The political order we have known since the end of World War II is breaking up, and no one-in Washington, Moscow or any other capital-really knows what will replace it. The past nine months bring to mind the 1918-19 period in which an armistice halted the global war that had forever shattered the political order whose foundations were laid a century earlier by statesmen in Vienna; leaders at the ensuing Versailles Conference tried to establish a new and better world. The atmosphere of expectant euphoria was not unlike that prevailing today.

Another arresting parallel could be of even greater consequence. In symbolic importance, future historians may compare the night of November 9-10, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was opened, with October 31, 1517-when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. What is happening in Eastern Europe and elsewhere around the world is not just a rejection of Soviet imperialism. It is also a rejection of communism and "scientific socialism"-a twentieth-century secular religion of global scope. The emotions that vented like erupting magma when the Berlin Wall was breached both symbolized and signified a repudiation of that secular faith-along with the allegedly scientific analysis of the human condition on which it is grounded-by the bulk of that religion's supposed converts and beneficiaries.

Martin Luther's action was followed by the turbulence of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. We may be luckier; but at this stage, the only prediction that one can confidently make about the next few decades is that they will be marked by complexity, by various forms of unrest and by profound, accelerating change.

During those decades, the fact of continuing change-along with the need to understand it and perceive the directions it is likely to take-will constitute the U.S. government's greatest single challenge. Helping the nation meet this challenge will be the American intelligence community's primary task over the years ahead. This may be the age of glasnost, but it is also one in which America will need superb intelligence in order to understand, interpret, assess and, where possible, anticipate the changes with which the nation is certain to be buffeted.


The foundations of America's current defense and national security structure were laid in the National Security Act of 1947; Section 102 established "under the National Security Council a Central Intelligence Agency [and] a Director of Central Intelligence." From this has evolved the present American intelligence community-of which the CIA is the linchpin and over which the DCI presides as the president's primary adviser on national foreign intelligence. In addition to the CIA and the DCI, the community now encompasses the Defense Intelligence Agency, the foreign intelligence and counterintelligence components of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, the National Security Agency, several Defense Department offices that collect specialized intelligence through reconnaissance programs, the intelligence components of the State Department, the Treasury and the Department of Energy, and the counterintelligence components of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.1

The exact size of the American intelligence community is a closely held secret, as is the overall National Foreign Intelligence Program Budget (NFIPB)-which the director of Central Intelligence is charged with developing and then presenting annually to the president and Congress, and of which the CIA's budget is but one component. The intelligence community's overall size, however, is clearly large. Press speculation is that its overall budget lies between seven and eight percent of the Department of Defense's budget of $300 billion, i.e., in the region of $24 billion. This figure invites a certain historical perspective.

A nascent intelligence community in America began with the administration of George Washington. Soon after he became president, Washington asked the Congress for a "competent fund," a request that Congress both understood and granted-with minimal unseemly public debate. On July 1, 1790, it gave the president a "contingent fund of foreign intercourse," known as the secret service fund, used primarily for what would now be called human intelligence activities and covert action. Washington accounted for this fund by simple certificate. This is exactly the same procedure that the Director of Central Intelligence now uses under authorities given him by the Central Intelligence Agency Act.

By 1792 Washington's secret service fund had risen to $1 million-about 12 percent of the total U.S. budget. Twelve percent of the U.S. budget for FY 1990 would be $143.7 billion. If the NFIPB falls near the $24 billion estimate, including technological collection (which accounts for its bulk), it would still fall far short of the relative level of President Washington's intelligence budget. Seen from this perspective, the NFIPB is an enormous bargain indeed.


Glasnost has not diminished the U.S. intelligence community's responsibility for monitoring Soviet compliance, or lack thereof, with various treaties affecting America's security and vital interests. The community is already monitoring the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty; negotiations are currently under way for treaties on strategic arms reductions, the reduction of Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), reductions in chemical weapons, nuclear testing verification protocols, and an agreement on defense and space. The extent to which Moscow does or does not comply with these treaties remains a continuing litmus test of Soviet attitudes and intentions.

The challenges posed by monitoring treaty compliance will be daunting, and the resource requirements involved-encompassing the full range of American intelligence community assets-will be even more so. In treaty compliance monitoring, up to a point, performance is a function of assets deployed for that purpose and, hence, of cost. The trade-off decisions involved in determining how much money to spend for treaty monitoring-both in absolute terms and in relation to expenditures for meeting other intelligence requirements-are not just technically and economically complex, they also involve political judgments that directly affect U.S. security or even survival.

