Washington Babylon — January 5, 2009, 9:28 am

Will Hayden Stay at CIA?

Barack Obama still hasn’t gotten around to naming his CIA director, and there’s still talk that he might retain Michael Hayden. A former senior CIA official I spoke with thinks that would be a very bad idea. Here’s what he had to say:

From Obama’s optic, leaving Hayden there for now makes sense. He hasn’t totally fucked up and he can always get rid of him later. He’s a safe place holder. But it won’t play well in the building. He hasn’t earned respect. He’s a four-star airforce general who’s not a pilot or a war guy. He is a really nice guy, he just has no business running the nations espionage business. He’s a professional administrator and they need a good case officer. They need a spy to rebuild, restructure, motivate and run the nations spy service. Bush is leaving office, after two terms with the same intelligence questions unanswered that he faced when he arrived? How is this possible? The core intelligence questions on Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, bin Laden’s location, al Qaida’s operational abilities remain intact, after billions of dollars spent, and the largest personnel increase in agency history. When asked why, you get answers like “its hard”, “its a monumental challenge”, “we doing good work”, etc. All of that means nothing. They are failing to accomplish their core mission on a number of fronts.

The agency was designed in 1947 as a civilian service, but if he keeps Hayden, you’ll have military people in all the key positions in the new national security structure: Hayden as DCI, a general as National Security Advisor and an admiral as Director of National Intelligence, and there are military officers sprinkled all over the agency. There a lot of people upset about this.he military dabbles in the intelligence business, yet has the largest bite of the budget. Their intelligence requirements tend to be tactical collection, with offensive operations designed to act on tactical collection in war zones. They know little or nothing about living and operating under cover, alias operational activities, the full recruitment cycle, covert communications and handling spies in denied areas, clandestine operations, surveillance detection…..the core operational disciplines.

The military is linear, conventional, with a fixed chain of command, strict operational authority and execution processes, and heavy on the ground; the agency system is anathema to the military system. When I say agency, I mean the old DO, the clandestine service (case officers). You need officers who are disciplined and creative, operating in an undisciplined system and operational environment. Someone who is comfortable making their own decisions, alone, because they can’t “call home” for authority or permission. The military is the exact opposite. Rigid chain of command, authority flows from the top down, and if the people on the operational end of the spear do not have specific permission to move or act, they will sit until they do. The military is staffed with heavily disciplined people (rigid), operating in an even more disciplined and structured system. With the agency it’s strength is speed, flexibility, and nimbleness in the field. Because of the nature of intelligence, opportunity surfaces and disappears quickly. You need the latitude to operate; the military’s first response is to stop and ask permission.

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More from Ken Silverstein:

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