Unlike many other Congressional reports that are soon forgotten, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation program has been quickly followed by a major restructuring in the agency it so harshly criticized. Unfortunately, the CIA’s reform announced by its director, John Brennan, goes in the opposite direction of the Senate’s report logical conclusions.

The Senate’s report criticized the CIA, especially its Counterterrorism Center (CTC), for having misled policymakers and the public about the value of its interrogation program. With Brennan’s reform, the CTC would become the model for the entire CIA. Analysts and operations officers, who have worked separately since the agency’s founding, would instead work side by side in regional and thematic centers like the CTC.

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Yawning is probably the most common reaction to this bureaucratic remake, but Congress would be wrong to ignore it. The CIA’s budget has come to depend on the perceived effectiveness of its operations, especially paramilitary ones. With analysts and operations officers working side by side, it will become harder to find analysts willing to say that some operations are not working. The result will likely be a CIA that again oversells its programs and misinforms policymakers.

Brennan dismissed this concern, saying that the history of the Counterterrorism Center demonstrates that its analysis has remained objective. However, we know from the Senate’s report that the CIA itself admitted that the CTC had misled policymakers in several occasions. For instance, between 2002 and 2007 the CIA repeatedly claimed that al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah provided information on terrorist suspect Jose Padilla after being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. In fact, he had provided this information while being interrogated by the FBI using rapport-building techniques, before being handed to the CIA. When questioned by the Senate in 2008, the CIA drafted an answer saying that the legal office of CTC “simply inadvertently reported this wrong”, but then refused to send it.

CTC officers explicitly linked the CTC’s bureaucratic and budgetary interests to their need to sell the interrogation program. In 2005, the CTC’s deputy director told his colleagues that “we either get out and sell [the value of the interrogation program], or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. Congress reads it, cuts our authorities, messes up our budget.”

CTC officers were pressured to fall in line and asked only for information that confirmed the interrogation program’s supposed effectiveness. In 2004, CTC’s Legal office asked CTC officers for “a list of specific plots that have been thwarted by the use of detainee reporting that we acquired following the use of enhanced techniques”. It planned to write a report “emphasizing that thousands of innocent lives have been saved as a result of our use of those techniques” and warned that “the future of the program, and the consequent saving of innocent lives, may depend substantially upon the input you provide.”

Warned that they would have had innocent blood on their hands had they not contributed to selling the program, no one within CTC dared to object. Had there been a separation between analysts and operations officers, it would have been easier for analysts to assess whether harsh interrogations really were saving thousands of lives. 

The CTC is hardly a model of analytical objectivity, yet its fusion of operations officers and analysts has significant advantages. Analysts with deep knowledge of their enemies have been able to target operations more efficiently, and to assess more easily the reliability of incoming information. Intelligence has circulated more freely among those working on the same topic and officers have been able to apply their talents and expertise to a wider range of tasks.

Can we retain these advantages without compromising the objectivity of the information that reaches policymakers? Fortunately, a solution is at hand.

Congress should use its power of the purse to push for the strengthening of the cadre of analysts of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and for the transfer of some of the CIA’s analysts to the ODNI.

For the past decade the ODNI has struggled to gain a role as the head of the intelligence community. It is supposed to coordinate and direct the entire intelligence community, but does not have the tools to do so. In its first bureaucratic battle, the attempt to claim the power to appoint intelligence chiefs of station throughout the world, the ODNI suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the CIA.

This defeat may turn out to have been a blessing. Without a significant role in intelligence collection or in conducting operations, the ODNI is left with the analysis and delivery of intelligence to policymakers. This is no small feat. The Director of National Intelligence and his deputy brief the president on a daily basis. To get on the President’s Daily Brief, other intelligence agencies have to go through the ODNI. Without being invested in any one program, the ODNI’s dominant incentive is to preserve its credibility vis-à-vis the president and ensure the analytic integrity of the entire intelligence community. It is no coincidence that the some of the strongest complaints for the increasing militarization of the CIA, and consequent tendency to sugarcoat its analysis, have come from the ODNI’s office.

Congress’s intervention would allow the ODNI to play the role of chief analyst and guarantor of the intelligence community’s integrity. Congress would obtain multiple goals at once. The intelligence reform of 2004 would finally reach an efficient equilibrium with a stronger head of the intelligence community. The CIA would be free to conduct more and more operations, but the ODNI would ensure that these operations do not affect the objectivity of the information that reaches policymakers.

It is time for Congress to act, to make sure that its reports are not ignored and, more importantly, to ensure the continued efficiency and integrity of the US intelligence community.

Faini is a fellow with the International Security Program at New America.