Even if the Soviets comply scrupulously with every arms treaty now in force or under negotiation, their remaining strategic weapons capabilities will still be formidable. Should President Gorbachev or his government be ousted, it will be essential for America (and the West) to know precisely what strategic capabilities any Soviet successor would inherit. Also, should there develop any serious threat of internal unrest, division or even civil war within the Soviet Union, it will be crucial to ascertain precisely who, at what echelons of command, can authorize the use of Soviet strategic or tactical nuclear weapons, under what circumstances, and against what targets.

The threat of war in Europe is clearly eroding. Nonetheless, even when (or if) the CFE treaty now being negotiated is fully implemented, the Soviets will still have over five million people in their military establishment-more than any other nation in the world. For all the traditional reasons, it will be important to keep close track of Soviet conventional forces. In addition a particularly sharp eye must now be kept on their cohesiveness and on any signs of division within the country, especially splits along ethnic or political fault lines that produce military officers with personal political ambitions and sufficient troops under their command to pursue those goals.

For nearly seven decades, the Soviet Union was an essentially monolithic, Communist Party-dominated police state in which no dissent was tolerated and in which the government structure was essentially a facade. The study of Soviet politics was largely an esoteric exercise in "Kremlinology." Much of that has now changed, thanks primarily to Gorbachev, who, in his quest for economic improvement, has let many politically potent genies-not all of them benign-out of the bottles into which they had long been corked. Old quarrels are again flourishing-some ethnic, some regional, some both-and new power groups are emerging. Some, such as Russian nationalists and Pamyat, are espousing old, emotionally charged ideas and concepts-including Slavophilia, chauvinistic nationalism, xenophobia and various strains of antisemitism. In addition, the Soviets, who currently have the largest empire left in the world, may be on the verge of a decolonization process akin to that which ended the British, Dutch, French and Belgian empires, amid much strife and discord, during the two decades following the end of World War II.

In some ways, Gorbachev seems bent on making himself the kind of reforming ruler that Nicholas II should have been. Many Russian and non-Russian Soviet citizens, however, find Gorbachev's changes decidedly unsettling, especially the Communist Party's nomenklatura, whose position and privileges are clearly threatened. The prospect of a new tsar, espousing such reforms, is far from universally welcome. America will need to keep a wary watch on these evolving Soviet political dynamics, carefully gauging their likely impact on the U.S.S.R.'s internal stability and cohesion, its military capabilities and its foreign policies.

Similar attention will need to be paid to the evolving political dynamics of Eastern Europe, in which Soviet rule and communist doctrine have been rejected in a series of-save for Romania-remarkably peaceful revolutions. Here old quarrels are also resurfacing and the course of future events is unlikely to prove smooth. All the new governments now being elected will have to cope with overwhelming economic problems, requiring reforms whose future benefits may be great but whose immediate effects are unlikely to be welcome: unemployment, higher food prices and general inflation.

Western Europe is also rapidly changing, in ways that America may not find entirely congenial. America's European allies see the Soviet threat as dwindling and increasingly see Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as a source not of danger but of lucrative markets. Within less than five years, major new developments will accelerate these trends. By 1992 the 12 European Community nations plan to become a single market of 320 million people (compared to the U.S. population of 289 million) with an initial gross product, which will doubtless soon soar, of approximately $4.3 trillion-in short, a major new economic competitor for the United States even more formidable than Japan.

In ways not currently predictable, the course of Western Europe's political and economic evolution will also be significantly affected, if not determined, by the new "x-factor" in the European equation: German unification. The Germany that joins the Europe of 1992 will not be the Federal Republic but, instead, a united Germany with a population of almost 80 million-half again that of either Great Britain or France-and a GDP almost as large as that of Great Britain and France combined. Whether European union will engage and harness Germany's power in ways beneficial to all or serve as a vehicle for projecting it will be the great political question of the late 1990s. No aspect of the European political scene will require more careful, constant attention on the part of the United States than the ramifications of this new Germany's evolving attitudes, policies and behavior.

