Does It Really Matter Who Runs the CIA?

Central Intelligence Agency director Porter Goss resigned last week after a tumultuous and bloody reign. Like all good CIA bosses, Goss will be remembered for his original contributions to the Pantheon of CIA High Crimes, such as extraordinary rendition, black sites in Eastern Europe and torture techniques perfected in the windowless cells of Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib.

Today, Washington is all abuzz over President Bush’s pick to replace him, Air Force general, Michael Hayden. To listen to the Beltway noise meter, you’d think that real principles are at stake. Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee Peter Hoekstra warned on Fox News that it would be inappropriate for a military man to fill the civilian CIA. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein tossed down the gauntlet suggesting that Gen. Hayden resign his commission before he changes his uniform from Air Force blue to CIA black. And Republican Senator Arlen Spectar and Democratic Senator Joe Biden warned that they would press Hayden on the question of civil liberties during the confirmation hearings. Standing tall against the nay sayers, the Bush Administration yes-men are hitting the talk show circuit, joined by institutionalized “maverick” Republican Sen. John McCain.

No doubt, Gen. Hayden is a dangerous man. He ran the National Security Administration while it spied on American citizens and he is a true-believing war on terror zealot. But before the anti-war movement joins in the anti-Hayden chorus, we should step back and ask a deeper question: does it matter who runs the CIA?

The liberal wing on the Democratic Party, which is trying to pose as “anti-war” for the November elections, believes it does. As house minority leader Nancy Pelosi put it, “There is a power struggle going on between the Department of Defense and the entire rest of the intelligence community. So I don’t see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA.”

Pelosi thinks the anti-war movement has a horse in this race. I think she’s dead wrong. While we can certainly take pleasure in the increasing disarray within the Bush Administration, that does not mean that we should applaud those in Congress who want to “repair the damage” to the CIA. We do not bemoan the loss of the CIA’s most experienced analysts, we hope more of them quit. We don’t mourn the “loss of morale” at The Company, we seek to organize to expose their crimes. We don’t defend the CIA’s control over intelligence gathering from the DoD, we believe that our country has no business spying on other nations and preparing war plans against them.

To pick sides between the DoD and the CIA is to misunderstand how the American military state functions. Of course, there are different factions who strive to maximize their own section of the bureaucracy’s power over the others as well as to secure the greatest possible funding and contracts. Policy disputes can also manifest in antagonism between different fiefdoms, such as the conflict over who was to blame for the pre-war lies about WMD’s in Iraq: Tenet, Powell or Rumsfeld. However, these little battles are all tactical arguments over how to best secure the universally agreed upon strategic goal, namely, the greatest possible expansion of American military and economic power over all allies and enemies. This agreement infuses the entire American military state with an impressive discipline, which extends to the deepest core of both the Democratic and Republican parties. The occasional temporary dissident bureaucrat or politician only goes to prove the rule.

Rather than taking a step towards the anti-war movement, Feinstein, Pelosi and Biden’s saber rattling against Hayden and Bush really only goes to show how determined they are to perfect the American military state machine. Sen. Feinstein clearly summarizes this view on her website:

“I am very worried about America’s Intelligence Community, particularly the CIA. The Agency has experienced enormous turmoil at top levels during Porter Goss’s tenure. What was hoped to be an appointment of reform turned out to be one of missed opportunities. The management of the Agency and the oversight of its activities are critical. The agency is increasing in size rapidly ­ and that brings with it many problems that need to be addressed. Whomever the President selects must be able to gain the respect of intelligence professionals and manage them in this era of asymmetric threat. This individual must be able to present unvarnished, carefully evaluated assessments to both the White House and Congress. Regretfully, that has not always been the case. So as the President considers choices to be the new nominee, I hope he will name an experienced and knowledgeable intelligence professional ­ someone who is a skilled manager in very difficult circumstances.”

All those who remember the CIA’s victims over the years from Iran to Guatemala to Vietnam to Chile to Nicaragua should also remember Sen. Feinstein’s words.

Of course, on another level, this week’s rattle and hum in DC is just politics. The senators aren’t spending sleepless nights worrying about Hayden’s confirmation. Maybe he’ll go through, maybe he won’t. After exacting a few pounds from Bush, odds are that Hayden will become the next director of the CIA. As Sen. Feinstein notes, “I think General Hayden is a logical choice; he is very well respected, he is a professional, he’s run an agency twice the size of the CIA.”

Rather than wasting time on this side-show, the anti-war movement should be planning protests against the escalation of the air war in Iraq and the danger of impending military action against Iran.

Last week, the House voted 397 to 21 for the Iran Freedom Support Act, which is Orwell-speak for the “Countdown to Invade/Bomb Iran Act.” The fact that supposed “peace” politicians like Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, John Murtha, Lynne Woolsey and Bernie Sanders voted to start the clock on Iran serves as a wake-up call to the fact that Congress will not stop the war in Iraq, nor prevent an attack on Iran. Only a movement that remains independent from the two-parties who believe in war for oil and empire, be it covert or out in the open, will be able to grow strong enough to bring out troops home and give Iraq back to the Iraqis.

Does it matter who runs the CIA? No.

TODD CHRETIEN is running for US Senate as a Green Party candidate from California. He can be reached at:



TODD CHRETIEN writes for the Socialist Work.