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Published: Saturday, 12/10/2005

The problem with the CIA

ON AUG. 2, Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post reported that "a major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years."

On Dec. 5, the Jerusalem Post reported that Mohammed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, "confirmed Israel's assessment that Iran is only a few months away from creating an atomic bomb."

My, how time flies. It hasn't seemed as if 10 years have elapsed since last summer.

The CIA could be right, and the Israeli intelligence service Mossad and the IAEA could be wrong. But given the CIA's forecasting record - it missed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Islamic revolution in Iran, the warning signs of 9/11, and Saddam's WMD - that's not the way to bet.

Intelligence analysis isn't the only thing the CIA does sloppily. The Bush Administration suffered major embarrassment when it was disclosed that the United States was holding top al-Qaeda suspects in "secret prisons" in eastern Europe and North Africa.

A Swedish journalist who prepared one of the first stories on the CIA flights that transported al-Qaeda captives told Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun the CIA did a poor job of covering its tracks. "I would say they didn't give a damn," Fredrik Laurin told Mr. Gerstein. "If I was an American taxpayer, I'd be upset."

For a show broadcast in May of last year, Mr. Laurin traced the tail number of a Gulfstream jet used to transport to a clearly phony company in Massachusetts.

"You weren't able to trace the name to any living individual," Mr. Laurin said. "They were all living in post office boxes in Virginia.

"If that's all the imagination they can drum up at Langley, I'd fire the bunch," Mr. Laurin added.

But if the CIA hasn't been very good at ferreting out the secrets of our enemies, or keeping our own, it has shown a talent for playing politics.

"The CIA's war against the Bush Administration is one of the great untold stories of the past three years, " wrote lawyer and Web logger John Hinderaker in the Weekly Standard.

The CIA has used its budget to fund criticism of the Bush administration by former Democratic officeholders, and permitted a serving analyst, Michael Scheuer, to publish and promote a book bashing the President.

The principal CIA weapon has been the leak. Reporters for ABC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post didn't have to do even the minimal legwork Mr. Laurin did to out the CIA's clandestine "rendition" program. It was handed to them by "current and former intelligence officials."

"So the CIA established policies that it knew would be controversial and would damage American interests if revealed, and then leaked the existence of those policies to the Washington Post for the purpose of damaging the Bush Administration, " Mr. Hinderaker wrote.

A rogue CIA that subverts American democracy has long been a staple of moonbat mythology. How ironic that the rogues in the CIA should turn out to be leftists who harm America to benefit Democrats.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA operative in the Middle East, sees little hope the agency can be reformed:

The CIA's "muscle-bound bureaucratization, combined with the failure of the press to accurately represent to the public the agency's actual problems holds out little hope that we will see the innovation needed to combat bin-Ladenism," he wrote last year.

"The problem with the CIA is that the senior executives responsible for production of intelligence just aren't good enough," said Herbert Meyer, assistant to legendary CIA Director William Casey.

In the 1990s, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan proposed abolishing the CIA. That seemed far out then. It doesn't seem so far out now. It might be easier to start from scratch than to clean up the mess the CIA has become.

"The CIA is in deep crisis," Mr. Hinderaker said. "It is not at all clear that its survival is in the national interest."

Jack Kelly is national security writer for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.



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