November 22, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Goss's Got Guts

When a new CEO takes over a failing company, it's not at all uncommon to fire (or force out) a couple of senior people. After all, senior management is responsible for an organization's poor performance, so why keep the deadwood around?

Sure, lopping off heads can be a risky strategy. But it certainly makes the rest of the employees stand up and take notice. And it sends a clear message: "Things are going to change. Get with the program - or get out."

This is precisely what's going on at the CIA under new director, Porter Goss. His forward leaning, no-nonsense approach at Langley is upsetting some, but it's just what the doctor ordered. Reforming an agency the likes of the CIA in today's national-security environment is no job for Melvin Milquetoast. That's one reason President Bush picked Goss, the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and an ex-spook, to clean house.

But Goss has his work cut out for him. He must: hold people accountable for intelligence failures; reform operational practices; end irresponsible leaks to the media - and stem misguided attempts by intelligence analysts to play policymaker.

* Accountability: The CIA is responsible for some of this nation's most significant intelligence lapses - 9/11 and Iraqi WMD (or lack thereof) come quickly to mind. It's high time to hold people responsible for their failures.

Without accountability, you get a climate that accepts shoddy analysis and sloppy operational tradecraft. That is absolutely un-acceptable in this day and age. (Despite what you hear in the liberal media, Goss's move to hold people accountable is getting rave reviews within the CIA.)

* Practices: Congressional critics - and others - have said the CIA's human spies have lost their nerve. It's more accurate to say spook management has become risk-averse.

Unfortunately, this won't wash against "hard targets" such as al Qaeda, North Korea or Iran. CIA operatives - and their stable of agents - must penetrate these targets or we'll have more Iraqi WMD fiascoes.

* Leaks: People leak information for two reasons: either to satisfy their own egos or to promote an agenda. Or both. Leaking classified information for either reason isn't only irresponsible - it's against the law.

As Director Goss so simply said, the CIA is a "secret agency." Yet The Company has become a sieve for agenda-driven leaks. It's time to plug the holes, which undermine our national security for pure political reasons. The CIA is supposed to be apolitical.

* Policymaking: Policymakers are the government's "Top Guns," and everyone in government wants to be one. But intelligence analysts are not supposed to set policy - and shouldn't be trying to.

The analyst's job is to provide the unvarnished, actionable intelligence facts to senior decision-makers. As Joe Friday said: "Just the facts, ma'am."

(It's wildly outrageous that the CIA allowed an undercover employee to publish the policy-critical book "Imperial Hubris" during an election season. Someone should be fired just for that.)

* Vision: Unfortunately, by most accounts, Director Goss has failed to fully articulate a comprehensive vision for the CIA yet. Of course, it's hard to think about making port while the bilges are flooding. Finding ways to stay afloat tends to occupy the mind.

Moreover, considering the fact that his days and nights are consumed with other "details" - like the War on Terror and Iraq - it's excusable, but still regrettable. So whatever it takes, Goss has got to get "the vision thing" done - and fast.

His next stop after that? Fox News Sunday and "Meet the Press," to tell the American people that he's in charge - and he's got a plan to fix the embattled agency. He can't let them guess his intentions - he's got to tell them. Otherwise, he'll become chum for the circling lefty media sharks.

The CIA has problems. Heck, recent failures have been downright catastrophic. But it's unfair to brand the entire agency "dysfunctional."

Thousands of CIA employees - and others in our alphabet-soup intelligence community - are working the graveyard shift or risking their lives overseas to ensure our security. Just like our soldiers, they deserve our gratitude for their selfless service.

But intelligence is our first line of defense in a very dangerous world. The CIA's intelligence is critical to our national security. We've got to get it right. (And Congress passing the necessary intel reform legislation soon certainly wouldn't hurt.)

That's why President Bush has given Porter Goss a mandate: Fix the CIA. It's a huge job. But, thankfully, Goss has the guts to get it done.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post