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Mysteries & Secrets : Director Gates Knows The Central Intelligence Agency Must Change. But How--and How Much?

April 19, 1992|JOHN M. BRODER | John M. Broder covers national security affairs for The Times' Washington bureau; his last piece for this magazine was a profile of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin L. Powell.

The answers to such mysteries cannot be found in satellite photographs or missile plans or the transcripts of intercepted communications--the hard data traditionally sought by the spies and technical surveillance systems of the CIA's "collection" arm, the Directorate of Operations. Nor can the legions of photo interpreters and military-hardware bean counters employed by the analytic arm of the agency--the Directorate of Intelligence--solve the puzzle of human motivation. What is needed in both directorates are people who can read the obscure languages of the local press in Tatarstan or Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, who understand their culture and history and who aren't afraid to predict the behavior of their peoples and leaders. The Operations Directorate, responding to the intelligence-estimate request, has produced a two-year review of "humint" (human intelligence) requirements, supervised by the head of the unit, Thomas A. Twetten, a former CIA station chief in the Middle East. Although spymaster Twetten declined to be interviewed for this story, sources say that the review indicated concern that agents trained to steal missile secrets or train rebels in sabotage are not well adapted to understanding the subtleties of ethnic tensions between, say, Russian Cossacks and the Kazakh nationalists in neighboring Central Asia. The demand now is for experts in tracking complex financial transactions, specialists in the newly free Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, agents able to penetrate international drug- and arms-dealing cartels, and experienced Middle East hands to watch not only the warring nations of the region but also stateless peoples with territorial ambitions such as the Kurds and the Palestinians.

In the Intelligence Directorate, the emphasis on mysteries rather than secrets shows up in semantics as well as in the deployment and qualifications of personnel. For example, the Soviet affairs office was recently renamed the Office of Slavic and Eurasian Analysis. Today only about a third of the analysts in the department study military developments in the former Soviet republics. As recently as 1988, nearly two-thirds of its officers worked on some aspect of the Soviet military.

"Before, we were looking at hard data--forces arrayed and questions like that," says Kolt, the Russia specialist who until last month ran the Slavic analysis office and who now is the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia. "Today, we're talking a lot more about ideas, about social and political movements."

John L. Helgerson, head of the Intelligence Directorate, said that he will be adding 50 new analysts this year, virtually all of them trained in economics or engineering. But the biggest growth areas in his department are the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the global spread of arms technology.

Gates warns that policy-makers and the public will have to learn to live with more surmise and less certainty if they want the CIA to address global mysteries. He says that intelligence reports now will reflect the ambiguity inherent in assessing "that which has no known or knowable answer," in Ermarth's phrase.

Too often in the past, the CIA assumed a guise of infallibility in its analysis. No more, says Gates. "How do you break away from the conventional wisdom and acknowledge to the policy-maker that you might be wrong?" Gates asks. "In those circumstances where nobody knows what the answer is, being honest about not knowing and telling the policy-maker that in this case we're here to help you think through the problem rather than give you some kind of a crystal ball prediction, I think is a more helpful way to go about our business."

ROBERT GATES WON HIS POST--ONE THAT presidents have traditionally tried to portray as apolitical--after the longest, bitterest Senate confirmation battle ever endured by a CIA chief. The fight laid bare a deep schism in the soul of the agency over whether Gates had sold out the CIA's highest value--its intellectual independence and objectivity. Gates was a career CIA man, who joined as a Soviet analyst in the Intelligence Directorate in 1966 and rose quickly into the ranks of senior management. During the hearings, he was accused of bending CIA analysis to fit the Evil Empire biases of his bosses at the White House and at Langley. He was also accused of petty and vindictive treatment of his underlings and, as head of the Intelligence Directorate from 1982 to 1986, of being responsible for blowing the central analytic question of the 1980s, the future of the Soviet Union. He was portrayed as the ultimate bureaucratic chameleon, adopting the coloration of whatever master he served. Beyond that, it was charged, he was too inflexible, too rooted in the moral certitude of the Cold War, too tied to the past practices and prejudices of the old CIA to lead it into the new world.

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