The C.I.A. Versus Bush

By DAVID BROOKS

New York Times

November 14, 2004

Now that he's been returned to office, President Bush is going to have to differentiate between his opponents and his enemies. His opponents are found in the Democratic Party. His enemies are in certain offices of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Over the past several months, as much of official Washington looked on wide-eyed and agog, many in the C.I.A. bureaucracy have waged an unabashed effort to undermine the current administration.

At the height of the campaign, C.I.A. officials, who are supposed to serve the president and stay out of politics and policy, served up leak after leak to discredit the president's Iraq policy. There were leaks of prewar intelligence estimates, leaks of interagency memos. In mid-September, somebody leaked a C.I.A. report predicting a gloomy or apocalyptic future for the region. Later that month, a senior C.I.A. official, Paul Pillar, reportedly made comments saying he had long felt the decision to go to war would heighten anti-American animosity in the Arab world.

White House officials concluded that they could no longer share important arguments and information with intelligence officials. They had to parse every syllable in internal e-mail. One White House official says it felt as if the C.I.A. had turned over its internal wastebaskets and fed every shred of paper to the press.

The White House-C.I.A. relationship became dysfunctional, and while the blame was certainly not all on one side, Langley was engaged in slow-motion, brazen insubordination, which violated all standards of honorable public service. It was also incredibly stupid, since C.I.A. officials were betting their agency on a Kerry victory.

As the presidential race heated up, the C.I.A. permitted an analyst - who, we now know, is Michael Scheuer - to publish anonymously a book called "Imperial Hubris," which criticized the Iraq war. Here was an official on the president's payroll publicly campaigning against his boss. As Scheuer told The Washington Post this week, "As long as the book was being used to bash the president, they [the C.I.A. honchos] gave me carte blanche to talk to the media."

Nor is this feud over. C.I.A. officials are now busy undermining their new boss, Porter Goss. One senior official called one of Goss's deputies, who worked on Capitol Hill, a "Hill Puke," and said he didn't have to listen to anything the deputy said. Is this any way to run a superpower?

Meanwhile, members of Congress and people around the executive branch are wondering what President Bush is going to do to punish the mutineers. A president simply cannot allow a department or agency to go into campaign season opposition and then pay no price for it. If that happens, employees of every agency will feel free to go off and start their own little media campaigns whenever their hearts desire.

If we lived in a primitive age, the ground at Langley would be laid waste and salted, and there would be heads on spikes. As it is, the answer to the C.I.A. insubordination is not just to move a few boxes on the office flow chart.

The answer is to define carefully what the president expects from the intelligence community: information. Policy making is not the C.I.A.'s concern. It is time to reassert some harsh authority so C.I.A. employees know they must defer to the people who win elections, so they do not feel free at meetings to spout off about their contempt of the White House, so they do not go around to their counterparts from other nations and tell them to ignore American policy.

In short, people in the C.I.A. need to be reminded that the person the president sends to run their agency is going to run their agency, and that if they ever want their information to be trusted, they can't break the law with self-serving leaks of classified data.

This is about more than intelligence. It's about Bush's second term. Is the president going to be able to rely on the institutions of government to execute his policies, or, by his laxity, will he permit the bureaucracy to ignore, evade and subvert the decisions made at the top? If the C.I.A. pays no price for its behavior, no one will pay a price for anything, and everything is permitted. That, Mr. President, is a slam-dunk.

Not that it will do him much good at this point, but I owe John Kerry an apology. I recently mischaracterized some comments he made to Larry King in December 2001. I said he had embraced the decision to use Afghans to hunt down Al Qaeda at Tora Bora. He did not. I regret the error.