sentence is that they thought the intelligence was good nonetheless, because
I guess turned agents sometimes will continue to provide good material. Jeffery: Some of it was still good. [inaudible 00:07:56] “New York Times” also
had a similar story about these revelations. But the older, same story, as we knew it before,
was about Ames selling out many of the double agents the United States had recruited. And this was a horrific thing. But he rationalized what he did by saying…to
the great dismay of the intelligence community, he made some sense, in part, because he’s
a repulsive, repugnant man in his behavior. He said, “Well, I did this in part because
what’s become is this heavy bureaucratized rivalry spy versus spy, the KGB and the CIA. They exist and sustain each other, that we
wanna know who their spies are. They wanna know who our spies are.” But very little of it, very little of what
goes on in this, he asserted, “Very little of this affects policy and affects what the
policymakers do.” The latest revelations give us kind of a quantum
leap into a new dimension, that maybe some of the effects of what happened with Aldrich
Ames and the CIA did indeed affect policy. But I must say, even if that’s so, we don’t
know how much…it’s supposedly it’s in the nature of that false information was passed
along with good information. Because after all, if you have a dangler,
a false spy, that the Soviets are trying to pass along false information, they will salt
it with real information. And perhaps the counterintelligence people
maybe think they can distinguish what’s real and what’s not. But in essence, it was that information about
weapons system that helped distort priorities for policymakers when they decided how to
spend our money. Ben: Dick Pipes. Professor Pipes: Well, I can comment on these
latest revelations, but I do want to stress something that Will Odom alluded to, that
the spying and counter spying is really a very minor aspect of the work of the intelligence
community. Ultimately, overwhelmingly, what the community
does is analyze data, the bulk of which is obtained from open sources in many respects
what they do is what we do at universities. Ben: Uh-oh. Yeah. Professor Pipes: Well, I don’t mean that we
view clandestine information. But when I dealt with…if we know that occasionally
I consulted the CIA, they will show me their reports on the political developments in Russia,
and so on. This was not very different what we were doing
here in the Russian Research Center. That is really the bulk of the work, and for
that what you need…I’m setting aside now the issue of loyalty of people like Ames,
and so on. You need first-rate analysts. I don’t think the CIA attracts first-rate
analysts. And when it does, as I’ve said before, they
tend to get lost in this mass of personnel that makes it impossible to come up with strong
statements and judgments. Ben: Okay. Does everyone agree that the people involved
in this so-called tainting scandal, unlike Aldrich Ames who was clearly a traitor, and
as you pointed out a repugnant individual, that these people were doing what they thought
was best for the country and the agency? This was an error of judgment. These were not people doing evil things. Neil: Oh, most definitely. Ben: Is that established by everyone? Professor Pipes: Oh, I don’t accept that. Ben: You do not accept that. Jeffery: An error of judgment, or…but I
was gonna say it’s an error of culture, though. You mean, you think [crosstalk 00:11:17]… General Odom: Well, I don’t know what they
thought about themselves. But I think if I found people like that I
would fire them before the sunset. I mean, if we had that kind of behavior, absolutely,
or integrity, either one, whichever one you want to call it. Imagine… Ben: But they were not like Ames. General Odom: No, they’re not. Ben: They’re not traitors. They’re not getting money. They’re nothing like that. General Odom: I mean, that’s not it. Right. But the issue is intelligence is warfare. And if you’re going to lie up the chain of
command, are you going to deceive up the chain of command, you’re objectively in opposition
to what we’re trying to do. And the standards in that community ought
to be those standards. They are in the military. If a ship captain runs his ship aground, he
can’t say, “Well, some sailor down there didn’t pull the right switch, and therefore, you
know, I really shouldn’t be blamed for this.” Or military commanders in Korea were relieved
preemptively. If General Schwarzkopf had complained about
something, and he had been relieved in the desert, instead of having a great victory,
you wouldn’t have had these kinds of arguments for how they were, you know, mistreated or
