All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
Thirty-three years after William J. Donovan set up the first genuine American secret service, and as the first generation of American secret operations officers fades away into unclassified retirement, the American Intelligence Service, or AIS,1 faces a new Administration, new tasks in a new non-confrontation world, and new, as well as old, suspicions. Its belated establishment led initially to a certain amount of hostility both within the foreign affairs establishment and vis-à-vis the internal security organization that had come into being after World War I, and these feelings have never wholly died out. And American secret operations have developed in their brief career an unenviable public image as well, both domestically and abroad.
Designed to cope with the Nazi, then the Stalinist, menace, the AIS has come to be regarded by liberal opinion at home as a haven for reactionaries and stunted cold warriors, as a sinister secret arm of our foreign policy, as a rapist of American civil rights and academic freedom, as co-conspirator with the White House in political skullduggery. Abroad, "CIA" has become a symbol of American imperialism, the protector of dictators, the enemy of the Left, the mastermind of coups and counter-coups in the developing world. It is a strange and remarkable record for an official institution in a democratic society.
What is the action record of American secret intelligence? Where does it stand today? What lies ahead?
During World War II the Donovan organization attained, on the whole, a remarkable reputation. Kept out of the Southwest Pacific by a jealous General MacArthur, yielding Latin American responsibilities for the time being to the FBI, occasionally flawed by the high degree of individualism Donovan encouraged, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) nonetheless rendered signal service in a host of situations. It left a large legacy not only of trained men but of senior officials convinced that such operations could be of great importance in supporting American foreign policy.
For two years after the war the survivors of OSS fought for their official lives. The former Research and Analysis Unit, essentially overt, wound up briefly in the State Department, while the secret operations fended for themselves. In 1947 the two were brought back together under the umbrella of the Central Intelligence Agency, established by law in the summer of 1947, a marriage of covert and overt that persists to this day.
Those engaged in secret espionage operations found their main target within months of the end of the European war: Soviet military capabilities and intentions. By 1948, as the Berlin blockade signaled the intensification of the cold war, the overriding purpose of the AIS was to provide the White House with early warning of Soviet hostilities, both by strategic bombers and by ground troops through Poland.
In 1946 Washington knew virtually nothing about the U.S.S.R. Four years of concentration on the Germans and Japanese had left the Soviet files empty. Air Force researchers combed the Library of Congress to flesh out the bare outlines of bombing target dossiers. Tens of thousands of Eastern emigrés in Europe were interrogated for the simplest items of basic intelligence: roads, factories, city plans. Intelligence peddlers sprang up by the dozen to satisfy the American market. Any ship that visited a Soviet port was a gold mine.
Almost nothing came out of Moscow. A beleaguered embassy and a few sequestered Western journalists passed on official handouts, read the press, went nowhere, talked to no one. The Soviet Union, like Hitler's Fortress Europe, had become a "denied area." Only secret agent operations carried out by "illegal" entry could penetrate the target area to provide early warning of an attack and, later, information on Soviet progress in its atomic program.
For almost ten years, until the mid-1950s, the AIS dispatched agents into the Soviet Union by air, land and sea from almost every point on its outer periphery between Scandinavia and Japan. Most were equipped with radios and sent in by air, some to make contact with resistance groups in the Baltic States and in the Ukraine (where they survived until the mid-fifties), others to become observers at selected transportation points to give notice of unusual movement, or to collect or measure earth and water samples near suspect uranium-processing plants. A few tried to legalize themselves for permanent residence in urban areas. Agents without radios went on brief in-and-out missions on foot to observe, photograph, and exfiltrate.
At the same time hundreds of agents were being sent in to cover military targets in Eastern Europe from bases in adjacent areas. Border-crossing became the order of the day, easiest from Berlin, more and more dangerous elsewhere as the barbed wire, plowed strips, and alarm systems made the Iron Curtain more dense. Agents were sent in to observe specific airfields or factories, to make contact with old friends and recruit likely prospects, to establish themselves in strategic locations, to act as couriers, to service dead drops, etc.
