Former senior intelligence officer John Miller asks what prompted Porter Goss’s abrupt resignation as CIA Director after less than two years in the job. And will Canberra’s increased spending on ASIO be a waste of money?
|New CIA Director, Gen. Michael Hayden|
On May 5, Porter Johnston Goss abruptly resigned as Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Some of our television stations showed pictures from the Oval Office of the President thanking Mr Goss for his service and the latter replying that he had left the Agency on an “even keel”.
As usual, the US media in general have had something of a field day looking at Mr Goss’s brief tenure – less than two years – and his replacement, General Michael V. Hayden.
There are very good reasons for taking a brief look at the current situation. It needs to be remembered that the CIA is in the forefront of the War on Terror. Australia is, by virtue of its society and culture, to say nothing of alliances, heavily dependent on good relations with foreign intelligence services.
As former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officer Warren Reed has noted, Australia’s intelligence organisations have a questionable capacity for operational action and have become heavily politicised (New Matilda, November 25 and December 7, 2005). In a way, this is analogous to happenings at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Mr Reed’s views are consistent with those of other intelligence veterans.
History shows that a series of disastrous appointments to head the CIA have left it with a diminished capability, especially in the collection of human intelligence (HUMINT). Nowadays, the CIA is almost totally reliant on other means to collect information on terrorists, and that includes sometimes less than reliable, nominally allied, services.
A great deal of damage was done under the stewardship of CIA Director, Admiral Stansfield Turner (1977-1981), and Deputy Director Adm. Bobby Ray Inman (1981-82). Both oversaw departures of experienced staff as part of a new direction whereby electronic intelligence-gathering supplanted the use of human sources.
This policy was to produce spectacular failures, especially in 1979 when Iranian mobs captured the US Embassy in Tehran after the overthrow of the Shah by fundamentalist Islamic forces loyal to the late Ayatollah Khomeini.
During 1987-1991, the CIA was headed by a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief, Justice William H. Webster, an appointment that led to an over-legalistic interpretation of CIA activities.
Given that the CIA appeared to be riven with professional and personal rivalries and the inevitable jockeying for influence, operational success became inversely proportional to its budget allocation.
The compound effect of disastrous leadership, has led many in the US media to lay responsibility for the tragedy of 9/11 at the CIA’s door. Informed sources within US intelligence circles reported that the CIA had signally failed to recruit a single agent among Islamic militants and was struggling to find reliable translators. In this writer’s opinion, however, responsibility for that failure can be spread across several agencies and the CIA was by no means solely responsible for terrorist outrages.
So what of Porter Goss? The well-respected journalist Walter Shapiro (in the on-line journal www.salon.com, May 6, 2006) described Goss’s departure as “spooky”, and implied that he jumped before he was pushed.
However, one important factor in Porter Goss’s career is that he was the last Director of Central Intelligence. The appointment in 2005 of John D. Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence (DNI) – a new Cabinet-level office responsible for coordinating the different components of the US intelligence community – meant that, for the first time, the head of the CIA did not report directly to the President but had to go through the new bureaucratic layer surrounding the DNI.
The Washington Post, famed for its exposé of the Nixon White House, reported that a year after Goss had commenced work at the Agency, together with his own team, he found himself at loggerheads with senior officials, many of whom “resigned, retired or requested reassignment” (Washington Post, October 19, 2005).
Apparently the atmosphere within the CIA grew increasingly rancorous to the point where it became virtually divided against itself. Earlier this month, Senate intelligence committee member, Representative Jane Harman (Democrat, California), while she claimed to be a personal friend of Goss and his wife, nonetheless stated that the Goss team had alienated many long-serving intelligence officers and that the Agency lacked direction. (Interview on “All Things Considered”, US Radio NPR, May 6, 2006).
New focus for CIA?
On May 8, President George W. Bush announced the appointment of US Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden as new Director of the CIA. He also installed, as Deputy Director, a retired CIA officer Stephen R. Kappes, who had earlier quit the Agency, allegedly over a dispute with Porter Goss. According to the Washington Post (May 9, 2006), the move is seen “as a direct repudiation of Goss’s leadership and as an olive branch to CIA veterans disaffected with their former Director”.
The future of the Agency remains to be seen as it comes to terms with a new Director wearing a USAF uniform, who has no intention of resigning his armed forces commission, heading a fiercely proud civilian organisation.
