The word "intelligence" is getting a bad name. The 9/11 report didn't help its reputation at all. CIA intelligence is now being questioned and found wanting.

Before knocking all of it, we have to understand it. There is good intelligence, bad intelligence and no intelligence.

The CIA has two departments -- the department of operations and the department of analysis.

The Operations people are the cloak and dagger boys and girls. They gather information, by hook and by crook and any other way, on our friends and enemies and anything else that Washington wants to know.

The department of operations is so secret that one hand never knows what the other hand is doing. Their families have no idea what they do for a living.

Everyone has a code name and is given a cover. An agent may have an affair with someone he wants to recruit, but Ops people may never have affairs with each other -- though it occasionally happens.

Everything Ops does is a secret, not only from America's foes, but also from the FBI, the Pentagon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Money is no object. Ops can buy the hearts and minds of informants and heads of state, and it can buy military plans. It also has safe houses with Jacuzzis for its employees.

Anyone who goes to the movies has some idea what the CIA has in its arsenal of weapons -- umbrellas that shoot poisoned darts, fat-free message pads that can be eaten, earrings that are really shortwave radios, dollar bills delivered underneath pizzas and Victoria's Secret bugging brassieres.

The information gathered by Ops is turned over to the department of analysis. Its people are locked in airless rooms at CIA headquarters in Langley and decide what to do with it.

The reason the United States got an F from the 9/11 commission is that Analysis didn't trust Ops and vice versa.

Ops agents believe that analysts are always outguessing them. By the same token, the people in each department have one major role, and that is to protect their own butts.

Once Analysis reads the documents, it has to decide who sees them. If the analysts decide to put it into the daily hush-hush report, it is distributed on its intranet to anyone who has a secure computer. If the analysts ratchet it up one notch, the report is sent by Harley-Davidson motorcycle only to people who have the need to know, or insist they have a right to know.

Now this is where intelligence gets tricky. The need-to-know people who receive the information have to decide what to do with it. Bureaucrats who have been around a long time pass the flimsies to their superiors so they can't be blamed if the plans go awry. The information goes right up the food chain until it reaches the White House, which shreds it so the congressional committee on intelligence can't have it for its hearings.

The White House folks put as much priority on damage control as they do on what information they receive.

When it is in their interest, they will leak the secret information to the news media.

If something leaks that they don't want anyone to know about, they will turn the task of finding the whistleblower over to the FBI.

(This column has been picked up by someone in Ops and is now being decoded and analyzed. There is a good chance it will be shredded after Dick Cheney reads it.)

(c) 2004, Tribune Media Services