These cross-border operations involved enormous resources of technical and documentation support, hundreds of training officers, thousands of safe-houses, and, above all, hundreds of courageous men who preferred to fight the Russians or the Communists rather than linger in the DP camps or emigrate to Brazil. Scores of agents paid with their lives for our concern. All this effort, however wasteful in retrospect, was demanded by the requirements of the Pentagon and the field commanders in Europe. Their demands reflected the almost frantic fear of a Soviet military move into Western Europe, especially after Korea.
With Stalin's death in 1953 and the easing of legal travel into the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the lessening urgency of ground military requirements, and the increased focus on Soviet political intentions, the emphasis in AIS operations shifted to the "legal" approach, the classic form of peacetime penetration. The Soviet official stationed abroad became one target, as his connection with Moscow and eventual reassignment to his headquarters made him a source of the greatest potential value: an in-place agent in or near the corridors of central power in the Party-government. The main agent source on Soviet matters during the fifties was a Soviet military officer whose reporting from 1953 to 1958 provided the U.S. government with detailed documentary information on strategic as well as tactical military matters, including the Berlin crisis. He was succeeded in the crucial years 1961-63 by Colonel Penkovsky, whose coverage of Soviet missile development was of vital strategic value.
From the late 1950s on, agent coverage of military-industrial targets within the Soviet Union was gradually superseded by both photographic and electronic coverage, which in terms of importance and volume far exceeded reporting through human sources.
American operations against Communist parties during the early years of the cold war were mainly designed to uncover their sources of secret funds, to ferret out their underground apparats, and to establish their paramilitary capabilities and plans. On the political side, an occasionally valuable insight into the councils of Party leaders in Moscow came from their contacts with senior and respected Communist party leaders abroad.
After the 20th Party Congress in 1956, with the shift from direction to persuasion in Moscow's relations with foreign parties, more and more serious political discussions with foreign party leaders took place in Moscow. Senior party officials from Europe, Asia and Latin America became a useful source for the political views and regional intentions of the Soviet leadership. In the past 15 years the penetration of parties in these areas has served, for example, to supply details of the Sino-Soviet rift long before it became public, to record the underlying rationale of Soviet policy toward the Asian subcontinent, and to monitor the advice given the Arab parties during the various Near East crises.
From the late fifties the requirements for intelligence coverage broadened rapidly. Mideast tensions, troubles on the Indian subcontinent, heady events in Africa, the spurt of Chinese activity abroad in the mid-sixties, Castro's overseas programs, coups and counter-coups on four continents, the evolving situation in Indochina-all became grist for Washington's intelligence analysts and targets for agent coverage.
The U. S. intelligence community soon became a global city desk to support the role of global policeman. The policy-makers wanted to know what was going on everywhere. The intelligence analysts set requirements and priorities that justified the collection of almost any information. Good researchers are omnivorous, and the man on "Paraguayan political" wants to know as much about goings-on in Asuncion as the Czech specialist about affairs in Prague. In the intelligence sector, as in the public media, the information explosion brought fast communication of more information with lesser interest.
Washington intelligence became an all-source glut: millions of words daily from foreign radio broadcasts, thousands of embassy and attaché reports, a stream of communications intercepts, cartons of photographs, miles of recorded electronic transmissions-and a handful of agent reports. More and more, intelligence collection became devoted to current intelligence, to the minutiae of history that fill the daily and weekly bulletins to keep the policy-makers informed.
The AIS has not been immune to the pressures for such day-to-day coverage. More and more of its assets have been devoted to reporting from behind the scenes on current events, and a great deal of its effort has been expended on the coverage of internal affairs in countries of the most marginal importance to the U.S. interest. As the Service became more tactical, and monthly production the yardstick of accomplishment, it has naturally devoted less time to the strategic operations that normally take years to develop.
Counterespionage operations are the hard core and essential resource of any intelligence service, for their primary purpose is to assist in guarding the nation's diplomatic and military secrets, including its own intelligence operations.
