Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!

Of Course, But Bad US Policies Will Outweigh Any Benefits

Former CIA analyst

Most of the suggestions proposed for reorganizing the CIA ignore two serious problems — the vital need to set up, somewhere in the government, a group of intelligence analysts truly independent of each and every administration, and the equally important need for stricter controls and limitations on covert operations directed by the U.S. government.

Let’s start by accepting that George Tenet’s resignation was a good thing. He let himself be co-opted and too often told the Bush administration what it wanted to hear. He gave his superiors selective information that would strengthen their existing desire to invade Iraq rather than a balanced picture of the variety of analytical views within the intelligence community on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. He did not do this all of the time, but he did do it too much of the time. He got too close to the policymakers and tried too hard to please them. His calling it a “slam-dunk” (as reported by Bob Woodward) that Iraq did indeed possess WMD in the fall of 2002, is all the evidence required to reach this conclusion. But there is more, much more.

The best way to avoid the problems created by such co-option of CIA directors in the future would be to split off the Agency’s analytical unit entirely from its covert operations — that is, to create two separate agencies with different directors. Having one person in charge of both analysis and operations creates enormous conflicts, and it is impossible for any CIA director to do both jobs equally well.

The covert operations carried out by the CIA, both information collection and covert actions designed to influence the policies of other governments, actually are and have to be part of the U.S. policymaking and policy-implementing establishment. The intelligence analysis functions, on the other hand, should be separated to the maximum degree possible from policymaking and should never be distorted or falsified in order to support policies already desired by any administration.

This is not a new problem. The CIA was established in 1947, and pressures on it to provide analyses strengthening the pre-existing views of policymakers go back at least to the early 1950s, on issues such as the Sino-Soviet split and the Korean war, and later the bomber gap, the missile gap, the Vietnam war, Soviet military and economic strengths, and even the reasons for the USSR’s final collapse. If the administration of George W. Bush introduced anything new into the mix, it was only the intensity and ruthlessness with which its ideologues bulldozed aside any opposition to their own views and their own so-called “evidence” and “analysis.”

All the other 14 agencies of the intelligence community are part of one or another government department — most of them are in the Defense Department. Their analyses inevitably reflect the views of their departments and therefore have often contained a degree, sometimes small but always significant, of distortion and falsification. This sin of departmental intelligence is endemic in bureaucracies. It can never be totally eradicated, only minimized. Unfortunately, the Bush administration made the problem far worse by setting up in the Defense Department a new office — the Office of Special Plans, or OSP. The specific task of this office was to search out and highlight only those bits and pieces of evidence, fragmentary and unreliable though they might be, that would support the case for war against Iraq and encourage the Congress and the people of the U.S. to support a war. Never before in U.S. history has there been such a blatant and concentrated — and successful — effort to distort intelligence analysis. In its July 9 report on the intelligence failures surrounding the Iraq debacle, the Senate Intelligence Committee failed, incredibly, to discuss the role of the OSP in manufacturing evidence justifying war.

The success of the OSP demonstrates more than anything else the need for a new and separate analytical intelligence agency, one having both great independence and high stature. The director of this body should therefore be appointed to a ten-year term. This would insulate him or her to an important degree from control by any administration. The underlying requirement here should be to provide the U.S. government with an analytical intelligence unit capable of acting as a powerful check or balance to any administration’s preconceived foreign policies. Other intelligence agencies should continue to produce and disseminate any reports they wish, but the new agency, having greater independence and access to all sources, would have primary responsibility both for producing reports on its own initiative and for answering requests for analyses from the White House and Congress.

Let’s move on to the second issue, U.S. covert operations. What is important, but is apparently not being seriously addressed in Washington these days, is to make sure that the top leaders of our government take explicit responsibility for all covert operations that are carried out.

The principal guidelines should be that the new covert operations organization established after the split-up of the CIA would be under civilian, not military, control; and the Defense Department should carry out no covert operations except those that are integral parts of war-fighting activities and are carried out as part of a war declared by the Congress.

