The FBI and CIA need more political management, not less

Getty Images

The Bolsheviks were wrong about everything except the need to defeat (real) fascism, and the necessity for firm control of the Cheka, the secret police.

Michael Morell, the former Acting Director of the CIA, recently confessed that maybe it was a mistake for himself, the former chief of the CIA and NSA, Gen. Michael Hayden, and the then-Director of the CIA, John Brennan, to criticize candidate Donald Trump. He admitted that he failed to understand how Trump would interpret their campaign criticism, which is pretty damning coming from someone who briefed presidents on how foreign leaders think.

Of course, Morell didn’t cop to his behavior, saying, “So, I don’t think it was a mistake. I think there were downsides to it that I didn’t think about at the time … I don’t think I fully thought through the implications.”

{mosads}Thanks, Mike. I’ll try that the next time I’m stopped for speeding.


Meanwhile, over at the FBI, we have been afforded the spectacle of a senior counterintelligence officer, Special Agent Peter Strzok, doing everything he could do to compromise himself: taking a mistress — who was also an FBI lawyer — and then complaining to her about the president, probably using mobile devices the taxpayers provided (and  the Russians hopefully didn’t hack). That startling revelation was followed by a Justice Department release of 10,000 FBI text messages that included Strzok’s reference to an “insurance policy” to prevent a Trump presidency.

The CIA and FBI are run on the honor system. Congress has oversight committees in the House and the Senate, but they’re limited in what they can take back to their colleagues due to the security rules mandated by the executive branch and the intelligence community. Everywhere else this is called “regulatory capture,” which is a form of corruption where “the interests of firms or political groups are prioritized over the interests of the public.”

We will soon be subjected to a round of “sorry!” by the chastened bureaucracies, who will swear that it won’t happen again until next time.

The adage “people are policy” should be applied in a serious way to the CIA and the FBI, and now will be an opportune time as 48 percent of likely voters think senior federal law enforcement officials “broke the law in an effort to present Trump from winning last year’s election.

The Senate has to confirm many senior government officials, such as all ambassadors, all military officers in the rank of lieutenant general and above, and civil officials at the level of assistant secretary and above. At the CIA and the FBI, only the director is subject to Senate confirmation. Maybe the threshold for confirmation should cover several additional levels to head off any future Michael Morells. This can be combined with an annual review by Congress and a freeze of the number of senior positions so the agency can’t sneak any past their overseers.

Another option is to increase the number of political appointees sent to the CIA and FBI. The State and Defense departments manage to carry out their complex and sensitive missions with a regular influx of political appointees, who sometimes bring valuable experience and insights not always evident to the officials caught up in the day-to-day of running of their departments. But it will be important that the political appointees have input on assignments and promotions.

The most severe option would be to require senior career CIA and FBI officials to retire and to obtain reappointment from the president and confirmation from the Senate.

What about the potential for it to politicize intelligence and policing? We apparently already have that.

Is this opening the door to the spoils system? Well, the spoils system was at least responsive to the elected government of the day and not the unelected bureaucracy.

And there are some other downsides our defenders weren’t thinking about: These revelations are a Christmas gift to bad guys who can turn an FBI investigation into a retrospective on the agents’ politics. Additionally, the role of our police and intelligence officials in the political process makes the U.S. less able to call out foreign governments when their cops and spooks get political.

A well-known Russian politician said, “There is no such thing as a former KGB man.” Let’s make sure we never have that concern.

James D. Durso (@James_Durso) is the managing director at consultancy firm Corsair LLC. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years specializing in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as supply officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).

Tags Donald Trump James Durso Michael Morell Peter Strzok Robert Mueller Russia

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

More Campaign News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video