November 13, 2004

David Brooks Crosses a Line

David Brooks' column today may have a good point (I don't think so), but the tone is downright dangerous. He argues that Bush's enemies are the CIA:

Now that he's been returned to office, President Bush is going to have to differentiate between his opponents and his enemies. His opponents are found in the Democratic Party. His enemies are in certain offices of the Central Intelligence Agency...Over the past several months, as much of official Washington looked on wide-eyed and agog, many in the C.I.A. bureaucracy have waged an unabashed effort to undermine the current administration.

In addition to being wrong, this is dangerous. We have a critical need to repair the CIA, given our reliance on it for the war on terrorism and danger of nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Declaring the CIA the "enemy" of President Bush more deeply politicizes the CIA and makes it more difficult to fix the problems in the CIA and more difficult for the CIA and the adminstration to work together to solve our national security problems. Brooks is just wrong to use inflamtory language like this, even if he believes it.

And he's wrong on substance, too. His charge is that the CIA did everything it could to hinder Bush's re-election:

At the height of the campaign, C.I.A. officials, who are supposed to serve the president and stay out of politics and policy, served up leak after leak to discredit the president's Iraq policy. There were leaks of prewar intelligence estimates, leaks of interagency memos. In mid-September, somebody leaked a C.I.A. report predicting a gloomy or apocalyptic future for the region. Later that month, a senior C.I.A. official, Paul Pillar, reportedly made comments saying he had long felt the decision to go to war would heighten anti-American animosity in the Arab world....The White House-C.I.A. relationship became dysfunctional, and while the blame was certainly not all on one side, Langley was engaged in slow-motion, brazen insubordination, which violated all standards of honorable public service. It was also incredibly stupid, since C.I.A. officials were betting their agency on a Kerry victory.

I'm not really sure Brooks understands what the CIA (supposedly) did. They certainly weren't actively campaigning for Kerry. As citizens they have the right to say what they want about politics: that rule is somewhat compromised by their job (can't reveal secrets, etc.), but it was a campaign, and people do have the right to talk about politics.

But this also misses the point. The CIA works for everyone, not just the President. Their job is to gather and analyze information about events in the world that affect the US, and to ensure that our decision-makers (executive and legilsative) have the correct information to make policy. The cases Brooks describes are of individuals discussing factual based questions (Did the US invasion of Iraq create more anti-Americanism in the MidEast? What is the likely outcome for Iraq over the next few years? Was the war against Iraq fought correctly? Was the post-war occupation planned well?). The fact that the answers to the questions were harmful to the President's re-election; the fact that the answers to these questions showed a consistent stream of wrong decisions (made, mostly, in the face of recommendations by the CIA to do things differently) is what Brooks is upset about. Sure, there are people in the CIA leaking to the press at volumes we haven't seen before; sure, people in the CIA are speaking publicly at rates seldom seen before. Is this because they are insubordinate Democratic bastards working for Kerry (as Brooks believes), or is this because the CIA generally feels that their work is undervalued (or ignored) by idealogues in the White House and Pentagon, and that their country is moving in the wrong direction in terms of foreign policy and that they needed to speak up about it before things got worse? Perhaps the problem isn't insubordination, but a White House unwilling or unable to accept the facts as the CIA sees them. Brooks neglects the fact that the CIA has generally been right in its pessimism, something the White House might want to pay some attention to.

Brooks' solution is a bloodletting in the CIA to force it back under the executive heel:

Meanwhile, members of Congress and people around the executive branch are wondering what President Bush is going to do to punish the mutineers. A president simply cannot allow a department or agency to go into campaign season opposition and then pay no price for it. If that happens, employees of every agency will feel free to go off and start their own little media campaigns whenever their hearts desire...If we lived in a primitive age, the ground at Langley would be laid waste and salted, and there would be heads on spikes. As it is, the answer to the C.I.A. insubordination is not just to move a few boxes on the office flow chart...The answer is to define carefully what the president expects from the intelligence community: information. Policy making is not the C.I.A.'s concern. It is time to reassert some harsh authority so C.I.A. employees know they must defer to the people who win elections, so they do not feel free at meetings to spout off about their contempt of the White House, so they do not go around to their counterparts from other nations and tell them to ignore American policy.

