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The New Director of the CIA: A Historic Perspective

To whom should new CIA Director Michael Hayden look to restore the agency’s credibility?

May 29, 2006

To whom should new CIA Director Michael Hayden look to restore the agency's credibility?

As the new Director of the CIA, U.S. Air Force General Michael V. Hayden has his work cut out for him. To counteract the all too evident disillusionment within the agency, Mr. Hayden will need to reaffirm the CIA's commitment to provide the President of the United States with the truth and to do so as much as possible within the bounds of the law.

A lot is at stake. If he fails, it is highly unlikely that the CIA will ever be able to attract the caliber of people it has in the past or restore its reputation as the place Presidents go for a second opinion on matters of national security.

The CIA has historically had an important role to play in this regard. While the U.S. Secretary of Defense may be the de facto czar of intelligence because he controls 85% of the intelligence budget, Presidents and their defense secretaries normally turn to the CIA for a second opinion, and the CIA can generally provide it.

During the Kennedy Administration, for example, the CIA countered the military's wildly overstated estimates of Soviet military power and later cautioned President Johnson that the Vietnam War could not be won by military force.

At its core, the CIA's job is to find out the truth and tell it to the President. Sometimes, this job requires the CIA to read other people's mail, tap their phones — and bribe them for information. The CIA is not, however, a rogue elephant. It invariably acts on the orders of the President and his appointed advisors.

While the CIA breaks the law to do its job, it does not do so cavalierly. Past Presidents have generally upheld the view that a rule-based international society is one of the most important long-term objectives the United States can have.

To this end, they have encouraged the various agencies within the U.S. government, including the CIA, to support the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and most recently the UN Convention against Torture.

The CIA's founding fathers were lawyers, journalists and academics. Many, including my father, served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II military precursor of the CIA. They were older people who had experience and wanted to serve their country at a time of crisis.

After serving in the OSS, my father became the special assistant to CIA director Allen Dulles. He subsequently became a syndicated columnist and co-host of the television talk show Crossfire.

The CIA attracted people like my father in part through patriotism and in part because of the mystique surrounding it, the idea that its information is more detailed, wide-ranging and up-to-date than that available on the outside.

But, the CIA also played to their idealism. My father's generation believed that while they might have to break some rules as employees of the CIA to protect their country, their mission was to build a better world, a world where the rule of law and democratic governments could flourish.

What has become of the CIA? Over the past six years, it has lost both its integrity and its sense of mission.

Although George Tenet was beloved by agency employees because of his easy going mannerisms, he hurt the credibility of the CIA and the morale of its employees by failing to stand up to outside pressure on whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Porter Goss subsequently did even more damage to the credibility of the CIA and the morale of its employees by not even trying to get the truth to the President.

Surrounding himself with former Hill staffers and GOP aides, Mr. Goss oversaw the departure of more than three dozen seasoned intelligence experts, many of whom specialized in counterterrorism. He seemed to think his job was less to get at the truth on pressing security issues than to weed out so called anti-Bush officers.

In this regard, it is telling that one of Goss's last acts in the job was to fire a veteran intelligence officer with links to the former Clinton Administration, Mary McCarthy, for having "unauthorized" contacts with reporters. He was reportedly so concerned about contacts with the media that he forced many officers to take repeated polygraphs to prove their innocence.

The incident is significant in part because when my father worked at the CIA, he was encouraged to interact with academics and the media as well as to publish. Allen Dulles always maintained that it was wrong to bottle up the agency's intellectuals.

Mr. Dulles argued that while secrets must be kept, CIA employees should be able to publish their work in declassified form so that they could better interact with their peers in the outside world, gain their respect — and get at the truth better.

The incident is also telling because McCarthy was allegedly fired for pointing Washington Post reporter Dana Priest in the direction of uncovering the secret CIA transfers of detainees to countries in Central Europe. Mrs. McCarthy has since indicated that she was not the source of the leak, though she was in contact with Priest.

Whatever the exact circumstances of the case, my father's generation would not have approved of the secret detention centers or the gag rule on having any contact with the media.

All things considered, my father's generation would not be able to work at the CIA as it is today. Given the caliber of people the CIA attracted after World War II to fight the Cold War, this is truly unfortunate.

So, if General Hayden is to restore the credibility of the CIA and the morale of its employees, he will need to convince my father that if he were in his thirties and not in his late eighties, he would still want to work at the CIA. This is a daunting task, but for the sake of U.S. security and the fight against terrorism, I hope Hayden is up to the job.