Intelligence services of any country play a vital role in its security as well as in support of its national interests. The U. S. Intelligence Community (IC) today is a federation of about 16 separate governmental agencies (United States Intelligence Community, 2009) that monitor information worldwide and domestically in pursuance of America’s national interests. The IC has undergone fundamental changes since WWII, the 1970s and in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 attacks and the Iraq war 2003. Each of these fundamental changes in policy, organization and practice has had a profound impact in the workings of the IC.
This essay examines the effects of the successive reforms carried out within the IC focusing on the above mentioned three periods of dramatic changes. The precursor to the Intelligence Community was the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which was formed during the Second World War to coordinate the intelligence gathering and espionage activities of the single service intelligence services. After the Second World War, the U. S. government sought to change the predominant army orientation of the OSS.
The National Security Act of 1947 established the Central Intelligence Agency that took over the functions of the OSS and charged it with collection of national security intelligence but no “police, subpoena, law enforcement powers or internal security function (Theoharis & Immerman, 2006, p. 156). ” The aim here was to curtail the inflated powers that the OSS had gathered during the war time years. However, the reality of the Cold War forced the US government to promulgate “the NSC 4A of December 14, 1947, and NSC 10/2 of June 18, 1948 (Theoharis & Immerman, 2006, p.
158)” giving the CIA mandate to conduct covert operations. Thereon, the mandate of the CIA was increased to include sabotage, support of indigenous anti-communist elements and kill and depose leaders from Cuba to Chile (Kinzer, 2008, p. 210). The 1949 Central Intelligence Agency Act authorized the agency fiscal independence outside the domain of public scrutiny and administrative controls. The organization was also exempted from having to make public the roll call of its employees or where they were being employed. So the powers of the agency were vastly increased and congressional oversight reduced.
Through the sixties into the early 70s, the CIA was at the forefront of covert war across the globe, undermining the Soviets and in the process becoming a law unto them self. Thus when Dr Muhammed Mossadeq of Iran nationalized British Petroleum, it was the CIA which helped the British to overthrow his government to establish Reza Pehalavi as their puppet (Paul, 2003, p. 14). In Iraq too, US intelligence services recruited in 1959, Saddam Hussein to take part in assassination of Iraqi Prime minister Qasim who was poised to hurt American oil interests in Iraq.
Within the United States, the CIA was involved in hunting out communist supporters under McCarthyism that led to the arrests and incarceration of hundreds of Americans under trumped up charges. These internal actions of the IC made the community most unpopular with politicians across the spectrum. Nixon initially distrusted the agencies but soon saw their utility leading to a series of successful covert operations that helped in winding down the Vietnam War, Coup de etat in Chile, engagement with China and containment actions across the globe against Soviet expansion.
Nixon later misused the CIA in getting the agency to obstruct FBI investigations into the Watergate scandal (1972). In Africa, the CIA carried out covert operations to oust Soviet influence. In the period right up to the early 70s, the IC was involved predominantly in conduct of a secret foreign policy and the administration then started having misgivings about the efficiency of the organization with its excessive focus on clandestine operations (Louis, 1987, p.
103). Therefore, in 1973, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), James Schlesinger decided to reform the agency to make it more accountable and efficient. “He fired two thousand officers (Louis, p. 103)” and compiled a report on the (mis)doings of the agency in conducting political assassinations worldwide, and indulging in illegal surveillance of thousands of US citizens who had opposed America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Though this report was supposed to be secret, it was leaked to the media that led to a series of investigations into the workings of the CIA by the senate (Church Committee), the House of Representatives (Pike Committee) and the administration of Gerald Ford (Rockefeller Commission) in 1975, which in turn led to the distancing of the CIA from its linkages with domestic politics. This also led to a formation of the Presidential Oversight Board at the White House and the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 1977 to maintain oversight on the workings of the IC.
President Ford “banned assassination plots against foreign leaders and tightened CIA and NSC approval procedures for the use of covert actions (Jeffreys-Jones & Andrew, 1997, p. 182)”. President Carter further tightened the accountability of the IC. The technicalization of the IC under the stewardship of Admiral Turner vastly increased the agencies ability to remotely eavesdrop on the global community but downplayed HUMINT leading to glaring weaknesses in intelligence collection in the field that led to the bombings of American embassies in Kenya, Uganda and the 9/11 attacks.
The Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980 brought in more accountability in the workings of the IC, which included advance intimation to the Congress in case the IC was to be tasked for covert operations. In the Reagan years, the IC was actively involved in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan. The IC played a pivotal role in supplying the Mujahidin arms and ammunition to defeat the Soviets.
The Reagan administration, on many occasions willfully bypassed the Oversight Act as Vice Admiral Poindexter; Reagan’s NSA stated that “he had bypassed the intelligence committees in the Iran-Contra Affair to avoid outside interference (Jeffreys-Jones & Andrew, p. 189)”. This led to the 1991 Intelligence Oversight Act which required the President to give a written order for any covert operation. The various measures to instill accountability, and reduce the scope of its power hobbled the agencies which became too ‘gun-shy’ (Coll, 2004, p. 424) and failed spectacularly in detecting the 9/11 attack plan launched by the Al Qaeda.
The 9/11 report clearly indicted the intelligence services for their failure to detect the formation of a coherent group like the Al Qaeda and its intent to attack symbols of American power within America (Kean & Hamilton, 2004, p. 341). The report pointed out to the deficiencies in strategic analysis against Al Qaeda, lack of imaginative thinking and the lack of coordination between the various intelligence agencies. The 9/11 report recommended sweeping changes to restructure the IC starting right at the top by replacing the position of Director of Central Intelligence with National Intelligence Director (Kean & Hamilton, 2004, p.
411) to oversee national intelligence centers and have the power to approve and submit nominations of individuals who would head CIA, DIA, FBI intelligence office and so on (Kean & Hamilton, 2004, p. 412). Since 9/11, the role of the IC in covert operations had increased vastly especially under the Republican watch, where greater leeway was given to the IC to carry out targeted killings using predator drones across Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The embarrassment of the false Iraqi WMD dossier, regret for which was proffered by then Secretary of State, Colin Powell (Shulman, 2008, p.
107) dented the IC’s image and there have been renewed calls for strengthening congressional oversight over the workings of the IC. The Obama administration has shown greater sensitivity towards adhering to the democratic tenets of oversight and following the rules set by the National Security Act in that the new CIA Director Leon Panetta, on first information, shut down a secret CIA mission to kill Al Qaeda leaders which was being executed without congressional approval (Hess, 2009).
In conclusion it can be reiterated that the US IC has been undergoing dramatic changes since the Second World War mostly as a reaction to the changing circumstances. The reforms after Second World War were initiated to bring about better coordination, accountability and oversight by the government into the workings of the IC. The reforms in the seventies were a direct reaction to the excesses committed by the IC and to check their indiscretion and bring greater control over their objectionable operations.
9/11 gave a severe jolt to the American administration and the reforms that were then initiated came as response to the event as also a genuine feeling for the need to better harness the skills of the IC. Post Iraq War 2003, the clamor for oversight has increased as it was being felt that the agencies had deliberately misled the government by giving faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq war. On the whole, the drive to initiate reforms in the IC has been more reactive in nature rather than being proactive for dealing with future threats. Works Cited Coll, S. (2004).
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