So far, the changes occurring across Europe and the Soviet Union have had little effect in other parts of the world. In the not-too-distant future, however, changes are certain to occur in Asia, southern Africa and elsewhere. These changes and their consequences are not now possible to predict, but the United States will also need to be alert to them.


The inherent risks of unrest are increased by the fact that, as the Soviet military threat recedes, a grim new threat is emerging around the globe: the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and even biological weapons capabilities in the Third World, along with ballistic missiles and other extended-range delivery systems.

This disquieting proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems is only the tip of a growing, menacing iceberg. There is a matching, even more widespread proliferation of nonstrategic but nonetheless decidedly lethal military technology and weaponry-including such things as SA-7 missiles, which were designed for tactical use against helicopters but can also easily be used by terrorists against passenger-carrying commercial aircraft.2 As the possibility, let alone likelihood, of general war in Europe rapidly wanes, the potential for fierce and violent regional conflicts in other parts of the world is growing. It would be folly for America not to monitor these disturbing and destabilizing trends as closely as possible; because of them, America's "indications and warning" equations will have to be rewritten.

For the last four decades, the United States has concentrated its I&W efforts on the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, focusing particularly on the European central front. This general watch should not be abandoned, but the effort now needs to be spread around the globe. Intelligence must be able to pick up any hint that, for example, Iraq may be on the verge of launching a weapon of mass destruction against Iran or Israel-or vice versa-or that India (which probably has a nuclear weapons capability) and Pakistan (which has been striving mightily to develop one) are about to tangle over Jammu and Kashmir. In addition this expanded I&W net will need to be supplemented with a worldwide, continuously updated baseline that can be quickly augmented, with respect to a specific area, whenever the United States needs to know a great deal on short notice about any spot on the globe that did not previously figure prominently in U.S. policy concerns but suddenly takes center stage.

Economic and technological prowess are becoming more significant measures of national strength and importance than the traditional measures of military power. In most of the world, though unfortunately not all of it, economic competition is replacing military competition-a shift that does not necessarily make the world any less Darwinian or more benign, since economic competition is often waged just as fiercely as military competition ever was.

The place of economics at the intelligence table must now be moved well above the salt. Economic developments, furthermore, can no longer be considered in relative isolation; the web of economic, military and other factors directly affecting America's national interests and security is becoming seamless. In this fact lie some major conceptual, procedural and organizational challenges for American intelligence and the government it serves.

Involved here is an awkward question that few want to face: What effective use can the U.S. government make of its economic intelligence to further America's overall economic and national interests? In the American polity, there is a legally mandated arms-length relationship between the government and the private sector. There are also limits imposed by statute on the degree of cooperation-even information exchange-permitted among private-sector elements. Few of America's foreign economic competitors have such barriers, and some of its strongest competitors-notably Japan-consider them absurd.

Many Americans, in both private and public life, would consider it highly improper, or worse, for the U.S. government to use its intelligence assets to advance the overseas fortunes of specific American companies. All of America's major foreign competitors, however, consider this attitude quaint or idiotic. The full weight of their governments' diplomatic and intelligence resources are frequently thrown behind their nationals' companies or consortia, especially ones in heavy offshore competition. Indeed, when a British company was competing a few years ago for a major Saudi contract, which it eventually won, even Queen Elizabeth II was flown to Riyadh for a fortuitously timed state visit.

Furthermore, as Senator David Boren (D-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, recently noted:

An increasing share of the espionage directed against the United States comes from spying by foreign governments against private American companies aimed at stealing commercial secrets to gain a national economic advantage.3

Imagine the firestorm that would be ignited if the American government was ever caught sharing intelligence-garnered data with private U.S. corporations-let alone running intelligence collection operations against, say, Mitsubishi on behalf of General Motors or AT&T.

Economics and technology are closely interrelated. But there is a separate governmental concern about technology in general and, in particular, about technological breakouts that could have a major economic, political or military impact. To cite but one example illustrating the magnitude of the stakes involved, developments in directed-energy technology-which makes charged particle-beam weapons, including laser guns, feasible and usable on the battlefield, a realm in which the Soviets have been working intensively for decades-would have a military impact as revolutionary as the advent of the machine gun or nuclear weapons.4

Such concerns are by no means limited to the military sphere. In the government and private sectors, experts in computer security are already increasingly worried about the vulnerability to penetration and manipulation of computer systems and networks, even at the present level of technology-particularly since amateur computer hackers have already penetrated or planted "viruses" in interlinked academic, commercial, governmental and military computer networks, some of them worldwide. Consider how fast technology is advancing in this particular field, then ponder the havoc that would be wrought by a covert penetration and manipulation of the globe-straddling, interlocked computer networks through which the bulk of the world's financial business is now handled.

