In the years prior to 9/11, the CIA was credited will all manner of wetwork in foreign streets, but in truth the agency’s bloody reputation far exceeded the cool, analytic reality. In the decade since however, the Company has made a rapid transition from intelligence to operations, according to this WaPo report:
(Those) directly involved in building the agency’s lethal capacity say the changes to the CIA since Sept. 11 are so profound that they sometimes marvel at the result. One former senior U.S. intelligence official described the agency’s paramilitary transformation as “nothing short of a wonderment.”
“You’ve taken an agency that was chugging along and turned it into one hell of a killing machine,” said the former official, who, like many people interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. Blanching at his choice of words, he quickly offered a revision: “Instead, say ‘one hell of an operational tool.’ ”
Much has been made of serial intelligence failures prior to 9/11 and agency operatives today may comfortably bask in the glow of kinetic successes, however much they might decline to acknowledge them publicly. The agency’s newly forged “operational tool” helped bury 30 al Qaeda militants just over the last two days in combined operations with the Yemeni government in the south of the country. (American Civil Liberty Union activists, predictably, are concerned about the level of scrutiny and oversight applied by Congress to covert operations overseas. Those apparently having some tenuous connection to American civil liberties.)
But the real struggle may soon take place within the bureaucratic halls of Langley, with analysts having fired a shot across the bow of their incoming director:
When David Petraeus takes over as CIA director next week, he will confront a tricky problem: CIA analysts who will be working for him concluded in a recent assessment that the war in Afghanistan is heading toward a “stalemate” — a view with which Petraeus disagrees.
The analysts made their judgment in “District Assessment on Afghanistan,” completed in July, the same month Petraeus quit his post as U.S. commander there. He disagrees with the analysts’ pessimistic reading, as does Gen. John Allen, the new commander in Kabul; Gen. James Mattis, the Centcom commander; and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The CIA assessment is “pretty harsh,” said a military official who is familiar with its contents. He noted that the document used the word “stalemate” several times to describe the standoff between NATO-led forces and Taliban insurgents. Even in areas where the United States has surged troops over the past 18 months to clear insurgents, the CIA analysts weren’t optimistic that the Taliban’s momentum had been reversed, as President Obama and his military commanders have argued.
The position of CIA director is a political appointment in much the same way that the Secretary of Defense is. But when then-SecDef Robert Gates felt like he wasn’t getting the USAF’s attention on the F-22 Raptor buy – and the Air Force helpfully lost track of a few loose nukes – the secretary felt at liberty to chop off heads until morale (and obedience) improved. Petraeus – no slack when it comes to managing bureaucracies – will not have the same liberty if crossed.
General Petraeus routinely denies political aspirations, which is probably a good thing: He may well be fighting on two fronts over the next few years, with bugs to stomp in Yemen and the AfPak, and bureaucratic enemies in his rear. Some of whom – for no better reason than job security – may not wish to see the military strategy succeed, even if they believed it could.