In 1946 AIS knowledge of the wartime Soviet intelligence services was confined to a scattering of names and operations culled from captured German and Japanese documents, a brief British organizational study, and a handful of wartime domestic spy cases. The counterespionage files were rapidly filled in the next ten years with the names of tens of thousands of Soviet "agents" that poured in from emigrés, intelligence mills, friendly security services, and AIS contacts. Anyone a "source" did not like became a Soviet agent: Soviet officials, Communist party members, hostile emigré leaders, leftist politicians, liberal journalists and labor leaders, etc. Most of this reporting was trash and treated as such.
During the 1950s hard information on the Soviet services and their operations was gradually built up from direct surveillance, arrested agents, intelligence defectors, and double-agent operations. Defectors were the richest source, and in the early sixties served not only to provide detailed information on Soviet intelligence personnel both at home and abroad and on the organization of the Soviet intelligence agencies and their methods of operation, but to identify hundreds of Soviet agents, mainly in Europe, many in NATO, who were arrested or monitored for further leads. The impressive list of exposures of Soviet penetrations of European intelligence services in the 1960s is directly traceable to leads, sometimes explicit, often vague, from both Polish and Soviet intelligence defectors.
The main counterespionage purpose of the AIS, however, is to detect and neutralize Soviet operations directed against strategic U.S. targets. Soviet intelligence has made, and continues to make, a determined effort to plant or recruit agents in the policy levels of State and Defense, and in such intelligence organizations as the National Security Agency, the CIA and the FBI. Virtually all their operations against American targets originate abroad (they recognize the security and psychological hazards of recruiting an American official at home), and it has been the task of the AIS to uncover overseas leads and transmit them to the FBI for follow-up once a recruited or potential agent returns to the States.
For some years now the KGB, the Soviet civilian service, has carried on a systematic program to recruit Americans attached to official installations abroad. It is mainly interested in younger personnel, both file clerks and secretaries with access to classified information (code clerks are, of course, top priority) and Marine guards who can be most useful in safe-opening operations or installing concealed microphones. Some two to three hundred cases of direct approach by a Soviet officer are reported each year. Upon occasion an American who is approached may be encouraged to continue the contact if he is agreeable.
To what extent the KGB has been successful in penetrating federal agencies is bound to be a matter of conjecture. Unfortunately, in counterespionage operations what one can be sure about, what one knows about, may be insignificant compared to what one doesn't know about: the parameters of ignorance are limitless. Only if the AIS should secure the cooperation of the American desk chief of the KGB in Moscow could we say with assurance that there is or is not a Soviet agent in X or Y installation in Washington.
If there is such an agent, it is most unlikely that he is being handled out of the Soviet Embassy in Washington. The principal operational resource of the Soviet services abroad is not their official residents under diplomatic cover, but the "illegals" who have been dispatched to the West in increasing numbers during the past 15 years. These illegals, normally well-trained Soviet citizens with false Western documents and a carefully built-up legendary past, live and act as normal citizens in their country of residence, and have their own separate communications with Moscow. They are almost impossible to uncover by the usual investigative methods. Unless they make a mistake, or give themselves up (as his assistant resident did to implicate Colonel Abel), they are as safe as any secret agent in an open democratic society can be. The search for illegals continues to be a frustrating priority for both the European and American services.
Meanwhile, the role of some Soviet intelligence officers under diplomatic cover ("legals") is changing. The highly touted percentages of intelligence officials in any overseas Soviet installation-50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent-can no longer be equated with the volume of Soviet espionage or other clandestine activities. More and more, experienced KGB officials have been assigned in recent years to duties other than running spies and working secretly with student and labor leaders.
Soviet diplomatic requirements in political, economic, trade and propaganda matters have grown dramatically since Khrushchev's day, and have outstripped the capacity of the Soviet Foreign Office. Experienced KGB officers are now often assigned to work as diplomats devoted to making friends in the Soviet interest without breaking the law. They are now, both in New York and in the great cities of Europe, hard at work developing friendly contacts with persons of influence across the spectrum of public and private elites: politicians of the Center and the Right as well as the Left, labor leaders of all political complexions, key editors and journalists of all hues, and prominent members of the business and banking communities.
