Seize the opportunity to make real intelligence reform

Seize the opportunity to make real intelligence reform
© Greg Nash

Speculation is rife concerning the possibility that President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE will replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats with Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst. According to these reports Fleitz’s mission will be to preside over the downsizing of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and, if possible, its complete elimination. Let’s hope these reports are true.

The ODNI was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks based on the enduring belief in Washington that all problems are solved by throwing money and people at them. We suffered a surprise attack on our soil because we did not have the human sources we needed inside Al Qaida. The Washington logic therefore was that the addition of layers of bureaucracy, the building of new office buildings and the awarding of hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for computers, desks, meeting rooms and flat screen tv’s would solve the problem.

The ODNI has added nothing but process, expense and confusion to a giant bureaucracy already suffering heavily from all three. It needs to go away now. And then we need to get to the real work at hand: reforming the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or perhaps more accurately, getting it back to its roots.


Bureaucrats believe that all problems can be solved by adding a few lines to a wiring diagram and spending more money. We have seen this approach in CIA since 9/11 — in spades. One Director after another — none with any real field operational experience, including the current one — has shuffled desks, changed the names of headquarters components and indulged the belief that the best way to catch terrorists is with PowerPoint presentations. The results are manifest. It took us ten years to find Bin Laden. Baghdadi is still on the run.

I have heard it said within CIA that the best way to stop the next terror attack on the United States would be to convince our enemies to adopt our bureaucratic procedures.

Truth be told, if Osama Bin Laden had been forced to contend with anything like the process our system generates, he would likely still be attempting to get approval for the 9/11 attacks.

What we need in CIA is the simplest, flattest structure possible, with authority and capability delegated to the lowest possible level. The road we have been on since 9/11, one which requires ever greater degrees of coordination, hesitation and deliberation prior to the initiation of any significant action must be reversed. We do not need more meetings, discussion or complexity.

We need good plans. We need approval to move. We need to get out the door.

Windows of opportunity open. They also close.

We also need to clear the playing field. Since 9/11 everybody in Washington has decided they have a mandate to play in the field of human intelligence. First and foremost, the Department of Defense — never a friend of CIA — has stumbled onto the playing field and trained vast numbers of individuals to function as the equivalent of CIA case officers. Most of these people are good, patriotic Americans trying to make a difference. Only a precious few have anything like the skills necessary for success in the world of espionage. The bulk of them never come anywhere near recruiting quality sources of significant value. They do, however, suck up resources and crowd the operational environment.

If you are involved in the conduct of human intelligence operations at the strategic level, you should work for the CIA, as was the clear intent when the organization was created in 1947. If you don’t work for CIA, you should get out of the way.

One would presume that a Department of Defense already fighting multiple wars and tasked to prepare for possible conflicts with Iran, Russia and China would have plenty to occupy its time.

Within CIA we must restore the focus on speed, agility and audacity. We must take it back, if not organizationally, then spiritually, to the ethos of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), CIA’s World War II predecessor. Richard Harris, who wrote one of the best histories of the OSS, had this to say about the state of CIA (and his comments remain spot on to this day):


“OSS was more than a little wacky. But underlying the wackiness was a sustaining ‘spirit’ that had already begun to disappear in the 1960’s when I served my federal peonage emptying classified wastebaskets. Without that spirit, what is left is a CIA that suffers from organizational hardening of the arteries. Even the best of secret servants would be hampered by a pervasive culture of inertia, lack of imagination, smug self-satisfaction, and that infectious curse of the bureaucratic mandarin, the incessant need to CYA: Cover Your Ass.”

When General “Wild Bill” Donovan formed the OSS, he promised President Franklin D. Roosevelt an organization filled with men and women who were “calculatingly reckless,” demonstrated “disciplined daring” and were trained for “aggressive action.” Inside CIA, despite our best efforts to drive them out with mind numbing bureaucracy and process, there are thousands of such men and women today praying for the change that will set them free to do the work they know needs to be done.

PowerPoint presentations, memos and paperwork don’t stop terrorists, help you crawl inside the North Korean nuclear program or explain what the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps intends next. We need to put aside form and process and get back to basics.

Espionage is a tough business. We need an equally tough organization to carry it out.

Charles “Sam” Faddis is a retired CIA operations officer with decades of experience undercover abroad. He took the first CIA team into Iraq in advance of the 2003 invasion and retired in 2008 as head of the CIA counterterrorism unit tracking weapons of mass destruction. He is also a former U.S. Army officer and trial attorney. Faddis is currently a senior partner with Artemis, LLC and the senior editor for AND Magazine. He’s also the author of “Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA” and (with Mike Tucker) “Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq.”