Technological innovations and breakthroughs are pouring out from laboratories and individuals in the public and private sectors of not only the United States but also Japan, Asia's "four tigers," Western Europe and many other places around the globe. Monitoring and, where possible, anticipating new technological developments-keeping track of what is coming down the pike that could significantly affect the security, economic or other national interests of the United States, for good or ill-is clearly now one of the U.S. intelligence community's chief responsibilities.

New governmental, hence intelligence, concerns are proliferating. Some-such as terrorism and narcotics traffic interdiction-are well known; others are seldom considered in this context. For example, environmental issues may seem far removed from the world of intelligence, but they are of growing concern to the United States and to people around the world. In this area, the American intelligence community can do much to help monitor international compliance with environmental agreements or treaties, to spot and track such things as oil spills and deforestation and, in general, to support the U.S. government's plans on a wide range of environmental concerns.

Over the next few decades, not only will traditional concerns change and new ones arise, they are also likely to coalesce in potent, unprecedented combinations. During this period, for example, America's greatest challenges may not come from across any ocean lying to its east or west. Instead they may well come from the south, in a manner that obliterates such tidy classical distinctions as those between foreign and domestic affairs. Unrest in South and Central America and Mexico, the ramifications of drug abuse and narcotics traffic, the pressure of immigration-much of it illegal-and attendant pressures for biculturalism and bilingualism could easily strain America's democratic polity more severely than any time since the Civil War.

Finally, no matter what else happens in the years immediately ahead, America's government-including its intelligence community-will have to grapple with the conceptual and organizational challenge posed by the extent to which traditional, jurisdiction-defining distinctions are being eroded: not only foreign versus domestic, but also economic versus political, military versus civilian, intelligence versus police responsibilities, federal versus state and local responsibilities, private versus public or governmental and, even in the foreign affairs field, friend versus foe.

There are those who argue that in the age of glasnost and FAX machines, there are no more secrets in the world, hence far less need for intelligence, and that the size, scope and cost of the U.S. intelligence community should be curtailed accordingly. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some of the challenges that the United States will face are not, strictly speaking, intelligence problems. All of them, however, have a significant intelligence dimension and involve problems to whose amelioration or solution intelligence can make a significant contribution. In sum, this new era's demands will dramatically increase the need for better intelligence-not diminish it.


To adapt to this new era and meet its challenges, the American intelligence community-along with its political masters at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue-will need to do some radical rethinking about its missions and the approaches, methods and techniques employed in discharging them; about relevant budgetary, structural and organizational considerations; and far from least, about how oversight can be conducted so that the community can be properly supervised and controlled but, at the same time, be optimally effective.

This top-to-bottom reexamination needs to begin with the first stage in the intelligence process: collection. American intelligence services collect raw data and information by using a range of methods and techniques bounded only by human imagination, ingenuity and the frontiers of current technology. Conceptually, a division between the human and the technical collection methods may be useful to help understand what is involved, but such a division is often vague and potentially misleading. Human and technical collection methods are complementary, not rivals. Both are indispensable.

Technical collection encompasses signals intelligence, electronic intelligence and imagery derived from satellites in space-designated by the euphemism "national technical means"-and from a variety of other airborne-collection platforms and ground facilities. In recent decades, technology has revolutionized intelligence collection, making routine what was previously, quite literally, unthinkable. Technical collection methods are unrivaled for answering the "what" or "how many" questions-e.g., precisely how many tanks or missiles, of what types, are located where? Without national technical means, compliance with strategic and conventional arms treaties could not be effectively monitored. Technology, however, is much less useful in answering the "why" questions-e.g., why were tanks moving into Lithuania?

