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CIA chief Brennan mulls unprecedented overhaul

AFP, WASHINGTON

CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee on worldwide threats to the US at the US Capitol in Washington on Feb. 4.

Photo: AFP

CIA Director John Brennan is weighing a dramatic overhaul of the leading US spy agency that is likely to meet fierce opposition from veteran agents, current and former intelligence officials said on Thursday.

The reorganization would dismantle the long entrenched separation between the spying and analysis divisions in the agency, possibly replacing them with units focused on geographic areas or specific threats, former intelligence officials familiar with the review said.

In a Sept. 24 message to employees of the CIA, Brennan said it was time “we take a close and honest look at ourselves” and examine whether the spy service needed to be restructured.

“I have mentioned several times over the past year that I have become increasingly convinced that the time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized as an agency and at whether our current structure, and ways of doing business, need adjustment to ensure our future success,” Brennan said in the message, portions of which were released to reporters.

The shakeup being contemplated would be “by far the most sweeping change in the organization and culture of the CIA in its history,” former agency officer Bruce Riedel said.

“This would be a reorganization that fundamentally alters decades of how the organization has worked,” said Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Brennan in late September asked several experienced intelligence officers “to conduct an in-depth review to determine whether the agency is optimized for enduring mission effectiveness, specifically in the areas of integration, agility and resilience,” CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said.

SEISMIC EVENT

Boyd said the officers carrying out the review are still “in the information-gathering stage” and it was soon to say what possible options might be in play.

Scrapping the traditional separation between the analysis and spying side of the agency — known as the clandestine service — would represent a ground-shaking event for the CIA, said a former intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“My guess is that it would be resisted pretty hard by the clandestine service, which has a definite esprit de corps that they don’t want to see lost,” the official said. “A reorganization of this magnitude, which is disrupting divisions that have been in existence for more than a half century, is going to be a very traumatic event, even in the best of circumstances.”

The idea has been floated in the past, but shot down on each occasion by senior officers.

Brennan’s possible reform would seek to replicate the agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center, which was credited with tracking down Osama bin Laden and praised for the way it combines spy operations and analysis.

The review was first reported by the Washington Post, which said the impetus for the potential move came in part because Brennan had become frustrated with efforts to bolster intelligence on Syria, where US warplanes are now bombing the Islamic State jihadists, even as a complex civil war rages in the country.

NO SINGULAR TRIGGER

However, Boyd said that no crisis in particular prompted the review.

“There was not a singular event or singular threat that triggered the review,” Boyd said. “We’re in a time when there an incredible number of diverse threats, ranging from cyber to threats in the Middle East, to Ukraine and others. We need to periodically evaluate ourselves so we are best positioned to meet these and future challenges.”

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