Secrets, Spies, And Scholars

Name:                  Secrets, Spies, And Scholars

Author:                                Ray S. Cline

Cline, Ray S. (1976, 1982). The CIA: Reality vs. Myth. Originally published as Secrets, Spies, And Scholars: Blueprint of The Essential CIA. Washington DC: Acropolis Books

LOC:  76056410

JK468.I6 C55

Date Posted:      February 27, 2014

Cline’s book drew heavy response – most of it negative – when it was published in 1976. The following is based on a review by Robert L. McTiernan printed in The Alternative: An American Spectator (August/September 1977, pp. 30-32). Cline’s most startling recommendation was the elimination of the CIA and replacing it with two agencies. My comments are in brackets and are added only for clarification.

Intelligence agencies and activities are taken for granted today. Yet only since Franklin D Roosevelt created the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1941 has the United States government been able to rely on a centralized, civilian authority together and evaluate strategic information. That step resulted largely from the quiet persuasion and assistance of British officials, such as Winston Churchill, who, with the Secret Service of their own dating from the time of Elizabeth I, could foresee a crucial role intelligence would play in the inevitable conflict between the United States and Nazi Germany. Thus our own involvement in the intelligence world stemmed from a covert political operation by the British government, and irony that the author of Secrets, Spies And Scholars makes sure is not lost on his readers.

Ray S. Cline joined the OSS in 1943 and retired from government service 30 years later. Blending personal memoirs with detailed history, he examines in his book nearly every important issue concerning the Central Intelligence Agency. As befits a former Deputy Director for Intelligence of the CIA and the former Director of the State Department’s Bureau of intelligence and research, Cline’s approach is analytical (and in fact a bit dry) rather than anecdotal. Special interest are his assessments of the various CIA Directors in his account of J. Edgar Hoover’s repeated attempts to capture control of foreign as well as domestic intelligence. Underlying these details, however, are two basic themes.

The first stresses the primacy of the intelligence as opposed to the operations function of the CIA. Cline emphasizes the need for a neutral agency – with no interest in increasing the defense budget or vindicating State Department policy – to key policy makers informed. In addition to keeping track of current events, this agency must provide “estimates” of what other governments will do in the future, and Cline manages to convey what an extraordinarily difficult task this is. A research analyst must sift through enormous amounts of data, and then try to make an accurate assessment of the political, military, or economic situation in some distant country or area of the world. Most of this data – more than 80% according to Harry Howe Ransom – comes from open sources such as foreign broadcast and photo reconnaissance satellites, and much of it eventually proves worthless. There is always the danger that so much information will simply overwhelm analyst. In fact, the Pike Committee has attributed the CIA’s much criticized failure to predict the 1973 Yom Kippur war to the sheer volume of reports the Agency received from the Middle East. With the flood of “an average of hundreds of reports each week,” few analysts had time to digest more than a small portion of them.

The CIA’s blunders in the intelligence area are by now well-known. But Cline reminds us that the Agency predicted China’s first nuclear explosion and detected the Sino-Soviet split as early as 1956. In contrast to those who portray it as a mindless tool of Cold Warriors, he credits the CIA with moderating the Joint Chiefs’ fear of a Soviet attack in Europe during the 1950s. And along with many students of the Vietnam War, Cline claims that the Agency frequently angered policymakers with its sober assessment of the effectiveness of US bombing and the chances for military success.

Though Cline spent his career mainly as an intelligence officer, he does offer some observations about covert actions, the second theme of Secrets, Spies And Scholars. These operations, of course, are not intelligence activities at all, but our attempts to influence events in other countries. Most such projects have done little to further US foreign-policy goals and some, for instance the Bay of Pigs, have been total disasters. Yet the CIA has repeatedly overestimated the value and feasibility of peace time covert operations. Client attributes this, in part, to the overly romanticized stories of the OSS wartime exploits but it was two of the Agency’s own covert “successes” that encourage the illusion that it could meddle anywhere in the world with impunity. In 1953, the CIA reputedly overthrew the leftist premiere of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, and restore the shot to his throne one year later, the CIA supposedly deposed Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala. Cline reports, however, that in both cases the CIA rendered no more than “marginal assistance” to strong, indigenous forces already opposed to the regime. When the CIA launched an extensive effort to topple President Sukarno of Indonesia in 1958, the result was “ignominious failure.”

Cline argues that the main practical problem with covert paramilitary operations is that United States involvement is almost always revealed. Then, the same political pressures that mandated covert assistance in the first place usually force the United States to withdraw its support. Cline, however, is not opposed to all covert operations; he praises the undercover aid given to anti-Communist political, labor, and cultural groups in Western Europe after World War II. According to Cline, this program was adopted at the urging of George Kennan in order to counter a massive Soviet effort to undermine democracy in Western Europe. Even the Church Committee conceded in its Report that the program has “passed retrospective public judgment.”

In his final chapter “Blueprint for the Future,” Cline discusses recent revelations, reforms, and his own proposals for change. He attributes most of the anti-CIA sentiment of the past two years [1975-77] to Watergate-era paranoia and citing the Church Committee’s retraction of its Chairman’s statement that the Agency was a “rogue elephant,” claims that the CIA’s abuses were “not massive.” In addition, he points out that most of the wrongdoing was uncovered in 1973 by the Agency itself in an effort to correct past irregularities. For some suspicious practices, Cline provides innocent explanations: CIA “files” on American citizens, for example, were merely records of routine FBI inquiries to see whether anti-war groups had foreign connections. Cline is doubtless correct that the media overreacted to CIA revelations and that the Agency “has never come close to being an American Gestapo.” Nevertheless, he seems to ignore what disturbed most Americans and threatened civil liberties: the government’s belief that opponents of its policies were enemies of the nation.

