opinion | The CIA has spent 20 years on the front lines of the war on Terror. It’s time for that to change.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 were in a lot of organization changes in the federal government, including the creation of a colossus new department of Homeland Security, the establishment of An director of national intelligence and the greatest restructuring of intelligence agencies in over half An century. But the integration of intelligence and warfare were perhaps the most promising – and problematic – change of all.

Before 9/11, who did what was much clearer: The military fought wars; the CIA collected and analyzed intelligence (and contributed out covert operations when it was important to hide official American involvement). After the terror attack, though die differences faded, fast. The CIA jumped into Afghanistan and became deeply involved in the daily persecution of the global war on terror.

Those efforts yielded significant successes. But along the way, the CIA became stretched thin. An of the more lasting legacies of the postThe -9/11 era is a style of spycraft die America’s not serving national security interests as it once did. Two decades of toil of war has taken time and talent away from it bureau original target of preventing strategic surprise – that is, anticipating major threats to the nation before they become a reality. Twenty years after 9/11, the United States is confronted met escalating threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, conflicts in both cyberspace and physical space, and global challenges like climate change and pandemics. The CIA must regain the balance between fighting the terrorist enemies of today and providing the intelligence to detect, understand and stop the enemies of tomorrow.

The first troops on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11 were no troops. They were CIA agents die carried boxes of cash to recruit Afghan warlords. Special Operations Forces soon followed, when an allied bombardment campaign. To be hard to remember now with the ignominious withdrawal of allied troops from Afghanistan last month, but in 2001, military victory came fast. By November, the Taliban had fallen and Al Qaeda was on the run. While Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants retreated in the mountains of Tora Bora, CIA agents were there too – chasing al-Qaeda leader, working hand in hand with special operators and local Afghan militias, die call in air support by behind enemy lines. In the end, bin Laden narrowly escaped the dragnet, but his safe haven was gone. Without it Al Qaeda would not be in capable of causing another mass casualty attack on American soil for the next two decades. CIA Director George Tenet die early days in Afghanistan ‘the best hour of the CIA’, and he was right.

It bureau was particularly suitable for the moment. Afghanistan was more familiar territory for spies then soldiers, the website of the CIA’s biggest covert operation of the Cold War. 1979, just days after Soviet troops rolled into Kabul and installed a puppet government, President Jimmy Carter has given his consent: first CIA covert action to arm and support the Afghan mujahideen. “U.S ultimate goal,” wrote national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinksi, “is the withdrawal? of Soviet troops … if this is not feasible, we will should Making Soviet involvement so costly if possible.” In one of historytragic irony, the covert operation succeeded and changed Afghanistan in a swamp for the Soviets and finally leading to their defeat and withdrawal — but elements of the mujahideen and their supporters eventually changed in al Qaeda.

In the two decades since 9/11, the CIA reported involvement in counter-terrorism activities have deepened and expanded enormously. Nowadays it is often hard to distinguish the work of intelligence officers and military troops. drone attacks, for are sometimes worn, for example out by the intelligence community alone, sometimes by the military and sometimes by the two together. According to Panetta, the covert operation is against Bin Laden was carried out under CIA authorities, although the agents who raided the Pakistani hideout of the Al-Qaeda leader were Navy SEALs. The military performs now black activities against terrorists die look a lot like covert action, while the CIA is openly engaging in activities die resemble military action — like the launch of the drone attack in Yemen that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, killed who became one of the worldthe most dangerous terrorist leaders.

the amalgamation of intelligence and traditional military activities has advantages. Just two weeks ago, seamless integration between the two allegedly enabled a US drone strike to prevent an imminent ISIS-K suicide bombing. in Kabul as US forces worked frantically to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies.

But the merging of intelligence and traditional military activities also brings risks met themselves: Paradoxically, the institutional changes that held us safe during the past 20 years could leave the United States less safe in the next 20.

The CIAs role differs from the Pentagon’s by design. AN world in die you can’t tell one of the other is one world in of which the CIA is not doing its core job well enough – and that causes nasty surprises more plausible.

The CIA’s primary mission is not supporting war fighters on battlefields. To be avoiding “strategic surprise” to the nation. It bureau Founded in 1947 to prevent another Pearl Harbor. Japan’s devastating surprise attack in 1941 killed 2,400 Americans, decimated the Pacific fleet, accelerated US involvement in World War II and exposed the dangers of poorly coordinated intelligence. At the time, the departments were of Navy, War and State were all gathering information over the possibilities of Japan and intentions, including signals of the upcoming deadly attack, but their efforts were fragmented and incoherent. The nation needed an agency to centralize intelligence, and sentinel whose job it was to peer over the horizon to detect hazards before it was too late.