I'll give Brooks a crumb here: CIA employees should not tell their counterparts in other states to ignore US policy. That is insubordinate, and bad for everyone. Other than that, doesn't it seem that Brooks thinks the insubordination is of greater concern than getting good intelligence out? That forcing the CIA to behave and toe the Republican line is of more importance than figuring out why the CIA was wrong on Iraqi WMD, or what really is going on in North Korea, Iran, and Iraq (we still don't really know who the insurgency is, how they are organized, where the money is, etc.)? Maybe it's just me, but I'll accept the insubordination if they are right most of the time. That's what we pay them for, right?

I find it particularly ironic that Brooks' diatribe lands on the same day that we find out that the second in command at the CIA, a career intelligence official widely admired, is leaving because he can't get along with Bush's new choice for the CIA, Porter Goss. And that, it seems, the bloodletting is beginning:

Mr. McLaughlin submitted his resignation after clashing with Patrick Murray, a top aide to Mr. Goss, two former intelligence officials said...Still, the officials said that tensions between Mr. Goss's staff and the agency's directorate of operations in particular had made it increasingly unclear whether Stephen R. Kappes, the agency's deputy director for operations, would stay on in his post...Mr. Goss had been sharply critical of the directorate before taking over, and he has not made any announcement about Mr. Kappes's future...Mr. Goss, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, became director of central intelligence in late September and has unnerved many career officials at the C.I.A. by installing four former House Republican officials in senior advisory positions. For weeks, current and former intelligence officials have been bracing for further changes...The resignation is among those marking the end of a notably stable era within the C.I.A.'s executive suite. Other senior officials who served under Mr. Tenet but who have departed, or announced plans to depart, since Mr. Goss took over include A. B. Krongard, the executive director; Martin Petersen, the deputy executive director; and Stan Moskowitz, the Congressional affairs director.

I'm not saying their shouldn't be a shake-up at the CIA (they were wrong on a number of critical issues recently), or that people don't need to be removed, but when Goss brings over people from the Hill from the Intelligence Committee (and remember, these people got jobs with Goss in the House because they were Republican, not because they knew the intelligence field), that's not a non-partisan placement. When most of the top brain-trust of the CIA ups and leaves, that's not necessarily the right direction. That's a great deal of experience leaving in a very short time period. How is the CIA going to produce "right answers" now? The public evidence seems clear that Bush looked for a partisan DCI to replace Tenet, one that would keep a lid on the CIA and prevent it from continuing to leak the pessimism it had been doing since the Iraqi invasion. Bush has no interest in an effective CIA if it interferes with getting a loyal (read: bright, sunny reports that don't tell the White House everything is going well) CIA. And Porter Goss is clearly carrying out that mission. So what is Brooks complaining about?

If I were a CIA employee, facing this kind of top-down institutional change that seeks ideological purity and loyalty over analysis and right answers, I'd be speaking out too.

The losers here are the people of this country. It's a dangerous world out there, and we need a CIA working effectively to understand and explain all the threats against us. David Brooks fundamentally misunderstands that.

Posted by baltar at November 13, 2004 02:12 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Politics


Comments

Baltar, you say:
"If I were a CIA employee, facing this kind of top-down institutional change that seeks ideological purity and loyalty over analysis and right answers, I'd be speaking out too."

How can you really argue that Bush is pushing out disloyal people when he's never going to face re-election again? What does it matter to him what the CIA leaks to the press in terms of loyalty when all the bad (or good) press in the world isn't going to get him another term. Considering the job Mr. Slam Dunk Case did as CIA chief, why take the chance that an idealogue of another party would torpedo this President or any other by leaking information; these appointments are always political in nature anyway, sometimes political payback to one's own party and sometimes political reaching out to the other party. You admit Bush needs to shake up the CIA because of their screw ups, but then you say that a top dog leaving the CIA is somehow Bush's fault. If you sincerely want the buck to stop with Bush, why don't you stop giving him grief when he appoints whoever he wants, since you're going to throw the responsibility on him when times get tough, IRREGARDLESS. If Bush can make up words, so can I.