misguided and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable. Jeffery: So generally, one of the underlying
debates here is the former directors of Central Intelligence. How accountable are they? Is that what you’re saying? General Odom: They and people under them. I don’t have any problem with holding them
accountable for that. I wanna make a point… Ben: What does that mean holding them accountable? I mean, did your agency when you headed it
as a three-star general, the National Security Agency, did it not make mistakes? General Odom: Sure. And I was prepared to accept the responsibility
for it. And I…to me, that’s part of a military culture. Professor Pipes: The problem here is because
of deliberate lying that is passing on information which, you know, is tainted. I find this mind-boggling… General Odom: Yeah, I… Professor Pipes: …if true. Ben: Let’s go away from this specific case
to a broader case about the CIA, and I guess about the intelligence community, generally,
that they failed, allegedly, that they failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union. General Odom: That’s a red herring. Ben: Sir, why? General Odom: The Soviet Union would still
be alive and well if Gorbachev and a few of his friends didn’t decide to tear it up. There’s no way you can predict a person’s
free choice. If you could, it wouldn’t be free choice,
free will. Professor Pipes: That’s right, Gorbachev himself
did not predict the fall of the Soviet Union. General Odom: But the structure…you can
go back and look, as Dick said earlier, and some of the things that are written, you can
find pretty good arguments that it would go a particular way. But I was a participant in a lot of those
discussions. I will tell you right now, no matter what’s
written, if you went to a national foreign intelligence board meeting, and said, “What
do you mean when you say Gorbachev is going succeed?” You would be told, “Well, he’s gonna succeed.” Succeed at making it a liberal empire? You just got nonsense kinds of answers. So there was a lot of confusion, the very
kind that Dick was talking about, that meant that some of these very poignant and clear
insights on the part of individual analysts didn’t make it through and did not become
the consensus and conventional wisdom to policy. Ben: Dick Pipes, you were trying to get in,
I’m sorry. Professor Pipes: Well, I was saying that in
1980s, late 1980s, if you ask Gorbachev, “Is the Soviet Union going to survive or not?” He would have told you, “Yes, we will survive.” Therefore, as Will said, It’s simply impossible
to predict the actions of individuals. However, I remember when I was in Washington
in the National Security Council in ’81, ’82, we used to get a steady diet of analyses from
the CIA, and they very heavily stressed the economic and the political crisis affecting
the Soviet Union. And that was one of the reasons why President
Reagan took such a tough stance. Ben: Jeffrey Richelson, you have written that
also, basically, in agreement with General Odom and Professor Pipes. Jeffrey: Yes, I think the CIA did even better
than the intelligence community, as a whole did a very good job in warning policymakers
of the situation that was developing in the Soviet Union. That Gorbachev was having an increasingly
difficult time that a hard-line coup was a possibility. And they really laid it all out for any policymaker
or aid to a policymaker to understand what might happen. And as General Odom said, and Professor Pipe
said, the idea that they should have, five years in advance, said that the Soviet Union
is gonna collapse at the end of 1991 because of a coup attempt in August of 1991, is a
completely unreasonable standard. Ben: I wanna test Neil Lewis’s courage now
you have these three distinguished colleagues of yours all saying the CIA really did a pretty
good job about the Soviet Union. Neil: Sure, and they make it sound like it
was not really that much news to all of us. Let us remember that it was the person who
has put this on center stage is Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who has used the alleged
failure of the intelligence community to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union as the first
count in the indictment for his case that the CIA could probably be eliminated or do
sharply. I wanted to say two things to that. First of all, that’s only count A. There are
other apparent failures of the CIA over recent years [crosstalk 00:16:24]… Ben: But this would be a Himalayan fact… Neil: It certainly would. Ben: …in charge if, in fact, [crosstalk
00:16:26] so. Neil: I was gonna tell you about a couple
of other foothills first. Ben: Sure, go ahead give us a couple. Neil: But, you know, the Bush administration