All covert operations other than those defined above as being allowed to the Defense Department should be carried out only by the new organization. In addition, all operations should be approved in writing by the president, by the chairmen and ranking minority members of the three House and three Senate committees on foreign affairs, military affairs, and intelligence, and by the chief justice of the Supreme Court as well. Covert operations are so important, and should be so exceptional, that henceforth all three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — should be part of the approval process for such operations. If assigning such a function to the Supreme Court could be achieved only through a constitutional amendment, then we should seek such an amendment.

* * * * * * *

When presuming to suggest how the United States might change its intelligence apparatus, it is necessary to raise a few more propositions for debate, propositions that go well beyond the U.S. intelligence structure into broader foreign policy issues.

Proposition One: No conceivable expansion of our intelligence establishment is going to do much to reduce the threat of terrorism against the U.S. and its allies. Therefore, Americans should oppose any such expansion.

Proposition Two: No conceivable reorganization of the U.S. intelligence establishment is going to reduce the threat of terrorism against us more than marginally. Reorganizations may or may not provide some benefits of greater efficiency or protect us to some degree from rogue administrations, but meaningful contributions toward a more peaceful planet are unlikely.

Proposition Three: The absolutely critical reason that intelligence won’t help much to stop terrorism is that U.S. foreign and military policies are wrong. These include, most importantly, the various means employed by the U.S. to extend and strengthen its domination over the rest of the world. These foreign policies have increased rather than decreased the threat of terrorism against us and our allies. Other specifics of U.S policies, which are related to the goal of global domination and also increase the threat of terrorism, are our one-sided support of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the preceding years of sanctions, the large U.S. military presence in many parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, and the pursuit of a U.S. version of economic globalization that is seen by many peoples of the world as a weapon in our drive for global domination and is even today continuing to widen the gap between rich and poor in many countries.

Proposition Four: Nothing we could do in expanding or reorganizing the U.S. intelligence apparatus would have as much effect on reducing the terrorism threat as would changing policies that intensify hatred of the U.S. around the world. But the striking similarities between Republicans and Democrats on foreign policy issues work to prevent change.

Proposition Five: The fact that only 5 percent of the world’s population resides in the U.S. means that we simply cannot dominate the rest of the world for long. The very effort of the U.S. to seek global domination is anti-democratic in the eyes of most of the world’s people, who do not want to be dominated by the U.S. In addition, the drive for global domination will over time impoverish many average people here in the U.S., who see their hopes for better healthcare and education, and for lifetime living wages, fading farther and farther into a future they will never live to see.

Proposition Six: To put it bluntly, U.S. foreign policies for far too long have been simply immoral, and the U.S. has been responsible for allowing, encouraging, and enabling far too much torture and far too many deaths, deaths totaling in the millions — in areas from Indochina to East Timor in the Far East; to Chile and Central America in our own hemisphere; to the Balkans, Turkey, and South Africa; to Palestine; to Iran, and now to Afghanistan and Iraq.
* * * * * *

In this context of misguided, shortsighted, and unjust U.S. foreign policies, let’s take another, and final, look at the role of intelligence in our system of government.

The real question with regard to intelligence is this: Are the major additional expansions of this country’s intelligence apparatus that are already clearly on the drawing boards necessary and proper because of what happened on September 11, 2001 and subsequently? One side in the debate says of course they are. Aren’t the increases absolutely essential, given the threats we face? The answer, according to this side, is clearly yes.

But there is another side — to which this writer belongs — that says no. Events since September 11 so threaten our own society that we should oppose such expansions and urge cutbacks in intelligence spending instead. This side asks: Should not the use of covert operations by the U.S. be curtailed rather than expanded? Don’t covert operations usually wind up not staying covert, and don’t they often become a cause for more terrorism?

As intelligence and covert actions become increasingly important as a separate and growing arm of U.S. global policies, should not questions be raised by Americans themselves about the ignoble image of the U.S. this trend presents to the world? Do we lack so much confidence in our own overt policies — our alleged support for democracy, for example — that we have to rely increasingly on covert actions and military force to implement them?

BILL CHRISTISON was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He can be reached at

More articles by:
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?