In the five years since 9/11, the most successful example of espionage is seen in Mission Impossible III which opened this weekend. Since 2001, President Bush promised to fix breakdowns in American intelligence. The Office of National Intelligence now oversees 16 U.S. spy agencies, including the CIA. But where are we today? More turmoil. Bush's nomination of General Michael Hayden to lead the CIA marks the third director the agency would have since 9/11. It's the most telling report card to measure how the President is failing to fix U.S. intelligence problems.
All this intel turnover (watch for more resignations and firings) is not good at home or overseas. It signals that the United States can't fix decades of intelligence power struggles. It shows the world that even the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil isn't enough for politicians to unite and fix glaring gaps in spying. The changing of the guard signals a bandaid fix to problems that call for real leadership.
If times were more certain, this game of musical chairs would take up the last few minutes on the Sunday morning talk circut. Those really interest would be inside the Beltway. But public opinion for both Bush and Blair are at all time lows, short-circuting their message. It's no coincidence firings are occurring at the same time in the U.S. and Britain. Both Bush and Blair have lost the confidence at home. The two leaders are shuffling their staffs to re-ignite their vision. But the public has made up its mind about their leaders, their roles in the build-up to the Iraq War, their flawed pre-war assessment on Iraq's WMD, their over confidence of winning in Iraq. Nothing short of capturing Bin Laden will sway public opinion.
It's not just the usual suspects lining up against the two leaders. For Blair, his own Labor Party, now third after local elections, demands Blair set a timetable for stepping down. Blair will only say he'll step down before the next election in 2010. For Bush, his popularity has dipped to crisis levels. The President's strongest supporters, his conservative base is now jumping ship. Not as publicly as Blair's Labor Party. But when private research firms call conservatives at home, after dinner, to ask their opinion, they are now ripping the President. Conservatives are the reason Bush's popularity has plunged to the low 30s.
Terrorists revel in this sort of failed leadership. When insurgents get encouraged, it's bad for allied troops. No longer are American troops in danger only in Iraq, but now in Afganistan, the place where the allied forces enjoyed worldwide support after 9/11. The latest example was last Friday when 10 U.S. soldiers were killed in a chopper crash in Eastern Afganistan. The U.S. and Tailaban dispute how it happened. It doesn't matter. The important thing to remember is that a chopper went down, killing Americans, giving the terrorists reason to act like heroes.
President Bush now wants to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. This comes days after a U.S. jury spared the life of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Jurors took their job seriously, left their hearts outside the jury room, and in essence said the the Bush Administration over-reached in believing Moussaoui was the 20th hijacker. He may be a terrorist, training to fly a jet into something, but he had less to do with 9/11 than the government has made us believe for 4+ years.
This leaves both Bush and Blair to take control they only way they could right now: re-tool their staffs and re-work their message. In Britain, Blair fired Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and replaced him with Environmental Minister Margaret Beckett. Beckett is in over her head today as she enters the United Nations to start negotiations on Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Back in the U.S., Porter Goss is out at the CIA and General Hayden is in. A leader who weathered the storm after 9/11, inaccurate WMD, wiretaps and a costly (billions) yet ineffective technology upgrade known as Trailblazer. How's that for a resume?
Morale is one thing. A CIA drained of many experienced officers is another. The CIA is also shaken by internal investigations. Hiring a General trusted by the White House raises a cautionary note about him as head of the CIA. "He's shown he's willing to throw out his own principles on civil liberties to please the president."
But what about brass-knuckled spying, like in Mission Impossible? Hayden's experience is all about technology and not about people. Yet General Hayden would start the job with almost no direct experience at the C.I.A.'s central task of recruiting and running foreign agents. He would have to convince the civilian spies that he was not part of a Pentagon plot to take over their agency. And as the principal deputy director of national intelligence, he would very likely be viewed as representing the new central bureaucracy that is resented at the C.I.A. for downgrading the agency's importance.
"In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions," Paul R. Pillar, a senior C.I.A. analyst who retired last year, wrote in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs.
"Our intelligence is now devoid of credibility," in the words of David Kay, who as the special adviser to the director of central intelligence led the search for unconventional weapons in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. "We as a nation must address that, or Iraq is prologue to a much more dangerous time than anything we have ever seen."
May 1st marked three years since President Bush proclaimed Mission Accomplished on board the deck of a US aircraft carrier. Today, both Bush and Blair face the grim prospect of Mission Impossible. 5/8/06