These Soviet contacts can be loosely called agents, but not spies. They are "agents of influence," persons who can sway national decisions on truck-assembly plants, loan terms, or Siberian investment projects in the Soviet interest. The new Soviet "diplomats," knowledgeable, sophisticated, linguistically competent, are earning their keep far better than by running a handful of spies in military establishments that have few secrets left. The KGB has become for Washington a diplomatic service to compete with as well as an espionage service to counter.
The Soviet services remain a formidable adversary on the espionage front. Their overall investment in secret work abroad has not declined since the days of "capitalist encirclement," and even today their operational personnel, both legals and illegals, number at least five times those of the American and European services combined. Ironically, as more and more military, technical and industrial information in the Western world has become freely available to Moscow, Soviet recruitment efforts against American and European targets have increased.
No chapter in the history of the CIA is as public or controversial as its covert action program. When, in 1948, spurred by the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia and the Italian political crisis, the National Security Council gave the CIA the responsibility for "political, psychological, economic, and unconventional warfare operations," the straightforward espionage mission of the AIS was enormously broadened, if not distorted. Known within the Service as "the PP mission," and originally carried out by a separate operating component within the CIA (the Office of Policy Coordination), these action operations and the new personnel responsible for them were soon integrated into the espionage and counterespionage service. This merger had a significant and enduring effect on the conduct and public image of American secret operations.
The cold war rationale for the covert action mission was simple: help stop the Russians. With Soviet troops poised to overrun Western Europe and "international communism" threatening the "free world" in France and Italy, Greece, Iran, Vietnam and China, with the military establishment severely reduced and State's diplomatic initiative stalemated, the White House gave its own new "secret arm" the offensive mission to fight the Russians with their own weapons.
If the size of Soviet intelligence operations can be estimated as roughly five times the size of their Western counterparts, the comparative scale of Soviet clandestine political operations has been even more disproportionate. The use of front organizations, an old Soviet staple, rose to new heights in the late Stalin period, and through them, as well as by direct subsidies to Communist parties and labor unions, the Soviets poured vast resources into the attempt to install Communist or friendly leftist governments in Europe, in Asia and in Latin America. An important adjunct was the use of wider propaganda-type organizations to sell the Soviet line and to denounce the West, especially the United States. The danger posed by these activities in the 1950s was not an illusion, and "covert action" became a popular expedient for taking American initiatives in the cold war without obvious official involvement. Presidents from Truman to Nixon were not reluctant to use it.
The secret offensive was three-pronged:
(1) To attack the enemy on his own terrain by supporting internal resistance movements (in the Ukraine, the Baltic States, Poland, and Albania); by supporting anti-Soviet or anti-Russian emigrés abroad, especially in Europe; by weakening the morale of the Soviet citizenry through propaganda delivered over the air (Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty), by balloons, or through rumor campaigns.
(2) To contain, or roll back, "communism" in the "free world" by subverting Communist, crypto-Communist, or radical leftist governments (the labels were attached by the National Security Council) in Iran, in Guatemala, and, finally, in Cuba; by supporting non-Communist governments threatened by Communists in the Third World, culminating in Laos and South Vietnam; and by supporting "democratic" parties, labor unions, and intellectuals mainly in Europe during the shaky 1950s, and in Latin America during the 1960s. The case of Chile exemplifies the full range of political action operations from all-out support of a "friendly" Frei government to covert, as well as overt, actions designed to weaken an "unfriendly" Allende regime.
(3) To counter Soviet propaganda and international Communist fronts on the global scene by founding and funding publications, supporting anti-Communist editors and journalists, and orchestrating international propaganda campaigns; by building up "democratic" front organizations to counter the Communist fronts among students, youth, teachers, labor, etc.; by subsidizing American student and labor organizations to fight the Communist fronts abroad; by penetrating and upstaging Communist-organized World Peace meetings, youth rallies, and assemblies.