Technological collection has other limitations, many of them rooted in laws of physics. Most of America's current technical intelligence collection systems, for example, were designed and deployed when the Soviet Union was the community's primary target and Europe's central region the main focus of its I&W effort. This interlocking network will have to be massively and expensively reprogrammed if it is to be used with optimum effectiveness to monitor targets that have recently moved up on the scale of priority concerns, such as the eruption of conflict in places distant from Europe's central region, and the proliferation of sophisticated military technology and weaponry throughout the Third World, including many places in the southern hemisphere. The orbits and, therefore, the coverage of satellites and the directional orientation of many ground-based technical collection systems cannot be easily or cheaply altered by simply twirling a few dials.

There are many important intelligence tasks that only humans can perform, or can perform far better than any distant technical collection platform. No satellite can sense the mood and pulse of a bazaar, a foreign capital, a restless province or of disaffected dissidents. Satellites can sometimes relay but can never provide the qualitative insights or judgments that can only come from humans. They cannot discern or divine intentions, or provide the background and perspective that enable American intelligence analysts to assess and evaluate what the information provided by national technical means actually adds up to-only the right sort of properly placed human sources can really do that. Only humans, furthermore, can provide detailed information on such things as the composition and action plans of terrorist groups or of narcotics traffickers.

Human intelligence collection and other operations do not break neatly into "overt" and "covert" compartments. They span a spectrum that ranges from using one's own eyes and ears while engaged in perfectly open, lawful activities, or encouraging others to do the same, to classical espionage operations conducted with the full panoply of clandestine tradecraft. The various portions of this spectrum are not sharply demarcated, for one blends almost imperceptibly into the next. In this era of glasnost, American intelligence managers and operations officers will need to concentrate a lot more on the front or open end of this human activity spectrum, while not neglecting the back end for situations in which, or targets against which, clandestine collection is indispensable.

The need for intelligence derived from human sources will not diminish, but the focus of many collection efforts will have to be shifted as formerly denied targets become readily accessible. Only when easy, open sources prove insufficient, or clearly require cross-checking-and national technical means require augmentation-should American intelligence managers begin to think about other collection methods. There will be such times and occasions, however, in many situations and at many places around the globe.

The ways in which human intelligence activities are conducted will also have to be drastically revised to increase their chances of success in this new environment, and to minimize the risks of embarrassing failures that could easily prove disastrous for all parties involved. In the past, for example, language training has all too often been sacrificed on a variety of other bureaucratic altars; in the future, it will simply not be possible for American intelligence officers to function effectively unless they are completely comfortable in the language of their country of assignment-plus the native language(s) of whatever sources they are trying to cultivate or direct. Effective intelligence officers of the 1990s will also need to develop new areas of expertise, such as a detailed knowledge of international finance, especially the mechanics of quickly transferring large sums of money in ways that draw minimal attention to the transfers-i.e., techniques employed by terrorists, narcotics traffickers and others who need to move or launder money discreetly.

No matter how information is collected or from whom, it is analysis that refines that raw data and distills it into intelligence. The analytic and estimative function is central to the intelligence process; that function is one of the American intelligence community's prime reasons for existence, and ensuring that it is performed well in this new era will be another major challenge for that community's leaders and managers.

Analytic bureaucracies find it hard to adapt, as do many individual analysts, to radical change of the sort that we can expect in the coming decade; the change will invariably cut across traditional organizational lines and entrenched turf boundaries, it will force a rethinking of concepts and intellectual compartments in both organizations and individuals, and also will cast doubt on or scuttle fundamental, sometimes cherished assumptions. Over the years ahead, for instance, American intelligence analysts and their supervisors should periodically reflect on what short shrift would have been given in the spring of 1989 to any intelligence estimate correctly describing what the world looked like in the spring of 1990.

American intelligence analysts now have to cope with a torrent of information and data. Amid an exponential proliferation of satellites and fiber optics, interlinked computers and data bases, modems and FAX machines, 24-hour cable news, and the opening of areas, subjects and all manner of sources that until recently were shielded, proscribed or denied, these analysts are becoming information junkies, never far from an overdose. If effectively harnessed and channeled, then astutely exploited, this new information and data flood can dramatically improve the quality and accuracy of American intelligence assessments and estimates on all manner of crucially important subjects; but it creates new complexities as fast as it clarifies old mysteries. In a flood, furthermore, it is easy to be overwhelmed and drowned if one is not both sensible and careful.