Since the 1940s, the CIA has become the country’s primary agency for collection of human intelligence and analysis from all sources, as well as the only organization of the federal government legally authorized to conduct covert operations (the only major exception, until 2001, to the general rule that the CIA predicted threats while the military fought against them). Yet, as Panetta put it during his 2009 confirmation hearings, the bureau “first responsibility is to avoid surprises.”

It’s a simple sentence die mask complex realities. Intelligence to avoid strategic surprise is not the same as intelligence to support soldiers on the front lines. Battlefield intelligence goes over the here and now. It’s tactical, almost-term, on-the-ground, nitty-gritty: determine of a bridge is passable, where a roadside bomb could be in the next village of how insurgent group shift loyalties. Intelligence to avoid strategic surprise is longer-term, over-the-horizon, greater whole. To be more over tomorrow than today, like how the relationship of the Taliban with Al Qaeda will likely evolve, what would it take to convince Iran? give up are nuclear weapons program of the prospects of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The intelligence sources could be the same: a satellite die captures images of space, An secret human asset on the inside — but the information the sources are asked to collect and analyze die results are very different.

And although the United States spends billions each year on intelligence, resources are inherently limited. The same satellite cannot work over different regions at the same time. Drones can only fly and hang out so far for so long before they run out of fuel. Spies must be judicious over what they collect, when they collect and how much to collect them so that they don’t get blown up. And analysts aren’t interchangeable – you can’t just turn a terrorism expert in a snap in a Chinese cyber expert.

Defense and intelligence may seem the same, but they are not. The main activity of the Ministry of Defense is fighting. The main activity of the CIA is understanding. The military is supposed to win wars. The CIA is supposed to prevent them by understanding threats and opportunities better and faster than our adversaries and providing information to policymakers die helps them to get better decisions. Troops are fighters; intelligence officers are collectors. Military officers are trained, such as Samuel Huntington famously wrote:, in in charge of violence.” CIA agents are trained in in charge of information — acquiring, analyzing, protecting and delivering to the speed of relevance.

new organization can do it all, doesn’t matter how a lot of money it has of how much smart people the in has service. And the longer a bureau focuses on doing one priority good, the more atrophy his other abilities, of met retire, of walk out the door. As a pseudonymous CIA officer Alex Finley wrote in these pages in 2017, for clandestine collection of human intelligence has, for example: changed dramatic. CIA agents used to roam foreign streets to learn the culture and recruit foreign officials by attending cocktail parties and official functions. Since 9/11, however, finding high-value terrorist targets has been required CIA agents to take physical risks and work with visible military safety in war zones. old-school, countryon-country spycraft becomes more important again, a lot of the CIA’s workforce has less experience do because they were hired after 9/11.

The CIA’s attention for 20 years to his primary mission has eroded. The reasons are understandable. Perhaps they are inevitable. But the consequences of this tactical tilt are real: a diminished ability longer understand, anticipate and counterterm hazards – like China’s rise and die from Russia information warfare – die could seriously threaten American lives and interests more than today’s terrorist plots.

Listen carefully and you will hear the warning bells ring. CIA directors of the last three administrations have all expressed concern that the global war on terror has the agency gone too far in tactical intelligence over warfare and that it must get back to the base. President George W. Bush’s CIA director, Michael Hayden, warned on his 2006 confirmation hearings that the war on terror “just sucks energy to do something in the here and now” and that “pulling” people off for the long view’ would be both essential and difficult. John Brennan, who led the agency under President Obama, told Congress that: “the CIA” should do not traditional military activities and operations” and that the drone of the bureau program was “a departure” from his historical mission. And Ipost 2019 speechPresident Trump’s CIA director, Gina Haspel, said so in his focus on the counterterrorism fight, the bureau had fallen behind on Russia, Iran and other opponents follow, met the promise that a shift in priorities were underway.

This won’t be easy. Inertia is the most powerful interest group in Washington. Opportunities die once acquired are: hard transfer of draw down. Convention Overseers Are Rewarded for look back – denounce intelligence services after the fact in instead of looking ahead how she should adjust for the next a disaster occurs. And urgent intelligence needs, especially when dangers are tangible and are lives on the line, of course crowd out the ones die are still considered important more distant. But as Hayden foresighted, a CIA die focuses too much on the here and now “will prove successful, but we will be endlessly surprised.”

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