This broad assortment of propaganda, political and paramilitary operations was assigned to the secret intelligence service in order to hide their official sponsorship. The operations themselves, of course, from radios to invasions, were public events. The task was to cut the line from sponsor to actor, or at least to obscure it enough to place Washington in a position to deny official participation with a straight face.
"Plausible denial" was an oft-used phrase in the 1950s, and much ingenuity went into the planning of cover-stories or alternate explanations for proposed operations. Yet it was, even then, a hollow phrase, for it was impossible to deny operations that were exposed. In some, mainly large-scale paramilitary operations (the Guatemalan and Cuban invasions), denial was incredible. In others (the funding of Radio Free Europe), denial was implausible or pointless. Still others (support of the National Student Association) were undeniable when blown by participants. It is difficult to say in each case for whose benefit the operations where to be denied. The Russians? Our allies? The American public? World opinion?
It is simple enough to say now that what was worth doing in the 1950s (and early 1960s) should have been done openly-we could have invaded Cuba as we did the Dominican Republic, subsidized anti-Communist radios and publications openly as we do now, and so on. Yet the arguments against such a course at the time were not trivial or without merit. With the Soviets managing to conceal their hand on many occasions, a public American response would have led to the application, to America's grave disadvantage, of the double standard that many in the world have all along been inclined to apply to Soviet and American actions. And, for a time, the anti-Communist sentiment of the Congress and public was so undiscriminating that would have been impossible to conduct, under the open eye of both, the kind of reasonably sophisticated operations needed to appeal to important forces abroad that would not accept the full range of American views or practices, yet were determined to resist being taken over by Communist forces.
As the years passed, these initial reasons largely lost their force, and it was a cardinal mistake not to have reacted to the change in circumstances before exposure finally forced the government's hand in the mid-sixties. Thus, the NSC assignment of the charter for covert action operations to the CIA has served to bring both the AIS and the CIA as a whole into the public disrepute it now enjoys. There is little point in arguing whether the White House was right or wrong in using the CIA as the "third leg" of our foreign policy mechanism. The cold war Presidents who allowed the Departments of State and Defense to shunt distasteful operations off on the "secret arm"-and the CIA Directors who, eagerly or reluctantly, accepted these incompatible tasks-felt the stakes requiring action were high. As time went by, however, they ignored not only the need for change but the drastic impact of lumping "noisy" action missions with secret intelligence operations. What was always an uneasy pairing became in time a self-defeating amalgam of disparate missions, and the damage not only to the reputation of the CIA but to the conduct of secret intelligence became progressively more serious.
In assessing the present and future state of the AIS, its action responsibilities provide the crucial matter for debate and decision. Covert action operations have declined steadily since the early 1960s outside of Indochina. Under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the use of covert methods to support particular candidates for office, or aspirants for power, in nations abroad became the rare exception, and today the practice has virtually died out-so that the ratio of charge to reality, in this area at least, is now extremely high. Yet the CIA charter remains in force and AIS action capabilities still exist. It is covert action-psychological, paramilitary and political-that raises not only pragmatic but political and moral issues.
Psychological warfare operations not only do not belong in a secret service, but they are an anachronism in today's world. They should be discontinued.
Paramilitary operations pose a more serious question. That the United States must keep a paramilitary capability in being for wartime use will probably not be questioned by most observers. What has become clear, however, is that a secret intelligence service is not the most suitable vehicle for running paramilitary operations. With the special privileges granted it by Congress, the CIA has been able to develop a highly efficient logistics machinery for moving personnel, equipment and funds rapidly and secretly around the world. It has therefore been called upon to carry out even large-scale paramilitary programs that would more logically fall to the Department of Defense.
There is little reason why the paramilitary charter should not be transferred to Defense, where all three services have appropriate specialized personnel, equipment and training facilities in being. All that is needed to make Defense effective in covert operations is to convert a small section of its command structure into a special operating unit which can be given congressional authority to move funds, personnel and equipment outside the bureaucratic system. This reassignment of responsibility would also bring future paramilitary operations under established congressional oversight and review.
