The Deconstruction of the CIA

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released documents showing that the CIA had agents actually inside al Qaeda in the three years before 9/11, but none were sufficiently trusted to know of the planned attacks. The new CIA Director Porter Goss is planning on fixing this by placing a renewed emphasis on undercover spies infiltrating organizations and fancy gadgets to collect and pass information (just like in the olden days of the Cold War).

As it becomes increasingly clear that there really has been a failure of human intelligence, the CIA is receiving more ink and airtime since the 9/11 witch hunt Commission that was used to bash the president in the pre-election season.

Intelligence is becoming more critical every day, what with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the on-again-off-again talks with North Korea, the fact that we don’t know what is going on in North Korea at all (could a power struggle be in the making?), and reports that al Qaeda plans to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the U.S. through Mexico. The world is an increasingly dangerous place and we can’t survive if we’re blind.

So how did we get here? Why is it that our CIA was able to go toe-to-toe with the Soviet’s KGB and GRU, yet now seem ineffective? How did we get to a place where a once-proud organization is undergoing a purge of the members that are trying to undermine the President of the United States?

Those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it, so that is a very good place to start.

The convention have done well, therefore, in so disposing of the power of making treaties, that although the President must, in forming them, act by the advice and consent of the Senate, yet he will be able to manage the business of intelligence in such a manner as prudence may suggest.
— John Jay, 1778, Federalist No. 64.

Let us take a stroll down History Lane to look at the highlights of intelligence legislation over the last 30 years. The three major questions are:

  1. How long does it take to build an effective, global intelligence system?
  2. How long does it take to destroy one?
  3. Who were the agents of destruction?
Late 60s
to 1974

This was a very contentious time in U.S. history. It is an era when groups like the Black Panthers advocated the violent overthrow of the governmentand the Weathermen was planting bombs in capitals, ROTC buildings and blowing themselves up in townhouses. Many groups like these were financing their activities with bank robberies and kidnappings. 1974 was the year that the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patricia Hearst.


It is in during period of social upheaval that the New York Times publishes a series of articles by Seymour Hersh, which alleges that the CIA has been engaged in massive domestic spying activities.

Senator James Abourezk (D-SD) and Representative and Representative Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) introduced bills that would to ban all covert operations. Both bills failed but the attack on our intelligence community had commenced.

Senator Harold Hughes (D-IA) and Representative Leo Ryan (D-CA) authored the Hughes-Ryan amendment of 1974 which restricted CIA operations to pure intelligence gathering unless the president determined the mission to be essential to national security, in which case the the President was required to notify the House and Senate of CIA covert operations in a “timely fashion”, which was understood to be 48 hours. This necessitated the establishment of the first permanent oversight committees in both the Senate and the House.


The Murphy Commission headed by Robert Murphy (party affiliation unknown, although he served as Deputy Under Secretary of State in the Eisenhower (R) administration) wraps up a three-year study. It urged greater status for the Director if Central Intelligence (DCI) with closer ties to the president, recommended that covert action be used only when it was “clearly essential to vital U.S. purposes” and only after high-level review. Prophetically, “It further urged that the NSC’s Committee on Intelligence be actively used as the principal forum to resolve the differing perspectives of intelligence consumers and producers, and “should meet frequently for that purpose.” ”

President Ford (R-MI) forms the Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, chaired by Vice President Rockefeller (R-NY). The Rockefeller Commission spends six months investigating before issuing a report recommending increased oversight. It does not recommend halting covert operations abroad or even a ban domestic intelligence gathering and operations by the CIA.

Rep. Michael Harrington (D-MA) introduces a resolution to investigate the CIA. He attempts to castrate the CIA by calling for the abolition of all covert activities.

The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities is formed, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) who described the Agency as a “rogue elephant rampaging out of control.” The Church Committee spends 16 months investigating allegations of CIA domestic spying abuses.

The Select Committee on Intelligence is formed, chaired by Representative Lucien Nedzi (D-MI). The Nedzi Committee is to investigate allegations of “illegal or improper” activities of federal intelligence agencies. The committee has a 7 to 3 Democratic majority. Nedzi is against the Vietnam war, the development of the B-1 bomber, and the anti-ballistic missile system. The Nedzi Committee disintegrates and is replaced by a committee chaired by Rep. Otis Pike (D-NY).