Posted by: Morris at November 13, 2004 09:26 PM | PERMALINK

This is hugely dangerous. Basically it's taking the suppression of dissenting views (which, one many matters have been sadly accurate) in the administration to an entirely new level - one that may well further break apart an already hideously disfigured advisory system.

The CIA does not exist to send out press releases that favor partisan ends. It exists to give the best analysis available to a variety of institutions in the government - not just the politicians in the White House. To the extent that people are being fired because the White House simply doesn't like the results of their analysis, or that people distribute information (through perfectly legitimate channels), this is yet another sign that the White House doesn't want better intelligence - they just want intelligence that they control and that fits with their taking points. That's, as I said, hugely dangerous.

And Morris - do you honestly not think that the president cares about leaks at such at this stage? He's still got over 4 years to rule, and there's every sign that Rove wants to try to establish the Republicans to rule after Bush is gone - so anything that affects his popularity ratings or those of his party will still be of interest to the president.

And it's not a matter of people leaving, or people having the power the fire people - it's WHY they are leaving and WHY they are firing people.

Posted by: Armand at November 14, 2004 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Armand,
To quote Baltar from the other post when talking about WMDs in Iraq, "We were wrong. I'd really love to know why we were so wrong, and what we're doing about it."

So, we were wrong (if you believe Baltar), but we're supposed to just leave in CIA all the people from Tenet on down who were wrong. That doesn't make any sense. If you read the article Baltar's citing in his post, it says that Goss and his aides have been critical of the CIA, which is entirely justifiable if they were wrong as Baltar suggests they were. That, according to the article, created tensions that led to the leaving Baltar laments of someone with many years experience. Now, if all that experience couldn't prevent them from being wrong, then maybe it's not someone with all that experience that we need in that post, but some new blood with a new idea of how to proceed. We would need a shake up, as Baltar says in his post. The only thing he's arguing about is that it's Republicans taking over, without even arguing about the qualifications of the particular Republicans involved. Does serving in the House or Senate which some at this blog have argued is essentially impossible without being attached to the major parties, does serving their country in this way disqualify a person from serving in the intelligence community? That doesn't make any sense, either.

As I've said, you and Baltar are going to hold Bush ultimately responsible for any intelligence failures, so why not give him a free hand in how to handle this situation since he's the one you're going to blame when things get tough, and of course they will.

Posted by: Morris at November 14, 2004 02:17 PM | PERMALINK

Morris: You aren't listening to what's seemingly the key point in Brooks' piece (read, in particular, the first and third long quotations Baltar cites again) - it has to do with getting revenge on the CIA. Replacing people who've screwed up is entirely appropriate. And Bush has been a poor leader and/or dangerous moron on that score.I'd say at the very least Rice and Rumsfeld should have been fired YEARS ago on those grounds (and don't even get me started on the people who've been PROMOTED in the wake of Abu Ghraib). That's fine, and I support that. However, firing people as part of a political vendetta is not appropriate. Not remotely. Nor is considering a vital part of the foreign and security decision-making process in this country "the enemy". And in addition to that it's extremely risky to install partisan stalwarts at the top of an intelligence agency that's supposed to be getting you the most accurate information (and that may conflict with partisan interests, no matter what party is in power).

