How much power should the CIA have?

August 25, 2009

In the alphabet soup of government national security agencies, the letters CIA seem to be sinking.

The latest blow to the spy agency was the attorney general launching an investigation into interrogation abuses and President Barack Obama has decided that the interrogation of terrorism suspects will be taken out of the hands of the CIA and put into the control of a newly-created group that will be housed at the FBI and report to the White House.

Some intelligence experts say the CIA didn’t want to do the high-value detainee interrogations anyway.


Since the 9-11 attacks eight years ago, the United States is still trying to figure out what  balance of power it wants in intelligence.

The CIA is supposed to dig out secrets to save the United States from national security disasters. In years past it was criticized for being too risk-averse and critics of the investigation into interrogation abuses say it will make the spy agency too risk-averse again.

The DNI (Director of National Intelligence), created after the Sept. 11 attacks, took over the job of overseeing all the intelligence agencies from the CIA director.

This year there was a bureaucratic skirmish between the DNI and the CIA director after the DNI put in writing that there could be times when the DNI’s representative in foreign countries would be someone other than the CIA station chief.

That dispute went to the White House for mediation.

ABCNews reported this week speculation that CIA Director Leon Panetta had threatened to quit, which the agency vigorously denied.  “The ABC story is wrong, inaccurate, bogus, and false,” CIA spokesman George Little says.

Some CIA watchers are betting on a Panetta exit early next year. But then President Barack Obama would have to convince someone to take a job that seems to end up being a political punching bag.

Should the CIA have more oversight, more control over its operations, or is the balance just right?

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama and Panetta walking out of CIA headquarters)


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Yes the CIA does need oversight, but if this is the kind of oversight we’re talking about it then no. This sounds like a witch hunt against people who were probably doing what everyone else was doing but was smart enough not to write it down. This is an echo of Abu Grahib, the little people getting punished and the people whose policies facilitated the whole thing go free.

That said, I for one like the idea of a risk-averse CIA. By the nature of what their job is, it’s really easy for things to get out of control. Out of control intelligence agencies are dangerous. A lot of problems in the world come back to out of control intelligence agencies (ISI anyone?). I would like people with the power to do that much damage to be cautious.

Instead of criminal prosecutions, I would like to see a “truth panel” where CIA people can testify without fear of prosecution or anyone. Since it isn’t practical to prosecute the architects of these distortions of law, I would settle for knowing what was done, how the decisions were made to do it, and what the results were.

And I don’t like all this outsourcing to “independent panels”. The President needs to show more leadership and stop pitting agencies against each other. Everyone knows the CIA and the FBI hate each other. He shouldn’t start a fight between them, that really is not what we need.

Posted by James | Report as abusive

In my opinion FBI should follow interests of law and CIA should follow interests of country. However it should be the same it is not always the case. We should not forget that the legal ways are not always the quickest and in in the business of espionage is timing playing crucial role.
Regarding the control of CIA, their work should be independent from the political events in the country. Too much control could lead to loss of independence and subsequently to loss of credibility, since politician will always try to use their influence for own interests. Since IA have relatively unique role in whole system, there is anything more important for their successful work than the support of the President. Therefore the current situation with CIA is very unlucky

Posted by Tomas | Report as abusive