The test of the incoming management team will be measured against the objectives of finding and destroying the infrastructure of terrorism, identifying terrorist leaders and movements around the globe and preventing the type of “successful” operation made notorious by Al Qaeda.
A bigger, better ASIO?
The 2006-7 Federal Budget has signalled an increase in spending on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. One budget paper, Strengthening Intelligence Capabilities, says in part:
“Funding to ASIO has more than doubled in the five years since 2001. ASIO is set to grow further to 1,860 staff by 2010-11 following the commitment of additional funds in the 2006-07 Budget to meet the challenges of known and unknown sources of terrorist threat, as well as the continuing threat of espionage and foreign interference.
“ASIO has been recruiting and training additional staff for intelligence collection, investigation and analysis, expanding its capacity to provide border control security advice, threat assessments and critical infrastructure protection advice, and increasing its capability to deliver security assessments.
“Key parts of ASIO now operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including the Communications Centre, the multi-agency National Threat Assessment Centre, the Research and Monitoring Unit and the visa security checking area.”
Furthermore: “With additional funding of $51.6 million over four years, commencing in the 2006-07 Budget, the AFP [Australian Federal Police] will significantly upgrade its capacity to collect, assess, store and share sensitive threat-related information and criminal intelligence within the AFP and with its partner agencies, in a time critical manner. This will bring the AFP’s intelligence systems in line with the AIC [Australian Intelligence Community] and enable the AFP to better conduct investigations, particularly counter-terrorism investigations, which rely heavily on sharing intelligence with the AIC.”
This is an interesting form of words for generations of ASIO officers who were told and, in fact, contracted to be available for duty at all hours of day and night. This writer is not exactly unfamiliar with being hauled out of bed in the middle of the night, nor with cancelling holidays.
However, it appears a lot more money is to be spent on bureaucracy and, if advertisements for ASIO staff in the newspapers and on the Internet are correct, there is an emphasis on generalisation, to the detriment of specialisation. This writer makes no apology for reiterating that intelligence is a discipline which relies on high-level research and analytical skills and is in turn dependent on specialist knowledge. It is to be hoped that ASIO’s priorities are accurately assessed and staff trained and deployed accordingly.
From various accounts, it is abundantly clear that ASIO lacks senior and experienced staff capable of mentoring new recruits. This can be a weakness that will not be cured by a mere increase in numbers.
The other notable point about the budget paper is reference to the AIC, or the Australian Intelligence Community. It is regrettable that this nomenclature is spreading widely. The AIC is not a homogeneous grouping. Each of the intelligence, security and police bodies has its own distinct charters and tasks.
While close coordination is required, it is to be hoped that this formulaic construction does not become a convenient vehicle for passing the parcel of blame when the inevitable terrorist incident occurs in Australia.
More leaking …
News Weeklyreaders will be familiar with the series of leaks of information, concerning counter-terrorist operations, which have plagued our police and intelligence agencies in the past few months.
Last month, a Sydney Morning Herald article, “Police secret password blunder” (SMH, April 5, 2006) described how a database of some 800 names and e-mail passwords was published on the Internet. The leaked identities included leading members of the New South Wales Police anti-terrorism squad and leading journalists at the Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC, commercial TV networks and regional newspapers and radio stations.
The Sydney Morning Herald saw fit to identify Assistant Commissioner Nick Kaldas and Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Jenkins as two of New South Wales’ most senior counter-terrorism police officers. Furthermore, it stated that Kaldas was “regarded as the foremost terrorism expert among Australia’s police services”.
The article’s author Jano Gibson reported that, although the database had been taken offline, it could be accessed through the Google search engine.
The editor of the data industry journal Image and Data Manager Tim Smith reportedly said that the security bungle “could have breached privacy laws” and took refuge behind the statement all too common in intelligence matters, namely: “It’s a cock-up rather than a conspiracy.” Perhaps so, but as any self-respecting intelligence analyst would ask: “Cuo bono?”
Indeed, who does benefit from such disgraceful mismanagement of data? Unfortunately, this affair compounds the endemic leaks that have flowed into the media over the past 10 months.
Hackers have the potential to make life a misery for those concerned; terrorists have the potential to terminate miserable lives.
- John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer