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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 02:58 GMT 03:58 UK
The CIA's new mission
Osama Bin Laden
The CIA has been charged with finding Bin Laden
Tom Carver

September 11 has had an extraordinary effect on the CIA.

As soon as news broke of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Agency was immediately jumped on by virtually every member of Congress for failing to see it coming.

One intelligence expert called it the "greatest failure of intelligence in American history". It was widely believed George Tenet's days as Director of Central Intelligence were numbered.

The World Trade Center after being hit by one of the planes
WTC attacks: "The greatest failure of intelligence in US history"
Six weeks on, the CIA now finds itself being showered with money and additional powers and given the role of the lynchpin in this war on terrorism.

Mr Tenet - a Clinton appointee - is said to have developed a close working relationship with President Bush and is secure in his job.

It's fair to say that Americans have a schizophrenic attitude to their Central Intelligence Agency.

At one level, thanks to Hollywood, it is shrouded in glamour and mystery.

On the other hand, they tend to see it as incompetent and even dangerous.

Now it has a clear mission and a chance for a full image makeover.

Can it change?

That mission - according to an intelligence "finding" signed last month by President George W Bush - is to find and destroy Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.

Now the CIA has a clear mission and a chance for a full image makeover

A "finding" is a formal directive by the White House to the intelligence community and, if American media reports are correct, this one markedly increases the CIA's room for manoeuvre.

"The gloves are off," one official is quoted as saying in the Washington Post.

"Lethal operations that were unthinkable pre-September 11 are now underway." Not just being planned, but already underway.

Can such a large institution really change its mindset overnight?

More money

For the last decade, the CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO) which runs the CIA's agents and operations, has been steadily wound down after a series of human rights abuses and the embarrassment of the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan years.

George Tenet, CIA director
Tenet is said to have a close working relationship with Bush
There also seemed less justification for placing American agents in harm's way after the Cold War ended.

More and more reliance was placed instead in technical "passive" intelligence gathering assets such as satellite imagery and electronic surveillance.

Now the DO is being rapidly dusted off.

Large amounts of money are being used in Pakistan and Afghanistan to buy agents and intelligence about Bin Laden, as the CIA scrambles to reacquaint itself with a part of the world which it has all but ignored since the Soviet withdrawal in 1988.

Information sharing

One of the biggest challenges facing the CIA is to break down the rivalries within the intelligence community.

The National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on electronic traffic around the world, has often been reluctant to share its intelligence with the CIA.

The CIA doesn't like sharing what it knows with the Pentagon.

Furthermore, much of the CIA's intelligence has not been sufficiently timely.

Intelligence needs to get where it can be used very quickly for it to be what is called "actionable".

CIA analysts will have to filter out the few priceless nuggets of information from all the background noise that it collects and be willing to share it with everyone else.

That is not an easy habit to cultivate overnight.

It means being willing to take risks and be prepared to be wrong.

A fear of being criticised over the years has made the CIA cautious and gun-shy. Now it has been given the money and the political support it needs.

It just has to be successful.

See also:

21 Oct 01 | South Asia
Eliminate Bin Laden, CIA told
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