If the AIS were to be stripped of its psychological and paramilitary operations, it could again become a truly secret service even if it retained a modified responsibility for political action.
Here, in the sphere of secret political action, the moral-political question appears to outweigh the pragmatic. How far should one nation interfere in the internal affairs of another nation?
In practice every major nation interferes daily in the affairs of other nations: by military and economic aid (or its denial), diplomatic arguments, short-wave broadcasts, fellowships and travel grants, etc. In short, Washington, like Moscow, is in this broad sense interfering all over the world all the time.
The more realistic way to phrase the issue is perhaps: to interfere secretly. And here no clear line can be drawn, for much of our official interference is secret: for example, the Ambassador's or military attaché's private conversation with a local politician, labor leader, or general. Perhaps the issue should be even more narrowly phrased: to interfere with money. Yet money is involved in many acceptable forms of international dealings-travel grants, say, or American fellowships. Perhaps the issue finally becomes: to interfere with secret money. Put in its most loaded form: should Washington bribe a foreign politician or labor leader to act in the American interest?
Here the line between "right" and "wrong" becomes cloudy indeed. When do private understandings with a chief of state become sinister? When does the passage of money or air tickets become bribery? It is at this level that the moral issue has to be settled if it ever will be-for noninterference is one of the vaguer terms in the vocabulary of coexistence.
It was proposed in a recent issue of this journal that the government "should abandon publicly all covert operations designed to influence political results in foreign countries" and restore the American Service to its original intelligence mission.2 I would assent to this proposition with one exception and with one caveat.
The caveat first. If the President announces publicly that the CIA will no longer carry out secret political operations, no one will believe him-not the Russians, not our friends and foes around the globe, not the American public or press. "CIA" has become as much a symbol of American imperialism abroad and of secret government at home as the KGB has become, with American assistance, the symbol of Soviet imperialism and domestic repression. It is far too useful a symbol for anyone to give up, and no one will. A public statement that the U.S. government has now returned to the path of pristine democratic practices would be a quixotic, if not a slightly humiliating, gesture.
The exception is more controversial. Propaganda and paramilitary operations do not belong in a secret service-even if they are worth doing-nor, under today's conditions, do secret operations designed to sway elections or to overturn governments. Yet the kind of clandestine intelligence contacts that are still required, simply to keep on top of complex and important situations, cannot on occasion avoid having political overtones. The justification is, as it has been, to combat what remains the very large political activity of the Soviets and their allies. Their large-scale support for political elements in many countries of the world often leaves opposing non-Communist political figures naked and without adequate support. For the United States to stay in close touch with such elements is an elementary precaution, and there will continue to be occasions when support of a few individuals for intelligence purposes cannot (and should not) be separated from a measure of support for their political ends. There is little reason to rob the President-or the local Ambassador-of the chance to provide confidential support to a politician or labor leader who cannot afford to accept American largesse publicly.
Nor can we avoid the occasional political implications of intelligence liaison relationships with the secret services of other countries, the great bulk of which are with friendly nations whose services are under proper democratic control. In some cases such liaison has been conducted with governments whose independence has seemed, as a matter of national policy, to outweigh their failure to live up to democratic norms. It is inevitable that on occasion such governments will turn, by our standards, very sour indeed, as in the case of the Greek colonels, and it is a regrettable fact that an intelligence liaison aimed at external targets can then place the United States in the position of being attacked for an unintended degree of support for the local government. The key point here, however, is that intelligence liaison, like military or economic aid, is part of overall national policy, and reflects that policy: it does not normally operate in a vacuum. Indeed, in a few cases this service-to-service relationship has become the sole channel of communication with Washington for a government that has cut off diplomatic relations.
Two fundamental questions face the AIS today: can it remain a professional service and can it become a truly secret service? Neither question can be isolated from a consideration of its structure and its mission.