Posted by: Armand at November 14, 2004 02:56 PM | PERMALINK

Morris,

I'll second Armands point. Of course Bush, as head of the executive branch, can appoint whom he wants, but not just anyone. Whomever would need to be confirmed by the Senate (Goss was, but the Democrats should have made a fight over it). The CIA exists to help not just the President, but the Pentagon, Congress, other executive branches (Commerce, State, etc), and even to some degree private citizens (companies targeted by foreign governments or something). Hence, the CIA is not Bush's little playtoy. It's our countries primary defense against attack, especially by terrorists. Bush is supposed to be the steward for our country. If he makes the CIA worse by firing good people and bringing in party hacks he will succeed in his goal of getting the CIA to stop producing analysis that disagrees with his intuition, but he likely will not get a CIA that really works well. Which would you rather have? Thus, Brooks' article, as a justification for major change in the CIA on the basis that the CIA disagreed with the President, is dangerous. Effective reform is fine. Partisan reform to shore up a CIA that reports information that politically harms the president is not.

Posted by: baltar at November 14, 2004 03:27 PM | PERMALINK

UPDATE: from yesterday's Washington Post:

Within the past month, four former deputy directors of operations have tried to offer CIA Director Porter J. Goss advice about changing the clandestine service without setting off a rebellion, but Goss has declined to speak to any of them, said former CIA officials aware of the communications...The four senior officials represent nearly two decades of experience leading the Directorate of Operations under both Republican and Democratic presidents. The officials were dismayed by the reaction and were concerned that Goss has isolated himself from the agency's senior staff, said former clandestine service officers aware of the offers.

And here's a good one:

Goss has adopted a management style that relies heavily on former committee staff aides, several of whom are former mid-level CIA employees not well regarded within the CIA's Directorate of Operations. Murray, the new chief of staff, has been perceived by operations officers as particularly disrespectful and mistrustful of career employees.

See, this is bad. If they are inefficient or bad at their jobs, you get rid of them. If they just don't like your policies (and can intelligently explain why), you should keep them. You can't just fire people for disagreeing with your analysis of the world, especially if you are the CIA. What if they are right? Besides, anyone hear of moral? If they decimate the CIA, how effective is it going to be (even if they do keep some intelligent people)? This is likely to get worse, before better.

Posted by: baltar at November 14, 2004 04:38 PM | PERMALINK

first, and for a change, i'm going to take issue with you baltar, for this statement:

"Brooks is just wrong to use inflamtory language like this, even if he believes it."

if it isn't the CIA's job to toe the party line, i certainly don't think it's a journalist's job to pull punches. if he believes what he's saying about the CIA, and he can back it up with legitimate supporting evidence, sources, etc., he should say it, absent a compelling reason not to. and the compelling reason not to can't be that it'll reflect badly on the people it involves, at least in itself. just as the CIA owes bush no favors, and bush owes the CIA no favors, brooks owes no one favors, and as a journalist it's his job to call them like he sees them.

that said, i will note that as someone who's looked pretty extensively into being a government lawyer at both the state and federal levels, the vast majority of government employees in law, intelligence, and law enforcement are career civil servants. it's not that they don't have political orientations or preferences; like most people, they most certainly do. but it's a sense of conjoined purpose, of non-partisan mission, that makes it possible for people to work together through different administrations, through the inevitable shake-ups at the top of each agency following elections. and it's a sense of respect coming down from the new spoils-system leadership, a recognition that they office ran without them and will run without them in four years when they're gone, but that the office will NOT run without the strong institutional memory and procedural continuity that is maintained by a strong stead staff.

it's happening now in CIA, but it has already happened in EPA, Treasury, Justice, and eslewhere: bush appoints a party hack who disregards long traditions of respect and comity and just starts cutting heads, with each firing or force-out losing dozens of years of the aforesaid irreplaceable institutional memory and continuity . . . and in goss's case it's particularly alarming, since he's one of the least qualified DCI's we've had in a while, but rather than lean on, and learn from, the career executives he's firing them or making them so uncomfortable that they're leaving, and in their places he's putting in goss loyalists without the requisite backgrounds.

forget everything else: this simply makes me feel less safe. and that means there's something wrong in the CIA. i do think change is required; i don't think this is like some task force where they can just sort of change missions every so often. there's a lot of singular expertise in CIA, and it's too valuable to squander with petty payback or cronyism.

Posted by: joshua at November 15, 2004 10:27 AM | PERMALINK
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