That’s not a rhetorical question: despite the phrasing, it is a real one.
Joe Klein reports that in light of the release of the torture memos,
there are real concerns in the intelligence community–and a potential rebellion in the clandestine service, according to one veteran spook I spoke with. The White House was aware of these concerns and I think Obama has taken some steps, in his statement on the release, to ameliorate the problems, but he and Leon Panetta may be facing a serious morale problem and a slew of retirements at a moment when the need for undercover work is extremely urgent, especially in the Iraqi and Af/Pak theaters.
But this assumes that the current CIA has actually been an enormous asset to US national security. And that is anything but sure.
As Tim Weiner has conclusively demonstrated, the CIA has anything but a stellar record over the last, oh, six decades. On virtually every major strategic shift of the postwar era, the CIA has been caught completely flat-footed.
And little wonder: the Agency is simply not very good at what it does. Edward Shirley, a pseudonymous former case officer, reported in the Atlantic Monthly in 1998 that no one on the Iran desk spoke Farsi. No one seemed to notice that there was a problem with agent Aldrich Ames.
Maybe the best thing that could happen is that the CIA would be completely cleaned out, and replaced with a bunch of naive rookies. It might be better than a bunch of naive veterans.
Maybe I’m wrong; maybe the CIA has been quite successful. But it is time that someone provides some evidence for it.