Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Hayden's Challenge at the CIA
If Gen. Michael V. Hayden is confirmed as CIA director, he will inherit an organization with several overwhelming problems: morale is near rock-bottom; almost an entire generation of senior agents and managers have walked out the door; the large recruiting classes are bringing in smart people but hardly any with real-world experience or institutional knowledge; and bureaucratic infighting has left the agency in a much weaker institutional position than it was when Porter Goss took over.

While recruiting classes are large and the quality of recruits high, it is almost impossible to overstate the feeling foreign intelligence officials, retired officers and others have when they deal with the agency that the agency is operating with little adult supervision. There is no doubt reform was desperately needed after the end of the Cold War, as state threats merged with the threat of non-state actors sliding through the seams of globalization.

But those who left were not just the dinasours who couldn't change. There were also people who know how to successfully run clandestine operations, who think about exploiting the slight cracks among the different groups that emerge as enemies, those who know how to run covert information and disinformation campaigns. All of this must be done in a radically different world than the world that existed before the early 1990s, but the skills themselves are still vital. And the talent charts in the agency of those who have them is slim indeed.

Publicly floating the idea of bringing back Stephen R. Kappes as Hayden's deputy is a direct slap at the Goss legacy. Kappes resigned less than two months after Goss took over as CIA director in late 2004.

His fight was Goss was one of the first, and bringing him back may well open the door to the return of others who felt Goss politicized the agency and had little understanding of how the tradecraft had evolved in the three decades since he had been an agent. Goss' willingness to let former Congressional aides assume key decision-making and personnel spots even though they had little or no experience in intelligence matters other than as consumers, cost the agency dearly.

Hayden would have several advantages as well. He knows John Negroponte well and has worked with him. He may have to clout to push back on the Pentagon efforts to assume control of virtually all of the human intelligence apparatus. He understands, if anyone does, what the new intelligence architecture is supposed to look like and the overall vision of integrating the intelligence community. Many, myself included, are not at all sure such a vision or plan really exists.

Hayden, despite all the rumblings on Capitol Hill about his active duty status in the military, is well-liked personally by Republicans and Democrats alike. He has not picked fights and has shown a willingness to at least tip his hat to Congressional oversight and concerns, both things that Goss did.

However, the overwhelming challenge remains: how to remake the CIA into a premiere, functional intelligence-gathering operation that can speak truth to power and help policymakers navigate in the rapidly changing world. At its best, it would have been a tremendous challenge for the CIA to move forward after 9-11. Unfortunately, the missteps since then have left the CIA far from its best.
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