Saturday, April 05, 2008

The idea that got Kennedy's brains blown out

Let's consider it's time to blow up the CIA and start over

By David Ignatius

Hayden and his deputy, Stephen Kappes, have tried to shake up the CIA and move it into the 21st century. Today, CIA officers don't need to hunker down in stations inside embassies; they can operate with an encrypted laptop, a BlackBerry and a thumb drive - if they're willing to risk losing the safety net of official embassy cover. But many veterans are wary of such changes. And top agency officials worry that they'll get support for innovating - until the moment there's a flap and everyone demands to know why the CIA took such crazy risks.

The general mistrust of intelligence is spilling over into the agency's contacts with US corporations. Companies that used to cooperate in providing nonofficial corporate cover for officers, or in highly classified programs to combat, say, nuclear proliferation, are now getting nervous that they'll be exposed to legal consequences if there's a scandal. That's the real importance of granting immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated in the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance programs. They did so in good faith, assured by government officials that their actions were legal - and now they face a barrage of lawsuits.

Corporate CEOs considering whether to help the government today tell intelligence officials that they would like to be patriotic, but they can't expose shareholders to the risk of litigation. That's a worry Congress should help remove.

When the next president thinks about fixing the CIA, he or she ought to consider the radical thought that it's time to blow up the CIA and start over. That's not to denigrate the thousands of professionals who work there; but they deserve a chance to do their jobs without having those three scarlet letters attached permanently to their work.

It's too late, unfortunately, to undo the reorganization that created the DNI. So let those three initials cloak a new, elite corps of analysts drawn from the CIA cadre; let's give the Science and Technology division to the DNI, too. The tech revolution hasn't prospered in the last decade under CIA management.

Meanwhile, let's float the clandestine service free from its barnacle-encrusted CIA anchor and let it find a new home - somewhere distant from Langley, where the old ghosts and myths are far away.

Syndicated columnist David Ignatius is published regularly by THE DAILY STAR.

Original article posted here.

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