complained about the intelligence in the days before the Panama invasion. I believe it’s known that the CIA predicted
the Sandinistas would win the 1990 election, Nicaragua by a certain percentage. In fact, the other side won by the exact same
percentage. It’s part of…an accretion. Ben: Listen, let me move on and go first to
Dick Pipes in Boston, because I don’t wanna lose him on the satellite, and move on to
the question of the future of the CIA. Professor Pipes: I have absolutely no hesitation
to say we do need some kind of Central Intelligence Agency, whether it’s the CIA or some other
body I am not prepared to say. But you need an organization in Washington
that correlates the information that comes in from all the different intelligence groups
[inaudible 00:17:20] referred. It has now been established that in 1941,
we had enough information to predict the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But it was scattered through the various intelligent
groups in Washington and there was no one correlating this information. And it is precisely to avoid another Pearl
Harbor that the CIA was established. So we do need some kind of central organ,
whether it is the CIA or not the CIA is not really important. But that you cannot do what some people suggest,
that is to scatter, once again, the intelligence community to various departments as had been
the case before 1941. Ben: But you would make it leaner and meaner
wouldn’t you? Professor Pipes: Definitely much leaner and
meaner, yes. It’s much too vast. It has to be cut down severely. Ben: Neil Lewis, you seem…well, you and
General Odom seem to be the anti-CIA people here. Neil: Well, to some degree, and I wanted to
reflect on a comment that Professor Pipes and General Odom said, both emphasized, how
the clandestine services of the CIA are a small part of the larger intelligence community. Well, as the CIA has its future pondered at
various quarters, the directorate of operations is in fact…some of its members will tell
you some of…the heart of the agency were certainly the part that distinguishes the
agency. We heard General Odom list a vast array of
intelligence gathering agencies in the government. What was unique about the CIA was that it
ran clandestine operations, covert operations. Ben: In other words, they had spies. Neil: They had spies, and they did things. They bribed governments. They recruited agents. They did these things. None of these other ones do that. Ben: Well, except that our adversaries did
it. Neil: I’m talking about overall. Ben: No, I see this, right. Okay. Neil: So, therefore, the threat to the CIA
now, as I mentioned before, is I don’t think this president, I don’t think his successor,
whether it be in two years or six years, is gonna be very eager to engage the CIA in covert
operations. So I think this special character, the CIA,
is in danger of becoming extinct. And as Professor Pipe said, it requires…and
as General Odom and I think Jeffrey as well, some genuine restructuring of what you’re
gonna do about it, because I think the part that’s really threatened is the directorate
of operations. You may say it’s small, but it is the character
that distinguishes the CIA from everything else. Ben: So what you are saying is because there
are no bad guy Soviets around we no longer need spies, is that… Neil: No. Ben: No, is that your argument? Neil: No, we might well, but I don’t think
any policymaker, any one in administration is gonna really turn to the CIA in the immediate
future. I think they have no stature anymore to do
these kinds of covert operations. Ben: General Odom, I mean, go ahead, or… General Odom: Well, I agree with what you
just said in many regards. Let’s take Dick Pipe’s concern about central
control so that it’s not dispersed. Absolutely, Dick, and I think if you kept…we
have to keep a Director of Central Intelligence. I think we need a National Intelligence Council. And we may need a very small subsidiary, analytic
effort to support it. But you don’t need the big DDI that tries
to do intelligence [crosstalk 00:20:35]. Ben: Hold it, DDI… General Odom: The big analytic effort. Then… Ben: What does DDI stand for? General Odom: The Deputy Director for Intelligence. In other words, the analysis. Now, to the heart of the agency, the DDO,
the clandestine service… Ben: DDO is the…. General Odom: Deputy Director for Operations. Ben: He’s in charge of the spies. General Odom: In charge of the spies. Ben: The spymaster, right. General Odom: The clandestine service is I
think as he said is on the way to extinction. Let me ask you a question. If you were a potential agent who wanted to
work for American Intelligence abroad, given the public image of the CIA, would you dare