Relatively modest and independent in its beginnings (as the Office of Special Operations), the AIS doubled, then tripled in size with the creation of a parallel action office (Policy Coordination) and in the overall post-Korean expansion. It went the way of the entire intelligence community: a large bureaucracy with large staffs, interminable coordination, and countless echelons of decision-making.
The lethargy and timidity normal to a civil service bureaucracy exact a particularly heavy cost in an intelligence service where taking chances based on personal judgment is its main business. A Service is as good as its agents, and its agents are as good as the competence and initiative of the case-officer on the spot. Faced with a hypercautious, if not anxious, headquarters, the case-officer soon learns not to take chances. He plays it safe by keeping the bread-and-butter agents he has and not invading dangerous new ground-like the local foreign office or security service. The Service suffers.
As the AIS grew in size, it also became more and more closely integrated into the large-scale civil service bureaucracy that is the Central Intelligence Agency. Relatively independent at its inception, with its own administrative support structure, the AIS gradually became dependent on the CIA for its logistics, staff recruitment and training, personnel and accounting procedures, etc. Its integration into the Agency was capped by the move of all CIA components into a single headquarters building in Langley, Virginia, a move strongly opposed by many senior AIS personnel on security grounds. This objection was overruled with the assurance that the larger overt Agency elements would provide useful cover for the secret operators. Too many people inevitably came to know more than they needed to know about agent sources as compartmentalization broke down in the togetherness of researchers, administrators, and operators.
These, and other, considerations have led some AIS officers over the years to raise the notion of a separate truly secret intelligence service. The aim is a small elite professional service devoted exclusively to recruiting high-level agents against carefully selected long-term strategic targets. There would be no pressures for current production, no wholesale reporting requirements, no leaks to analysts, journalists or Soviet officials, no bureaucracy to hold up recruitment, no vast intelligence community to "service." Its foreign operatives would live under private, mainly commercial cover, reporting by unofficial communications to a small head office in, say, New York, whose anonymous chief would be directly responsible to the Director of Central Intelligence in his capacity as the President's head of the intelligence community.
The present Operations Directorate of the CIA would remain the integral part of the intelligence community it has become. It cannot be extracted from its present structure-as, for example, it would be administratively simple to extract the Federal Bureau of Investigation from the Department of Justice. Nor should it be. Although the Operations Directorate would no longer be depended upon to provide agent coverage of strategic intelligence targets, it would continue to function abroad on a reduced scale and with a more innocuous mission: to maintain liaison with local security and intelligence services, to protect the Embassy from hostile penetration, to handle agent or defector walk-ins. It would also serve as a channel for confidential communications between the Ambassador and the President or between the host government and the State Department, and supply local support for other elements of the intelligence community, including the National Security Agency, the military services, and the FBI. Wherever feasible, and with deference to the sensitivities of the local situation, the CIA station chief might be overtly accredited as the CIA representative. He would, in any event, act as the Ambassador's overall assistant for intelligence matters.
However quixotic on the surface, a small American secret service separate from the federal bureaucracy is not at all impractical-given the will in high places. The concept of such a service is not too far removed from the Soviet system of illegals: carefully selected personnel, hand-tailored communications, small-scale operations, select priority targets. It would remain professional and secret.
The present Central Intelligence Agency, shorn of its strategic espionage mission, would not be affected in its structure or main functions. It would continue to carry out its overt and technical collection operations, to provide its extensive services of common concern to the entire intelligence community, and to do current and in-depth analysis and research. It would, above all, continue to focus on its main central function-to give the White House intelligence estimates on situations and trends abroad that are as objective as men can make them. Only an agency exclusively concerned with intelligence can avoid the intrusion of bias into honest judgments that comes from the pressure in the Departments of State or Defense to support a specific diplomatic tack or a larger military budget.
This proposal would simplify the vexing issue of congressional oversight. With overt and unexceptionable covert activities more clearly separated from truly covert ones, the supervision of the CIA itself would be substantially freed of the fear of exposing those operations that almost all members of Congress agree should remain secret. Present committees could thus operate more effectively. The truly secret operations of the AIS might best be reviewed by an ad hoc group of the top majority and minority members of the key committees who would weigh the policy implications, not the operating details, of the secret program.
