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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

CIA emphasizes flexibility in new strategy

By Richard Willing, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The CIA plans to increase its use of "open sources" such as newspapers and blogs and to outsource more software development to commercial contractors under a 22-point strategy being put in place.

The CIA's "Strategic Intent," distributed to agency employees in December and posted on its public website this month, stresses improved flexibility and fewer barriers between departments. It contains several corporate-style flourishes, including ongoing employee input, an advisory board drawn from business and academia and "action teams" assigned to implement the plan.

In a speech to CIA workers at the agency's Langley, Va., headquarters Jan. 4, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the plan aims to reassert the 60-year-old agency's primacy in the intelligence community.

"The operational demands of the recent past too often limited the time and energy CIA has to address the demands of the future," Hayden said. "We've gotten away with it for a few years — and for very good reasons — but no organization can thrive indefinitely without tending to strategic imperatives."

The changes come as President Bush has chosen retired vice admiral J. Michael McConnell as director of national intelligence. He would replace John Negroponte, who will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. McConnell, like Hayden, is a former National Security Agency head.

Among the CIA plan's goals:

•Break down traditional barriers between spies who collect intelligence and analysts who use the data for reports. In the agency's operations center, a wall that divided representatives of the two disciplines was dismantled the last week in December.

•Make greater use of the Web to distribute intelligence reports and data. The CIA, which has its own intranet, will have its "brand" on intelligence it distributes on secure networks maintained by the departments of State and Defense, Hayden said.

•Install new hiring and promotion policies, including pay grades tied to performance rather than seniority, and a common training course that will require new analysts and clandestine officers to work together from their first days at the agency.

•Post more analysts overseas to improve their understanding of the areas they report on.

•Give specialists in "open source" intelligence equal standing with spies and intelligence analysts in the operations center and elsewhere.

Open source "isn't just the wave of the future, it's here right now," said Walid Phares, senior fellow and al-Qaeda specialist at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

Phares said he does much of his research by monitoring Islamic websites and chat rooms.

Last year, a House Intelligence Committee review criticized intelligence agencies for failing to "embrace more fully" open source intelligence. The committee report said "it will take a dramatic change in cultural philosophy" before intelligence services rely on materials they did not gather through "secret means."

John McLaughlin, a former longtime CIA official and its acting director in 2004, said Hayden's plan "hits the right things" and is "very countercultural."

"It's kind of inside baseball," he said, "but things like knocking down the wall in the ops center are significant. It's been there forever."

The strategic plan also adds layers of bureaucracy that could prove hard to manage, said John Prados, fellow at the National Security Archive, a private research group that is sometimes critical of the CIA.

"Hayden is going to spend a lot of time at meetings … because of his desire to monitor and keep track of what's happening," said Prados, author of the book Safe For Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA.

Hayden established an oversight panel within the CIA that will resolve conflicts between civilian and military agencies that do "human intelligence collection"— spying. Hayden said he will chair the first meeting of the panel himself.

Hayden took over as CIA director last June. He inherited an agency that has been buffeted by bad news.

Both the 9/11 Commission in 2004 and a panel in 2005 that explored intelligence on Iraq's biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs faulted the agency, among others, for shortcomings in developing and sharing useful information.

Ted Gup, author of The Book of Honor, a study of heroism by covert CIA officers, said Hayden's plan "seems to make all the right sounds" but glosses over the agency's recent problems.

"They are too anxious to move forward without the deep soul searching that seems to be required," Gup said. "A sober-eyed analysis of what went wrong should be reflected (in the new plan), but it isn't."

In his six months on the job, Hayden has striven to improve morale by hosting a family day and reaching out to retirees through a series of e-mails.

About 40% of the agency's workforce has joined since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hayden said in an interview in November.

The agency receives about 130,000 job applications annually, Hayden said.

Before 9/11, about 65,000 job seekers applied each year, former director McLaughlin said.
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