America's intelligence community has been excellent in addressing many problems, such as keeping track of the Soviet Union's evolving strategic weapons capabilities, but its analysts should never forget that the methods and approaches that work so well in tackling those problem are frequently inappropriate for assessing, let alone predicting, emotion-driven, political upheavals such as the events of 1989. Such situations do not lend themselves to quantification, and they become totally distorted if forced into a conceptual matrix better suited to assessing missile telemetry data. If American intelligence analysts-or academics or citizens-want to understand and assess the historic political tide shifts in which the world is currently immersed, they must ignore their itch for quantification, curb their fascination with models that bear minimal relation to reality and avoid the temptation to use bad data (such as Soviet economic statistics) simply because it exists and can be run through computers.


The Cold War may be ending, but there is no détente in the intelligence war. Without any noticeable reduction of effort against its traditional targets-such as American officials abroad or anything relating to American cryptographic and communications intelligence capabilities-the KGB is markedly intensifying its efforts to acquire Western, particularly American, technology. In recent months, the KGB's East European subsidiaries, long active in technology-oriented espionage targeted against the United States, have been in considerable disarray, for obvious reasons. Any slack in this regard, however, has been taken up by increasing and progressively more sophisticated attempts to acquire American technology. These attempts are mounted not just against U.S. government facilities but also directly against American corporations, by a number of nations-including some of America's closest allies.

In this sphere, judgments are necessarily impressionistic because the current level of espionage directed against the United States is impossible to quantify in any meaningful way. Criminal indictments, for example, provide only a rough and potentially misleading index of that level-particularly because indictments frequently come long after the fact of damage.5 Indictment data, however, highlights one significant fact: the spies, including the Soviet spies, of the immediate postwar era (e.g., the Rosenbergs) were largely motivated by ideology; the current crop seems primarily motivated by greed and ego-gratification.

In any event, counterintelligence and police work are not the same, though they are often confused. The principal objective of counterintelligence is prevention, not detection and punishment after the fact. This precept sounds fine in theory, but it is not easy to apply in a society such as the United States, with a legal system grounded in the doctrine of presumption of innocence.

As even a hasty scan of recent American newspapers and television news clearly indicates, America's counterintelligence effort is in considerable disarray and need of improvement. It is hampered by bureaucratic bickering and turf battles, a security classification system run amok, a similar overload in security clearances and assorted other problems that make genuine secrets difficult to protect. In this sphere, however, there are no simple or inexpensive quick fixes, or any fixes likely to win universal approbation.

What is required as much as anything else to improve America's counterintelligence capabilities is a frank, frontal and concerted address by appropriate elements of the intelligence community, the rest of the executive branch and Congress to the thorny administrative, bureaucratic, legal, constitutional and philosophical issues involved in conducting counterintelligence in a free, open society. Such an approach is necessary to strike a balance that enables that society to protect itself effectively without, in the process, changing its nature.


Another important American intelligence community function is as controversial as some aspects of counterintelligence: covert action-a term of such broad scope that it is impossible to define with precision. It encompasses everything from encouraging a foreign journalist to write a story or editorial to supporting, even guiding, fairly large-scale military activities in foreign lands (e.g., Afghanistan). Covert action's purpose is to influence the behavior or policies of key foreign individuals, groups and nations, and the course of events in foreign areas, in ways that further the interests of the nation mounting the covert action in question, but also in ways that mask that nation's hand and enable its involvement to be denied or at least officially disavowed. Perhaps the best way to understand covert action is to think of it as a form of international lobbying that is, ideally, discreet and unadvertised-even if often not truly "covert."6

Intelligence activities, generally, are not easy for an open, democratic society to conduct effectively, especially in peacetime. For a society such as America's, covert action raises particularly difficult questions-ones that have no universally satisfactory resolutions, let alone any simple answers.

This does not mean, however, that the United States should pass any self-denying ordinance. Covert action is a fact of international life. It is something that virtually every nation in the world attempts, and some of America's closest allies, such as Israel, are among its most indefatigable practitioners. Covert action should, however, be used very circumspectly, far more so than it sometimes has been-as the Iran-contra affair demonstrated all too clearly. When astutely employed, covert action can be a very useful, effective adjunct to policy; it can never be a substitute for policy or for thought.