Setting up a separate espionage service is only one side, and the simpler side, of the problem. What would be its mission? What targets would it be directed to cover that would justify its cost?
Sensibly limiting information requirements could halve the size of the intelligence community devoted to collection. Only against a clear-cut yardstick of essential information can a congressional oversight group or a presidential advisory group measure the effectiveness of our intelligence effort. With covert psychological warfare a relic of the past, with paramilitary operations (if any) handled by the Pentagon and subject to the usual congressional scrutiny, with secret political actions carried out only at the express direction of the National Security Council, there would remain only the espionage and counterespionage operations of the new AIS for the Congress to "oversee." And here the task should be to test performance by the product: raw agent reports measured against the government's requirements.
Requirements properly come from outside the intelligence community. Intelligence exists to serve the decision-makers, and agent reports (ideally) fill the gaps in other coverage. For a small strategic AIS to carry out operations of real value requires that the policy-makers project with some concreteness their foreign policy objectives well into the eighties. Only then can they articulate, by countries or categories of information, their priority intelligence targets. As the simple confrontations of the cold war give way to the more complex alignments of today, as economic and fiscal questions replace military hardware as topics of major interest, the intelligence needs of the White House are bound to shift. Is the Tokyo-Moscow axis a top priority? Are the Swiss bankers--or the German industrialists--a more important target than the Chinese General Staff?
Who will answer these questions?
It is possible, in a sanguine moment, to see a select joint congressional committee sitting down with the National Security Council and talking about the problems America faces in the decades ahead. They should confer until they come up with a clear statement in simple English of our long-term national objectives and a concrete list of specific areas and countries vital to our nation's interest.
In an even more sanguine moment one can envisage a broader, more representative body sitting down every two or three years and examining the performance of our foreign affairs and intelligence activities abroad. Such a group, chaired by the Vice President and supported by the National Security Council's administrative machinery, would ideally include not only Congressmen, but security-cleared citizens from business, labor, the media, academia. Their report to the American people might add a welcome breath of fresh air to the stale words from Washington.
Any decisions on our purposes in this faltering world can come only from the top and not out of the bowels of our foreign affairs bureaucracies. And those decisions cannot come by two-year or four-year executive fiat. They should be reached with the widest possible participation. The new President with his close ties to Congress is the ideal man to broaden the base for executive decisions in foreign policy. He should take the initiative in inviting the Congress to share his "awesome" responsibility for foreign affairs-perhaps even go so far as to first invite a systematic national debate. He can raise the level of that debate by being more open with the public on now-classified intelligence available within the Executive Branch. There is much to be gained, and-properly screened-little to be lost by publishing some of our excellent satellite photographs, or select national estimates on strategic situations as they arise, or current intelligence reports on significant events abroad.
The system of American democracy need not be exhausted by its present institutions, nor should the citizen sit on his hands as the complex pressures of an industrial society force the cancerous growth of the executive. No President in the future should be allowed to say on his own that the Dominican Republic or Cuba or Vietnam is vital to the American interest.
Once set, and amended, long-term national objectives lead to strategic intelligence as well as diplomatic targets, to a clean-cut mission for the new AIS. It is likely that these targets may lie in Zurich and Tokyo as well as Moscow or Bucharest or Cairo and concern themselves as much with goods and currencies as with war and politics. It is even possible that the AIS might on occasion, like the KGB in the recent Soviet grain deal, pay for its own budget by saving the taxpayer money.
1 I choose this simple term to distinguish the Service sharply from the Central Intelligence Agency (of which it is a lesser part) and to avoid the glut of titles by which it has been designated: Special Operations, Policy Coordination, Plans, Clandestine Services, Operations.
2 Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, "Foreign Policy, Public Opinion and Secrecy," Foreign Affairs, October 1973.
Can Washington Still Walk and Talk Differently?