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Debating A Military Man's Role At The CIA

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

General Hayden's position in the military is also becoming an issue itself. Members of Congress and the intelligence community are questioning whether an active military officer should lead the CIA. Marvin Ott is among those raising questions. He's worked as a senior analyst at the CIA, and on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's now a professor of national security policy at the National War College. And he says it's not common for an active officer to be picked to lead the CIA.

MARVIN OTT: The general perception is that the CIA was a "civilian" agency. And that was important because when you looked at the rest of the community, organizations like the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, these are basically military in the sense that the bulk of personnel that comprise what we call the intelligence community's galaxy of intelligence agencies, work for the Department of Defense. So part of the effort to maintain civilian control over the U.S. National Security enterprise, sort of broadly stated, the idea was that the CIA would have primacy in this community, and it would be predominantly civilian. And the presumption, I think, is fair to say was that the head of the CIA, the DCI would be a civilian.

BLOCK: Does this nomination of an acting general signal, then, complete militarization, do you think, of the intelligence community? In other words, if the CIA also is now headed by the military officer, does that mean that it's no different than any other agency?

OTT: It doesn't mean it's no different. After all, the bulk of the employees at the CIA, unlike the NSA, unlike at the Defense Intelligence Agency, are civilians working for the CIA, not for the Department of Defense.

Nevertheless, to put a military officer in charge of the CIA certainly gives the appearance that we're having a kind of military takeover of the whole intelligence enterprise in the United States. And the concerns are, I think, magnified by the fact that we are in a period where we're getting a very aggressive sort of proactive effort out of the Secretary of Defense office to put the Department of Defense into roles that have been traditionally occupied by the CIA. Specifically basically putting agents, intelligence agents, into the field to collect and possibly even act as operational officers in the intelligence sphere.

BLOCK: Would it make a difference, do you think, if General Hayden were to retire from active duty to, to signal his independence from The Pentagon? Would that matter?

OTT: Marginally, sort of reminiscent of, you know, when a dictator, historically, took over in South Korea or in Indonesia, he was a general in uniform, and then he took off his uniform and put on a suit. But he still looked an awful lot like a general. You know, it would be, I think, seen as a gesture, maybe symbolic. But the level of discomfort, I think, probably would be only marginally alleviated.

BLOCK: There are now military officers who are in charge of the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and now if General Hayden is confirmed, also in charge of the Central Intelligence Agency.

OTT: Right.

BLOCK: Is there a danger in that?

OTT: Well danger is probably, may be too strong a word. Nevertheless, the U.S. intelligence apparatus, the intelligence community, is more important to American security now than it literally has ever been. And the kind of skills required are the traditional human kinds of skills, human intelligence, more than has ever been the case. And now we've got military people who did not come out of a human background. This is not where their core competence is, and we've got them on charge of every component of the community, that gives one pause. I mean that's grounds for being uneasy.

BLOCK: Do you think it's a bad choice?

OTT: Well, I hate to reduce it to, I'm not, I don't feel confident enough in judging General Hayden to make it a flat bad or good choice. I'll just simply say that putting a military officer in charge of the one, clearly major, civilian component of the intelligence community, it is, I think, an uphill battle to convince me that that is a good idea.

BLOCK: Marvin Ott, thanks very much for talking with us.

OTT: My pleasure.

BLOCK: Marvin Ott is a professor of national security policy at the National War College. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.