The current euphemism for covert action is "special activities," which Executive Order 12333 explicitly tasks the CIA with conducting, after presidential approval.7 This is an important CIA function, but an ancillary one-as highlighted by the current Director of Central Intelligence's statement that covert action represents about three percent of the agency's total expenditures and about 99 percent of its total problems in terms of congressional and media interest.8

"Special activities" should not be confused with "special operations," such as hostage or hijacked aircraft rescue missions, for which the president would now call on the Defense Department's Joint Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)-a relatively new command established to handle such contingencies and to prevent any future hostage rescue disasters, such as the 1980's ill-fated Operation Desert One in Iran.9 Few Americans would strongly oppose and many would warmly welcome special operations that rescued hostages and punished hostage-takers or terrorists for their actions, particularly if their depredations were then curtailed-as Muammar al-Qaddafi's support of terrorism was curtailed after the U.S. raid on Tripoli in April 1986.

The Panama incursion (Operation Just Cause) that ousted General Noriega was not a covert action by any stretch of the imagination, nor was that incursion itself a special operation, though special operations-mounted by USSOCOM elements-were used with considerable effect during its course. A strong argument can be made, however, that it would have been wiser and considerably more humane to have achieved the same result-Noriega's ouster and capture-via a special activity. During the invasion, 543 people lost their lives. With the wisdom of perfect hindsight, it might have been preferable for the United States to have given events a slight nudge during the October 1989 coup attempt, which for a time seemed on the brink of success. In coups, of course, lead flies around. There is no telling in advance precisely who is going to get in its way, and people do get killed-sometimes including the person being ousted. This fact raises the question of "assassination"; in a coup, at least the casualties are usually measured in single digits, or in the low double digits-not in hundreds killed and thousands wounded.

Covert action (in the special activities sense) does not always have a military dimension. For example, it was used quite peacefully but with great effect in Western Europe during the late 1940s and early 1950s to give democratic forces a helping hand in their efforts to keep their nations from following Czechoslovakia into the Stalinist orbit. The subsequent democratic evolution of Western Europe owes a great deal to these nonmilitary "special activities."

On Capitol Hill and elsewhere, there is a continuing urge to "fix" covert action-and in some quarters, to fix it permanently. Extreme care should be taken, particularly by Congress, to ensure that any such fixing does not inadvertently hamper the CIA's and the American intelligence community's ability to perform their primary mission of collecting information, producing intelligence and then disseminating it to those in the executive and legislative branches of government who need it-for example, by putting sensitive intelligence sources and methods at risk.

Covert action should never be undertaken lightly. In the wake of the Iran-contra affair, procedures were specifically designed to prevent it from being so taken again. Many covert actions are controversial, as is-in some quarters-the very concept of such actions, but even the members of the congressional committees investigating the Iran-contra affair agreed and explicitly stated that "covert operations are a necessary component of our nation's foreign policy."10 This essential tool of statecraft should not be blunted or the president denied essential flexibility in its exercise.


Meeting America's intelligence requirements over the decades ahead will be very costly. In the executive branch and on Capitol Hill, in the media, in academia and elsewhere in the American body politic the battle lines are already forming between those who recognize these realities and those who are beginning to beat the drums for a "glasnost dividend" in the shape of a sharp reduction in the U.S. government's intelligence effort and expenditures, now that the Soviet threat appears to have diminished.

In this context, a related problem is already arising and is certain to get worse. For a variety of good reasons, most of them security-related, the bulk of the U.S. intelligence community's budget (including the CIA's) is discreetly tucked into various components of the Defense Department's budget, which is certain to be trimmed, perhaps drastically. As this happens, there will be a concomitant increase in the stridency of cries already being heard in the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, urging that the intelligence community take its proportionate share of cuts in the defense budget.

This would be folly. As America's current defense capabilities decrease, more-not less-intelligence will be needed. America's early-warning capabilities, of all kinds, will have to be enhanced to minimize and offset the risks that cutting defense capabilities will inevitably entail. Intelligence, for America, is a vital form of insurance; in an era in which risks are proliferating, insurance is the last thing that should be curtailed.

In any event, whatever is done with the American intelligence community's budgets, two things must not be done. Human intelligence activities, plus analyses and estimates prepared by human beings, constitute only a small fraction of the U.S. intelligence community's budget-the bulk of which is consumed by big-ticket, high-technology collection systems. During the years ahead, far more human activity, including analysis, is going to be needed-not less. Furthermore this is a sphere in which a relatively modest supplement or cut in funding, measured in five, six or seven digits, not nine or more, can make an enormous difference, for good or ill. If America is to have the intelligence capabilities that it will need, funds for human activities of all types must not be squeezed or devoured by the insatiable budgetary demands of technical collection.

