The Failure of U.S. Intelligence

The question is not what went wrong, but what didn't.

The intelligence community may relish the freedom it has enjoyed and bristle at any prospect of constraints or public inquiries, but its long-term health depends upon the continued closeness and support of the citizenry it serves. What happened in the mid '70s was that the intelligence community was judged to have strayed, that its conduct no longer represented the nation's values. Officials turned on it, slashing its budget and, at least in its view, handcuffing it with innumerable restraints. The nation felt betrayed by the intelligence community, which in turn felt betrayed by the public. Exactly what had the nation thought it was up to all those years? The only way such radical and disruptive swings can be avoided is if the public maintains a proximity to events and robustly expresses its interest through its proxies—the president, Congress, and its oversight committees—to ensure that both its will and its reservations are honored by the intelligence community.

illustration: Mirko

Ted Gup is the author of The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives, and has written on intelligence and security issues for The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, Slate, and other publications. He was a Fall 2003 Fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and is currently a Guggenheim Fellow on leave from Case Western Reserve University, where he is a journalism professor.

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