Transform the Agency’s Whole Structure

Tim Weiner, a former New York Times reporter, is the author of “Legacy of Ashes: the History of the C.I.A.,” and “Enemies: a History of the F.B.I.”

The structure of the Central Intelligence Agency has remained essentially unchanged since the agency was created in 1947 to fight the cold war against the Soviet Union and its satellites. A 21st-century C.I.A. must be renovated to reflect present-day realities.
Generals should control paramilitaries. Analysts should be in the field, reporting to diplomats. An elite core should remain.

Before 9/11 the C.I.A.’s clandestine service never assassinated anybody itself (though at times it tried, as in the case of Fidel Castro). Since then drone airstrikes against suspected foreign terrorists have killed some 2,500 people, including civilians, without public discussion in Congress. Intelligence is the hard work of trying to know your enemy. It is not the dirty business of political murder. That is warfare, and war belongs to the Pentagon. The clandestine service’s paramilitary officers should work directly for the Department of Defense, deployed overseas, controlled by four-star combatant commanders and governed under military law. The president should acknowledge that they are a lethal weapon devoted to counterterrorism.

C.I.A. analysts should leave their desks in Virginia and move overseas. They need to get out of the prediction business, a losing proposition. They should work for the State Department’s highly regarded intelligence and research bureau, and they should serve in the nations they analyze. Then they will have a chance to see developing political pictures, to assay ground truths for themselves. That requires more C.I.A. officers with African, Arabic and Chinese languages, skills and backgrounds, reporting on conflicts requiring American intelligence more than American firepower.

Updated December 4, 2012, 4:51 PM

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