Will the CIA abandon the analyst/operative divide?

by Jens David Ohlin

Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times says that John Brennan has proposed a major reorganization of the CIA that will, to a large extent, break down the deep bureaucratic divide between agency analysts and clandestine operatives.

Historically, analysts engage in research and, as their name suggests, intelligence analysis. Some of that was obscure and abstract–for example writing reports on the political situation in a country and the likelihood that a particular head of state might be deposed. But other aspects of that research might be of more immediate relevancy for agency clandestine operations–for example analysis of intercepted communications between known terrorists oversees that might yield actionable intelligence for a particular operation. However, despite the obvious relevance of the work performed by analysts, they were traditionally organized into separate divisions and reported to separate department heads from their operative counterparts who plan and execute clandestine operations oversees.

Now, John Brennan wants to collapse that distinction. As Mazzetti notes, there is already a template for collapsing the rigid boundaries between the roles. The CIA Counterterrorism Center combines analysts and operatives into a single division devoted to stopping terrorist attacks–a project that involves close cooperation between analysts and operatives. Brennan would take that successful model and apply it to the entire agency. According to Mazzetti, Brennan wants to divide the agency into geographical divisions responsible for both analysis and operations in each area of the world, just as the U.S. military is controlled by regional commanders.

Will Brennan get his way? Mazzetti quotes one former agency employee who is skeptical:

“Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior C.I.A. analyst, said that the reorganization ‘is not going to go down smoothly’ at the agency, especially among clandestine spies who have long been able to withhold information from analysts, such as the identity of their foreign agents. ‘The clandestine service is very, very guarded about giving too much information about sources to the analysts,’ he said.”

“But Mr. Lowenthal, who said he had not been briefed about the reorganization and was basing his understanding of Mr. Brennan’s plan on news accounts, said that the new mission centers could help avoid a debacle like the intelligence assessments before the Iraq war, when analysts trusted information from sources they knew little about, and who were later discredited.”

The full implications of the bureaucratic reshuffling aren’t clear based on the skeletal news accounts so far. However, the plan does not appear to entail the dismantling of the CIA Directorate of Operations (aka National Clandestine Service). Rather, if I understand it correctly, operatives working for the directorate will report to a regional commander responsible for overseeing both analysts and operatives working in that geographical area. Where the overall head of the directorate of operations fits into this organizational chart, I have no idea.

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/03/06/will-the-cia-abandon-the-analystoperative-divide/

Comments are closed.