Cline makes the more telling point that the most egregious CIA excesses, such as domestic spying, were the direct result of pressures from Presidents Johnson and Nixon. He is especially critical of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger for impairing the Agency’s independence by suppressing intelligence that could not be used to bolster administration policies. Also, during Nixon’s tenure, the Office of National Estimates (which Cline helped to establish in 1950) was replaced with a system of preparing intelligence estimates upon request by the National Security Council. Ostensibly a move to improve the revelance and timeliness of reports, Cline sees it as a “retrograde” step that increased White House control of intelligence analysis.

Considering his belief that most of the CIA’s wounds were White House inflicted, Cline sympathy for greater Congressional oversight is not surprising. If Congress had been a better watchdog, successive Presidents would not have dared to push the Agency into embarrassing enterprises. Like most serious students of the subject, Cline blames the lack of responsible oversight on Congress itself. As the Church Committee reported, the Senate subcommittee with chief oversight responsibility convened only six times between 1971 and 1974. Moreover, the attitude of Congress for the CIA during most of the last 30 years [1947-1977] has been, as Cline characterizes it, “supportive rather than critical.” The executive branch did keep the oversight subcommittees informed about major covert projects and, as Deputy Director for Intelligence, Cline participated in many of the briefings. Not surprisingly, many members of Congress who also participated have since suffered “convenient lapses of memory.”

More than a year has passed since former President Ford [1976] set up and Operations Advisory Group and a Committee on Foreign Intelligence to oversee all intelligence activities and covert operations. Cline praises these reforms for increasing the accountability of the various intelligence agencies without threatening their independence. But he also makes a modest proposal of his own – abolish the CIA. This is not as revolutionary as it sounds. The acronym, “CIA,” is a “worldwide public-relations liability.” And to remedy this, Cline suggests that the task the CIA now performs be divided between two new organizations.

The Central Institute of Foreign Affairs Research would be the heart of Cline’s new system. This agency would supervise the budget and work of all intelligent analysis, including those in the State and Defense Departments. All intelligence activities would be managed by the Director of Central Intelligence, who would be elevated to the Cabinet. Keeping analysts in a separate agencies would help to shield them from the suspicion Americans have for clandestine activities. Placing the responsibility for analysis in one Bureau and the director in the cabinet might even improve the code coordination of intelligence activity. (But it would not remove the greatest barrier to better management: the fact that nearly 90% of the intelligence budget is controlled by the Defense Department.)

The other branch, the Clandestine Services Staff, would be responsible for conducting espionage, i. e., the clandestine collection of information. Espionage is a rather limited tool for gathering intelligence, if only because in tightly controlled societies, such as the Soviet Union for the nations of Eastern Europe, infiltration is next to impossible. Most information secretly collected by the CIA comes from defectors, electronic bugging devices, and agents in the Third World. The less reliable than information collected openly, it may provide the only clues as to what unfriendly governments or terrorist groups are planning or how they will react under certain circumstances. “Nobody has ever been able to photograph intentions,” as former CIA director James Schlesinger put it.

Cline does not provide for any permanent organization to conduct covert political and paramilitary actions. Small-scale short-lived programs of economic and military aid could be undertaken, but only after a formal decision by the President on the recommendation of the Operations Advisory Group. Cline, understandably, assigns covert action a minor place in his scheme. Despite all the recent publicity, the number of such operations has been declining steadily since 1968. Further, as Cline points out, existing laws make even small-scale covert projects highly impractical. The Hughes-Ryan amendment, passed by Congress in 1974, prohibits covert operations, except for those the President finds “important to” the national security and reports “in a timely fashion” to the “appropriate” committees of Congress. (The cutoff of aid last year [1976] to the pro-Western factions of the Angolan Civil War is a good example of the Hughes-Ryan amendment at work.) Even though the Senate has consolidated oversight responsibility in a single intelligence committee, so many members of Congress are still entitled to classified information that it is nearly impossible to keep covert actions covert. Press leaks and a full and public policy debate are inevitable.

The best chance of combining effective oversight with secrecy lies in establishing a single Congressional committee with full and exclusive rights to information about covert action. Citing the political barriers to such a joint committee, Cline instead recommends two separate intelligence oversight committees: one in the Senate that would focus on foreign policy and intelligence and another in the House that would deal mainly with budgetary problems. This proposal, which has wide support, is eminently sensible, as is Cline’s suggestion that less sensitive intelligence reports be made available to all members of Congress.

Still, there is the risk in making all these changes. The exhaustive review of the intelligence community during the past few years[1970s] by two Congressional committees, Rockefeller and Murphy Commissions, and the press may have had a needed “cathartic effect,” to use Sen. Howard Baker’s phrase. But it seems that nearly every institutional reform that could prevent future abuses has now been adopted. As Cline himself reminds us, the intelligence community must now “rebuild its prestigious, spirit and confidence.” Reshuffling that community again would once more draw public attention to it and interrupt the period of quite renewal it so sorely needs.

The most important foreign-policy problem we face today is not the secret activity of federal agencies but the fact that, since the end of the Vietnam War, the United States has not had a coherent foreign policy. This uncertainty will inevitably in, but not until the current debate over the CIA – which is really a debate over the proper goals of American foreign policy – is settled. The Agency’s critics appear intent on trimming its capabilities to appoint suitable for a drastically reduced American role in world affairs. But those who see a prudent policy of containing Soviet power and supporting liberal democracy is the only viable course for the United States realize that a strong and trusted Central intelligence Agency is essential.

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2 Responses to Secrets, Spies, And Scholars

  1. Pingback: The CIA under Reagan, Bush and Casey | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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