The final report of the Church Committee is submitted to the U.S. Senate, and significant restrictions were placed on wiretapping, mail opening and other “intrusive” intelligence gathering operations.


Turner is appointed DCI by President Carter (D). The Senate Committee decides that intelligence budgets should be a matter of public record — an unprecedented thought. Incredibly, Turner does not object.

Later that year Turner stuns the world by announcing that he will cut the CIA’s Directorate of Operations by 800 people. Some theorize that Turner is attempting a takeover of the technical collection programs run by the Department of Defense.


Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) had been trying to regulate FBI and NSA activities for four sessions. With the results of the Church Committee on his side, he was able to achieve his goal in 1978 when he sponsored and pushed through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This legislation imposed strict rules on intelligence gathering, and created large bureaucratic hoops that CIA and FBI officers had to go through before they could wiretap suspected terrorists. In fact, FISA-related obstacles were largely responsible for the FBI’s decision not to search the computer and apartment of Zacarias Moussaoui (the alleged “20th hijacker”) prior to September 11.

The CIA was established in 1947. How long before it was an effective intelligence organization is debatable, though there is little doubt that it took a least a couple of decades. But in four short years the Democrats were able to cripple it.

In his 1991 memoirs, John Tower wrote:

The repercussions of the Church Committee’s misguided zeal are still being felt today. The committee’s inquiry severely shook the confidence of allies who cooperated with us on intelligence gathering activities and caused many of them to reassess their relationship with the U.S. intelligence community. They feared that the precedent of allowing congressional investigations of the CIA would lead to the exposure of their own intelligence sources and methods.

Among other notable comments about the Church Committee:

  • Former Secretary of State James Baker said that Church’s hearings had caused us to “unilaterally disarm in terms of our intelligence capabilities.”
  • The Wall Street Journal editorial page called the opening of Church’s public hearings “the moment that our nation moved from an intelligence to anti-intelligence footing.”
  • Best selling author Tom Clancy said on Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor: “The CIA was gutted by people on the political left who don’t like intelligence operations, and as an indirect result of that, we’ve lost 5,000 citizens last week.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

In 1995 Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) led the effort to forbid the CIA from hiring informants of unsavory character (which came to be known as the ‘Torricelli Principle‘). The Clinton administration complied.

Also in 1995 Jamie Gorelick (D-DoJ) reinforced the wall set up by FISA, admonishing investigators in the first World Trade Center attack to “go beyond what is legally required…[to] prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation.”

This double-whammy relegated the CIA to the role of monitoring and analyzing electronic surveillance and second-hand reports.

The above are just the high points, of course. Missing is Reagan’s fulfillment of a campaign promise to revitalize intelligence, a number of spy scandals in the mid-80s, the discovery that the U.S. embassy in Moscow had bugs built into the walls during construction, Iran-Contra (which liberals seem incapable of discussing rationally), the fall of the Berlin Wall (which had people questioning the need for an intelligence arm at all), the first Gulf War (which demonstrated how intelligence and military power could be combined with devastating effect), the Clinton-Gore effort to “reinvent” government — including intelligence services, and much more.

But the thread of Democrat hostility to the intelligence community is continuous throughout the last 30 or so years. The efforts of Republicans to protect and even enhance intelligence is consistent with their attitude towards the military.

On final anecdote to illustrate the differences in partisan agendas. Consider these two facts:

  • CIA was established in part as a reaction to the disastrous lack of intelligence and the subsequent failure to be prepared for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • The first World Trade Center bombing was in 1993.

Now look at these facts from John Kerry’s Senatorial career:

  • 1994: Twice pushed to cut $1 billion from the budgets of the National Foreign Intelligence Program and from Tactical Intelligence.
  • 1995: Proposed cutting $1.5 billion from the intelligence budget, which was just one of the areas targeted for cuts as they were “pointless, wasteful, antiquated, or just plain silly.”
  • 1997: “Now that [the Cold War] struggle is over, why is it that our vast intelligence apparatus continues to grow?”

Why indeed, Johnny, why indeed.

Further sources of information:


The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.
— John Marshall, 7 March 1800, 6th Congress


Posted November 18th, 2004 Filed in Intelligence