Second, the future must not be mortgaged by making it hostage to cuts that are politically appealing in the short run, but wreak long-term havoc. Whether technical or human, intelligence capabilities frequently take years to develop-with a high correlation in both spheres between productive importance and lead time.

Through four tumultuous decades, the American intelligence community's basic structure has admirably weathered the test of time. The future's escalating requirements and new demands, however, will put appreciable and novel strains on that structure, which needs some repairs and, in places, shoring up. Though the last thing the U.S. government can afford at this juncture in world affairs is the trauma and disruption of a root-and-branch intelligence reorganization, some of the necessary shoring up and repairs will not be easy to commission or complete under present arrangements.

To make the intelligence community's activities sufficiently cost-effective to compete successfully for the resources that community will need, the managers who are accountable to the president and Congress, starting with the Director of Central Intelligence, must regain something that they do not now have: control, reinforced by an authority commensurate with their responsibilities. Involved here are many thorny problems that the community and its head, the DCI, cannot solve alone-particularly since several of the thorniest problems, which have been ignored or papered over for decades, involve the relationship between the DCI and the Secretary of Defense, with respect to those intelligence community components or assets that are part of the Defense Department. It will take the combined efforts of the president and Congress to untangle or cut some of these time-hardened Gordian knots. Now, however, is an optimum moment for tackling this essential task. On Capitol Hill, both oversight committees currently have wise and sensible chairmen and ranking minority members; the current occupant of the Oval Office, a former DCI, is a president with a grasp of intelligence realities derived from personal experience in managing a broad range of intelligence activities.


One era in world history is clearly ending with another about to begin; neither the course nor the shape of that new era is yet determined or now discernible. History never repeats itself, but it has thrust a heavy burden on the American people and their elected leaders.

Seven decades ago, in 1919-20, their predecessors had a golden but transient moment of opportunity. By acting wisely, they could have taken the lead in laying the foundations of a far better, happier and freer world order. That moment was squandered-with tragic results. Now another such moment has miraculously arisen, and it must not be squandered as well. Helping prevent any such tragedy is a task and responsibility to which the American intelligence community must now devote all of its skill, energy and resources.

The 1990s will be rife with dangers and risks, which could easily make the early decades of the 21st century even worse than the middle decades of this century. To act wisely at this critical juncture in world history, America's leaders will need, among other things, the highest degree of intelligence support and assistance attainable. This is a need that must be met at whatever cost. The United States cannot afford to stumble as blindly into this century's final decade as it did into the 1930s. Nor can a nuclear world afford, at this historic turning point, to have America stumble in that fashion once again.

1 This is spelled out, in detail, in Executive Order 12333 of Dec. 4, 1981, which is still in force.

2 Some of this proliferating weaponry and technology is of Soviet provenance, though weapons of Soviet origin are often modified and improved by their current owners. Many of these weapons come from China, which is an aggressive exporter of military hardware; some are American-made, while others are a heterogeneous mixture of weaponry manufactured in a variety of Western countries and peddled worldwide by arms merchants of many nationalities.

3 These remarks were made to the National Press Club on April 3, 1990.

5 Ronald Pelton had been spying for years and John Walker for decades before either was detected and indicted.

6 This section draws extensively on the author's March 10, 1988, testimony, on H.R. 3822, to the Subcommittee on Legislation of the U.S. House of Representative's Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

7 In fact that executive order explicitly states that in peacetime: "No agency except the CIA . . . may conduct any special activity unless the President determines that another agency is more likely to achieve a particular objective." Section 1.8(e), E.O. 12333, Dec. 4, 1981.

8 Judge William Webster, in a March 30, 1990, speech at American University.

9 A "special operation" would now normally be executed by an appropriate USSOCOM task force, tailored for that purpose, operating under U.S. command.

10 Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, House Rept. No. 100-433, Senate Rept. No. 100-216, Washington: 1987, page 383.

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  • George A. Carver, Jr., a former intelligence officer, is John M. Olin Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and President of C and S Associates, Inc., a consulting firm. He is also a member of the Defense Department's Special Operations Policy Advisory Group.
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