Major Overhaul Set for CIA, With Thousands to Be Reassigned
CIA Reorganizes to Speed Analysis, Focus More on Cyber-Espionage.
CIA Director John Brennan has ordered a sweeping reorganization of the spy agency, an overhaul designed to make its leaders more accountable, enhance the agency’s cyber capabilities and shore up espionage gaps exacerbated by a decade focused on counterterrorism. (Bloomberg) — The Central Intelligence Agency on Friday unveiled a major restructuring to put more emphasis on digital spying, speed the production of analysis and continue chipping away at the wall that separates spies from analysts.
The CIA embarked on a sweeping restructuring Friday that will bring an end to divisions that have been in place for decades, create 10 new centers that team analysts with operators, and significantly expand the agency’s focus on digital espionage. He said the move comes after nine outside experts spent three months analyzing the agency’s management structure, including what deputy CIA director David Cohen called “pain points,” organizational areas where the CIA’s bureaucracy does not work efficiently. Brennan to a workforce in which thousands of employees are likely to see changes in which departments they work for, the lines of authority they report to and even where they sit. Briefing reporters with Cohen at CIA headquarters this week, Brennan said the changes are necessary to address intelligence gaps that the CIA is not covering.
The overhaul is designed to foster deeper collaboration and an intensified focus on a range of security issues and threats, replacing long-standing divisions that cover the Middle East, Africa and other regions with hybrid “mission centers” modeled on the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. He lamented that there is often no single person he can hold accountable for the spying mission in any given part of the world. “There are a lot of areas that I would like to have better insight to, better information about, better access to,” Brennan said. “Safe havens, denied areas. The shift comes after U.S. intelligence was caught off guard by a series of high-profile digital attacks last year, including an assault on computer systems at Sony Pictures linked to North Korea, and an Iranian-launched cyber assault on Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world’s largest casino company. Brennan’s plan would partly abandon the agency’s current structure that keeps spies and analysts separate as they target specific regions or countries.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, warned Congress last month that cyber attacks pose a greater long-term threat to national security than terrorism. The Directorate of Digital Innovation will rank alongside the agency’s operations and analysis branches, and be responsible for missions ranging from cyber-espionage to the security of the CIA’s internal e-mail. The CIA, along with other U.S. intelligence agencies, wrongly assessed the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002 and failed to anticipate the rapid collapse of Middle East governments during the Arab Spring in 2011, among other shortcomings.
The Pentagon, FBI and Department of Homeland Security have stepped up cyber security operations, and the White House last month announced a new agency to help analyze and share digital threat information between government and business. In a briefing with reporters, Brennan described the far-reaching changes as “part of the natural evolution of an intelligence agency” that has not seen a significant reorganization in decades. The agency’s greatest public success of recent years — the 10-year effort to locate and kill Osama bin Laden in 2011 — may have taken longer than it should have, according to evidence made public in the recent Senate report on CIA interrogations. It will have the same level of authority as the four long-standing directorates responsible for clandestine operations, analysis, spy gadgetry and logistics. In the most significant departure, the CIA would break down the wall between the operations and analytical arms, a system that typically has required the case officers who recruit spies and run covert operations to work for different bosses, in different offices, than analysts who interpret the intelligence and write briefing papers for the president and other policymakers.
The new cyber push threatens to put the CIA in direct competition with the mammoth National Security Agency, which specializes in breaking codes, vacuuming up conversations and communications, and analyzing huge troves of digital transmissions. Once a small, occasionally neglected office in the C.I.A., the Counterterrorism Center has grown into a behemoth with thousands of officers since the Sept. 11 attacks as the C.I.A. has taken charge of a number of secret wars overseas. But officials said the CIA will focus less on collecting so-called signals intelligence and more on how to use digital tools to convince adversaries to spill their secrets, and to help protect American operatives.
They tend to answer today’s mail.” But Brennan defended the reforms as critical to the agency’s viability in an era of technological and social upheaval. Rival spy agencies use those digital fingerprints to help track CIA operatives, and the agency wants to find techniques to help officers working undercover hide their tracks online. He said that the Defense Department’s structure of having a single military commander in charge of all operations in a particular region — the way a four-star commander runs United States Central Command — was an efficient structure that led to better accountability.
At one point he compared the initiatives to an effort to avoid the fate of Kodak, the company that failed to foresee the impact of digital technology on its film franchise. “Things just passed them by,” Brennan said. The Directorates of Intelligence and Operations — as the analysis and spying branches are known — will continue to exist, but function mainly as talent pools: recruiting and training personnel that can be deployed to the new centers. “Some who grew up in the old structure will have heartburn with this, but those costs will be short-term,” said Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA. The head of the CIA’s operation arm retired abruptly in January after voicing concerns about the plan, say two former CIA officials who know him but spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss internal agency matters. The 9/11 Commission recommended numerous reforms after that intelligence failure, partly aimed at ending the stovepipes, but Brennan’s comments suggest the problem persists.
But Brennan made clear that the digital directorate will have a much broader mandate, responsible not only for devising new ways to steal secrets from cellphones and other devices but also helping CIA officers evade detection overseas in an age when their phones, computers and ATM cards leave digital trails. But he is changing some names, including restoring the old moniker “Directorate of Operations,” to the spying arm, the name it had before being rebadged the National Clandestine Service in 2005. Field operatives sometimes mocked analysts for sitting at a desk, and analysts worried that knowing too much about espionage could bias their interpretation of information. He avoided citing any specific examples of how the C.I.A.’s current structure was hampering operations, and often used management jargon while describing his vision for the agency. Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst who famously dissented from the case for war in Iraq, expressed concern that the costs of the changes would outweigh the benefits. “I worry that this plan may be another instance of the all-too-common pattern, among senior managers in both governmental and private sector organizations, to try to leave a personal mark by reorganizing the place,” he said in an email.
Brennan discussed his plans with reporters on the condition that nothing be made public until he met with C.I.A. employees to discuss the new structure. Instead of each directorate running its own schools, training programs will be brought together under a chancellor at a facility Brennan called “CIA University.” Brennan said this was the very thing he was trying to avoid — reacting to the world’s crises and not giving policy makers sufficient warning before they happened.
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