Sunday, April 23, 2006

Of Time and Place

Last week, the CIA fired a 61-year-old senior intelligence officer who stands accused of leaking classified information to reporters. The ethics is a delicate scale to balance: On one hand, CIA cannot function if its senior officers divulge classified information to reporters; but on the other hand, it seems that CIA was, in fact, breaking international law, and it's difficult to condemn anyone for speaking out.

The officer has been described as a bureaucrat, someone lacking field experience who feels most comfortable working "downtown" in Washington. She has been attending law school in anticipation of retirement from the agency. The real question is, How did someone fitting this profile come to be trusted with operational intelligence?

Spying is cold business. You can't supervise spies or restrict them with policy. You can either send them into the field, trusting in their judgment, or you can have a broken spy program. It's a business that doesn't permit oversight. It only works if the left hand doesn't ask what the right hand is doing.

I'm not saying that senior analysts should suppress knowledge of illegal activities. I'm saying that information should never cross their desks. CIA needs to stop pretending it's the Department of State. You can't have a polite Rottweiler, and you shouldn't try. Either let him off the chain, or buy a terrier.


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