The CIA's Mission Possible

By David Ignatius
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Firing Porter Goss was the easy part. The challenge now is to complete the reorganization of U.S. intelligence so that the 16 spy agencies under Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte are fighting America's enemies rather than battling each other in bureaucratic turf wars.

But how to fit the pieces together? That's the quandary for Negroponte and Gen. Michael Hayden, the administration's nominee to succeed the miscast Goss. I suggest they take a careful look at the British model. The Brits have a basic division of labor: a small, elite Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6) collects human intelligence; an interagency group known as the Joint Intelligence Committee analyzes that information for policymakers and tells the spies what to collect. When I look at Negroponte's organization chart, that's the model that I hope is emerging. If so, he's moving in the right direction.

At the core of the intelligence puzzle is the CIA, whose very name is outdated. It is no longer the Central Intelligence Agency, coordinating the work of the community. That's the DNI's job now. In a sensible reorganization, the CIA should refocus on the specific mission for which it was created more than 50 years ago -- gathering HUMINT, which is intelligence jargon for the secrets between someone's ears. The days when the CIA could be all things to all intelligence consumers are over. Today's CIA should be a truly secret intelligence service in which the job of analysts is to target operations. The all-source analysis that creates finished intelligence should be managed by the DNI.

Making this transition at the CIA will be painful, and Hayden is a good choice for the necessary surgery. As a feisty military officer, he's paradoxically the right person to fend off poaching by the Pentagon. By his own admission, Hayden doesn't know much about the CIA's operational work, but he does know how to modernize a big, hidebound bureaucracy. He did that at the National Security Agency -- helping the wiretappers adapt to a new world of e-mail, fiber-optic cables and wireless phones. He made enemies at the NSA, but he was a successful change agent.

Hayden will have the ideal partner in Stephen Kappes, who is slated to be deputy director. Kappes is something of a legend at the agency: a charismatic ex-Marine who knows how to lead from the front. He punched all the tickets -- fixing a broken Iranian operations group that had lost a string of agents, serving as chief of station in Moscow and as head of counterintelligence, and visiting Moammar Gaddafi and persuading him to give up his nuclear weapons program. Kappes's pitch to the Libyan leader is said to have been blunt, and irresistible: You are the drowning man and I am the lifeguard.

Kappes is the CIA version of the ultimate stand-up guy. After achieving his dream of heading the Directorate of Operations, Kappes walked away from the job in late 2004 rather than fire his deputy, Mike Sulick, as demanded by one of the conservative hatchet men Goss had brought with him from Capitol Hill. A former agency officer remembers the reaction to Kappes's departure: "It was a devastating body blow, like someone has punched you in the solar plexus. The wind came out of the sails that day and it has never come back."

Kappes had a plan for reorganizing the Directorate of Operations when he left, and he's in a position to implement it now. It's said that he wants to create a far more nimble spy service -- one that can attack terrorist groups and other targets around the world more aggressively. Today the CIA is still locked in a Cold War structure, with the same fixed array of directorates and geographical divisions. The agency is frantically hiring new case officers, but under the old structure there aren't "OCPs" (or overseas covered positions) ready for them, so many of the young recruits languish, "stacked up at headquarters like cordwood" in the phrase of one CIA insider.

CIA veterans say Kappes hopes to create an operations capability that's more like a flying squad -- detached from headquarters and its layers of bureaucracy. If an al-Qaeda cell surfaces on a remote island in the Philippines where the United States doesn't have an embassy or consulate, officers from Kappes's revamped spy service could grab a laptop and be on their way in hours.

Maybe it's time to say goodbye to those three spooky initials "CIA" and the bloated, barnacle-encrusted agency they represent. Let Negroponte move his shop to Langley and create a new elite analytical service there. Meanwhile, let the covert operatives slip away in the night to destinations unknown, where they can get to work stealing the secrets that will keep America safe.

davidignatius@washpost.com


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