Time to rethink the CIA? - The Washington Post

President Obama should pause before choosing a successor to CIA Director David H. Petraeus and rethink the role of the nation’s primary intelligence agency. Its main focus for the past decade has been fighting terrorists and insurgents.

The first question to ask: Has the CIA become too much of a paramilitary organization? The second: Should this be the time to put the agency’s main emphasis on being the premier producer and analyst of intelligence for policymakers, using both open and clandestine sources?

That doesn’t mean losing its counterterrorism role. Terrorists remain a threat, but the rest of the world is changing so fast that the president and policymakers down the line need the best information available.

More than 20 years ago, Richard M. Helms, the legendary CIA director, told me that one of the biggest mistakes the agency made during his tenure was to run the “secret war” in Laos in the late 1960s. “You can’t keep a war secret, and therefore a clandestine intelligence service should not be running it,” he said. “It also diverts you from doing our main job, analysis.”

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