Meanwhile, Bush has ordered an interagency group to consider expanding the Pentagon’s role in covert operations — which could come at the expense of the CIA, which traditionally has handled clandestine paramilitary missions. At the same time, Bush has told Goss to produce within 90 days a plan to increase the number of CIA covert officers and analysts by 50 percent. This may seem like a boost for the CIA’s fortunes. But the White House has said such an expansion has to occur "within existing budgets," and intelligence veterans have noted that such a plan could lead to lower standards and an emphasis on quantity over quality.
All this adds up to a CIA in crisis. Robert Baer, a former CIA officer, says the intelligence service is "dysfunctional." And the intelligence reform bill is not the solution. It does not address the problems with the CIA’s internal culture, its historic inability to penetrate hard targets (the Soviet Politburo, Castro’s regime, the Viet Cong, the Communist Party of China, al Qaeda), or the conflict between the CIA’s nose-to-the-grindstone analysts and the neoconned Bush White House, which does not enjoy submitting its messianic plans to reality-based vetting.
Does it matterif the CIA is in chaos? Folks who think of the CIA primarily as an agency of evildoing (mounting anti-democratic coups in Iran, Guatemala and Chile, working with dictators and murderous armies elsewhere, partnering up with suspected drug-runners during the Contra war, etc.) might be tempted to say a CIA in decline is fine by them. But al Qaeda and its allies are a real danger to the United States, and these foes cannot be neutralized by military might alone. Smart intelligence — as well as a smart foreign policy — is necessary. Given the CIA’s track record over the years, there is no reason to believe it can penetrate al Qaeda and get a good bead on anti-American Islamic jihadists. (It still hasn’t located bin Laden.) But it has to try. And even if the Bush White House continues to embrace a don’t-confuse-us-with-the-facts approach to national security, there remains a need for independent intelligence analysis. (Perhaps less arrogant Republicans in Congress might find the material useful). Yet so far Goss, who was a partisan player when he headed the House intelligence committee, shows no signs of reviving the CIA as an utterly independent agency devoted first and foremost to assessing and telling the truth (at least to U.S. policymakers). Under Goss, the CIA might continue its slide and become yet another casualty of the Bush administration’s recklessness.