risk your life by being recruited by? You have a dynamic at work here. There no way for this a…we definitely need
a strong clandestine service. But this clandestine service… Ben: And you’re saying that this culture cannot
support it? General Odom: This clandestine service, this
particular clandestine service has outlived its usefulness. If you want a clandestine service, you have
to start over. There’s no other… Ben: I mean, and just put it there. I mean, [crosstalk 00:21:37] government should
continue to sponsor spying but put a different label on it. Jeffery: Or put it elsewhere, you mean… Ben: Put it in another building. Jeffery: Put it in the defense department? Ben: Put it in another building in another
box on the chart. General Odom: There are many alternative ways
to go about it. But you cannot repair the present activity. It just outlived its usefulness. Ben: Jeffrey Richelson, what do you think? Jeffery: Well, I’d be skeptical that you can’t
prepare the present activity. I mean, I’d really like to know exactly how
many people are involved in activities that General Odom would, you know, fire them for. Before I said you should scrap all 5,000 or
so people involved in the operation. You also have a network and an apparatus that
has been set up over the years. I don’t know that you can simply scrap it
and start all over. Ben: Dick Pipes, do we still need spies? Professor Pipes: Oh, well, I don’t like to
use the word spies, human intelligence. Ben: Human intelligence. Professor Pipes: Human intelligence is critical. It’s absolutely critical because it is only
through human intelligence that you can find out what people’s intentions are, what people’s
mood is, what people’s attitudes are. There’s no way satellites will tell you that. Ben: Give me an example of where you would
wanna spy today and for what purpose. Professor Pipes: Again, I don’t say spy. Ben: I mean, human intelligence, sorry. Professor Pipes: Well, take China for example. I think in order to find out where China is
moving, where the next leadership is likely to come from, the only way can get it is from
people on the spot who have the knowledge and who are willing to pass it on to us. And it’s not necessarily spying. Spying is too narrow a word, because a spy
is somebody who works in disguise. They are people who provide you information
who are bona fide people on the other side. And a lot of information I got about Russia
when I was traveling the Soviet Union in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s came from people who were
not in any way agents, they were just well-informed people who passed on information. General Odom: See I think Dick is making an
extreme…Professor Pipes is making an extremely valuable point. Human intelligence, a lot of it, not formal
from the intelligence community, does inform the decision process. What’s interesting if you’ve sat there and
watched this process internally, is how little impact…what CIA analysts have to say, what
little impact there is on the decision process. Because there’s a vast amount of information,
first-rate analysis available in the open press in selected university publications,
articles etc, and people that you talk to that travel, therefore, this is vital information. But the amount that’s actually produced with
the clandestine service for that is trivial. Ben: Listen, we have to get out, and I wanna
give Richard Pipes in Boston the last short word, sir. Professor Pipes: Well, in sum, I’d say that
the CIA is not as bad as people think and not as good as it could be. So there is room for improvement, but in some
form a central intelligence-gathering organization should be maintained. Ben: Okay, thank you, Richard Pipes, via satellite
in Boston. Thank you, William Odom, Neil Lewis, and Jeffrey
Richelson. And thank you. Please send your questions and comments to
New River Media, 1150 17th Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20036, or we can be reached
via e-mail at [email protected], or on the worldwide web at For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg. Announcer: This has been a production of BJW
Incorporated in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its

Michael Martin

4 Responses

  1. When was the CIA useful? The agency started with a series of failed operations that would go on to have terrible blowback for decades to come.

  2. This was a very interesting deep examination at intelligence agencies and their procedures. You could see a lot about how they were predicting what the future could be for gathering intelligence. I think it's a shame that these major agencies seem more political leaning and motivated these days.

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