NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Assault on CIA Hobbled Intelligence Gathering

September 18, 2001

The headline on a Wall Street Journal article this morning authored by spy novelist Tom Clancy reads: "First We Cripple the CIA, Then We Blame It." Clancy is only one of many critics currently pointing out that the failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to uncover and thwart the hijacking plot carried out last week was the result of 25 years of political and legal attacks on our intelligence-gathering powers.

The Wall Street Journal's lead editorial this morning is along the same lines.

Here is how critics say it happened in U.S. agencies ranging from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency:

  • The late Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) kicked off the assault in the mid '70s with charges that the CIA was "a rogue elephant on the rampage" and demands that the agency's intelligence-gathering activities be curtailed.
  • At that time, Counter-Spy magazine pitched in on the assault by publishing the names of CIA agents around the world.
  • President Jimmy Carter's CIA director, Stansfield Turner, slashed human intelligence and sacked dozens of the agency's most experienced officers.
  • Later more restrictions were imposed, including preventing agents from using cover as journalists, clergy or aid workers -- as well as a 1995 directive that demanded that CIA informers not be "unsavory."

At the FBI, it appeared at one point that dedicated field agents who had spent their careers investigating groups such as the Weather Underground -- with the tacit approval of several Presidents -- would face criminal indictments.

Under President Gerald Ford's Attorney General, Benjamin Levi, agents were prevented from investigating suspect groups until after a crime had been committed.

Although restrictions were relaxed during the Reagan administration, close observers report that the intelligence community has never fully recovered.

Source: Editorial, "Unspooking Spooks;" and Tom Clancy, "First We Cripple the CIA, Then We Blame It," both in the Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2001.

For text (WSJ subscribers)


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