Small Wars Journal

CIA Headed in the Wrong General Direction

CIA Headed in the Wrong General Direction by Roy A. Harrell Jr., San Angelo Standard-Times Op-Ed. "Agency should not be paramilitary force."

... One would hope that whoever becomes the director will have the good sense to hand over the main responsibility for drone attacks to the Pentagon, thus re-emphasizing that agency's traditional and mandated role. There is certainly no role for the CIA in these endeavors.

... Like lots of traditionalists who worked at the CIA, this writer would like and even yearn for a return to the CIA-mandated role rather than some paramilitary unit. Petraeus should not be missed in this role of director of Central Intelligence.


Bill M.

Sun, 12/09/2012 - 6:24pm

In reply to by Hammer999

I'm somewhat in agreement with you. Our special operations is still part of the military, and I'm of the school that is a severe limitation on using SOF for operations short of war due to our laws and military culture. The CIA has legal authorities to do things we can't, so instead of being jealous I'm glad our nation has this capability. If these operations fell under the military chain of command risk adverse officers would micromanage them to the point of failure. Most of these operations are simple, require a very light footprint (the military has a hard time doing this), and equally important the ability to keep the operations classified to avoid embarassing our foreign partners. Some units within SOF can do this, but if they fall under the military chain of command they lose too much agility. Ultimately we need to fix the command structure and authorities for these missions so SOF can do them more effectively.

The majority of para-military operations conducted by the CIA I have read about are relatively low end skill level operations. If a high end capability is needed then it is likely SOF will be utilized (Neptune Spear, Eagle Claw, etc.), but for the numerous lower end operations that need to be low profile nothing wrong with using the CIA's para-military.


Fri, 12/07/2012 - 2:19pm

They don't do that many military style operations. Additionally if you have the eyes why not the strike capability. We should be glad we have them. Look how long it took SF to get into Afghanistan... (operators are not at fault for this) Due to important concerns like uniforms worn. Additionally due to the risk averse nature of military leadership, we need the CIA to go in first. We won't highly trained SOF units in until all the PR is in place, regardless of the fact that they are volenteers.


Tue, 12/04/2012 - 1:54pm

Agreed, through and through. The CIA may never have been a purely collection operation. But there is a fine line being crossed here where "some operations" becomes "a lot of operations," which then becomes "responsible for operations." That line must not be crossed by an intelligence organization. As I've said before on SWJ, the stewards of information MUST NOT be the arbiters of its application. That is a recipe for conspiracy, whether it's major or minor. A U.S. citizen deliberately, but erroneously, targeted and killed but then covered up? Sure no governments were overthrown or dictatorships secretely created...but that falls into the category of unacceptable. Always! That it might happen we can't prevent, that we make it easier to happen with a foolish task organization of our national assets is tantamount to culpability.

To take the point further, targeted killing is assassination. If you have identified a man for killing by name or position, rather than affiliation (e.g. 'enemy') then you are assassinating. I don't necessarily have qualms with that, but I have a feeling that if we started calling it for what it is, the dialogue on the matter might change a bit. As it stands, the CIA has an active and public assassination program that uses drones and other tech as enablers. Again, I'm actually ok with the concept, morally speaking. I just find the professional dialogue on it perverted by semantics; and more importantly, I am not ok with the IC being the managers of that program or any other non-collection duty. The IC's role is to advise. It must remain that, at the cost of what may seem like expedient measures.


Tue, 12/04/2012 - 2:16pm

In reply to by Train wreck

sarcasm aside, I've lately been very curious to find out the origins of the expectation that DOS is an operational institution. My reading of history doesn't lend many examples of diplomatic missions and embassies "running things". Also, where do we get the odd notion that DOS is this den of untapped expertise in all things non-military? Especially in things governmental, as in, how to run governments. I don't see ANY connection between being able to effectively represent your state's interest and professional expertise in administering tax collection, trade regulation, policing, energy infrastructure, or any other thing to do with governance.

Just curious......................


Fri, 11/30/2012 - 2:38pm

In reply to by Train wreck

see NSPD44 and 3000.5

(tongue in cheek as well).

Train wreck

Fri, 11/30/2012 - 4:02am

So let me get this correct. DOD does Nation Building, CIA does Paramilitary, and the DOS does what?

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 11/29/2012 - 7:13pm

If paramilitary operations are to take precedence over intelligence operations perhaps the Central Intelligence Agency should become the Central Paramilitary Agency but somehow I doubt those guys would want to go by the acronym CPA - though then again that could be a good over for status and action, e.g., just a bunch of CPAs running around with briefcases looking to count money. (I will remove my tongue from my cheek now).