Small Wars Journal

The Blurring of CIA and Military

The Blurring of CIA and Military by David Ignatius, Washington Post. BLUF: "One consequence of the early "war on terror" years was that the lines between CIA and military activities got blurred. The Pentagon moved into clandestine areas that had traditionally been the province of the CIA. Special Forces began operating secretly abroad in ways that worried the CIA, the State Department and foreign governments."


Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 2:25pm

Joe, I'm not sure that statement is true. Failures tend to make the news, and for obvious reasons successes cannot. You may ultimately be correct, but I suspect the record is mixed and there are many successes we never hear about.

"We could actually completely demilitarize the CIA by shifting all paramilitary operations to DOD. Why wasn't that addressed?"

- Quick thought, the CIA's paramilitary forces/affairs exist for the executive office to deny culpability.

More importantly, the CIA still has a terrible "batting average" when it comes to both predicting political/military events but also in executing actionable intelligence...just something to think about...

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 6:24pm

Zenpundit, all excellent points. My point about demilitarizing the CIA was in response to the author's comment about the CIA's alleged concerns about becoming militarized. Most covert actions should be relatively small, low key efforts that require mature operators that can blend into the environment. Not necessarily a guy who can run 5 miles under 35 mins, do 20 pull ups, and bench 300lbs. We need both capabilities.

Agree on your points about CIA intell assessments, they generally seem to be more accurate than DOD intell reports, unless they are swayed by political pressure like GWB wanting the CIA to find WMD in Iraq. Every agency to various degrees conforms to political pressure.


Thu, 06/02/2011 - 4:21pm

"We could actually completely demilitarize the CIA by shifting all paramilitary operations to DOD. Why wasn't that addressed?"

We could. I'd speculate that did not happen because of the following reasons:

a) It's a bad idea to foreclose future presidential options for the sake of bureaucratic clarity today.

It may be that most of the time, the DoD is better suited for violent covert action than the CIA's clandestine service. It seems certainly likely to me in the operational sense. However, the DoD is not always best suited in the diplomatic or legal sense nor should all of our covert operatives look like brawny, hard-eyed, 25-35 year old SOF personnel in mufti.

b)Making legislative changes to the respective roles of the DoD and CIA will potentially open a can of worms.

Committees hold hearings, the media will run "gotcha" type stories, bills are amended to suit possibly irrelevant agendas and political capital is expended. What is the upside?

It is simply easier, quieter and more flexible for the POTUS to issue an executive order regarding covert actions through the NSC, if he wishes to define the roles. Or just decide on a case by case basis.

I will conclude that having two agencies with different institutional cultures rather than one makes groupthink a little harder to push upwards to political decision makers. LBJ chose to ignore CIA reports on the Vietnam War that contrasted with rosier assessments by MACV but at least the opportunity to listen had been present. Two agencies can bring different capabilities and judgment about covert operations to the table before a decision to act is taken.

my two cents

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 06/02/2011 - 5:51am

I can the strategists pursuing organizational self interest starting to move now by leaking classified information that benefits their position. We have the leaders from DOD and CIA transitioning, with the CIA director going to head OSD and GEN P going to the head the CIA. The strategists see an opportune time to start shaping perceptions of these inbound leaders, Congress and the Executive office.

In general I agree with most of the article, but it loses relevance when they talk about militarizing intelligence, when the CIA already supports paramilitary operations. We could actually completely demilitarize the CIA by shifting all paramilitary operations to DOD. Why wasn't that addressed?

An issue, among others, with this article is this one:

"Former intelligence officials recall sensitive "preparation of the environment" missions inside nations such as Iran. _I recently reviewed_ an August 2006 "SAP Action Memo" from Cambone to Rumsfeld requesting an extension of a "commercial covert operative" in two volatile Arab countries. The military isnt authorized to conduct "covert" activities, so a senior Defense official says this may simply be "sloppy writing." It could also be something inappropriate."

The issue is who provided such a classified document to Mr. Ignatius? Would seem the law has been broken by someone to have allowed a journalist to read an obviously classified document.