News / USA

US Afghan War Commander Takes Helm at CIA

Former Commander of International Security Assistance Force and US Forces-Afghanistan General Davis Petraeus speaks during an armed forces farewell tribute and retirement ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, August 31, 2011.
Former Commander of International Security Assistance Force and US Forces-Afghanistan General Davis Petraeus speaks during an armed forces farewell tribute and retirement ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, August 31, 2011.

In his previous job as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus had some familiarity with CIA operations and analysis as a consumer of intelligence.  Now as CIA director he becomes responsible for producing that intelligence for the president and policymakers.  Petraeus takes over an agency that has become increasingly militarized to fight terrorism, blurring lines between the CIA and the military.

Intelligence historian Amy Zegart says the senior CIA leadership will be sizing up David Petreaus as soon as he walks through the portals of the agency’s headquarters in suburban Virginia.

“He comes in with enormous credentials and, I think, a great deal of respect," she said. "But I suspect that within the building, both on the analytic side and on the operations, there is going to be some hesitation about whether he is a military guy who has decamped to CIA, or whether he is really an intelligence person who is going to fight for the CIA and understand the agency.”

Challenge ahead

Zegart, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, says he will have to win over people at CIA whom he may have alienated when he was an advocate and enforcer of policies that some at CIA opposed.

“Petraeus is intimately connected with strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan that the CIA has been very skeptical about.  And so now he is in the position of having to speak truth to power, yet he is the architect of a lot of these policies.  That puts him in a very uncomfortable position,” said Zegart.

But  Thomas Fingar, the former chair of the National Intelligence Council, a kind of board of directors for the intelligence community, says the leadership at Langley will give Petraeus a chance.  He doubts things will deteriorate to the level they were under former director Porter Goss, an ex-agency officer turned politician who deeply alienated top career CIA employees during his nearly two-year tenure.

“In the years I have been around this the default setting is benefit of the doubt," he said. "And it takes rather extraordinary things like the behavior of Porter Goss and his team that sort of lost the professional crew at the agency.  I do not see a ‘we will withhold services, we will hold back, we will sort of judge.’  But certainly they will want to see how he does, how he interacts, how personable is he, how much time does he devote to the agency as opposed to activities outside of the agency.”

Petreaus has no direct intelligence experience.  But the CIA has had five military officers in charge before, and all of but one of them stayed on active military service while at CIA.  Fingar, also a senior fellow at Stanford, says Petraeus, who did retire from the army to take the CIA job, needs to be more bureaucrat than spy.

“What the agency, any agency, sort of needs is a good manager that can juggle tasks and can interact with the White House, interact on the Hill [Congress], interact now with the Pentagon on a lot of things.  No reason to think that Petraeus is less capable of the managerial aspects of this.  There are plenty of people around who know intelligence and can provide guidance for him,” he said.

'CIA-military closeness'

Amy Zegart says that intelligence, especially at the CIA, has become more militarized in the 10 years since September 11, 2001, as evidenced by drone strikes and special forces operations against terrorist targets.  The CIA and the military are cooperating closer than ever before, she says, and notes that the new defense secretary is Leon Panetta, who was Petraeus’ immediate predecessor at the CIA.  

But Zegart, who has written a new book on Congressional oversight of intelligence, says the growing CIA-military closeness raises some questions of oversight. “The downside of this story is that accountability is much more difficult.  Are operations that are inherently intelligence conducted by military personnel subject to the same oversight as intelligence activities by CIA people?  The answer is no.  So there are real questions about accountability and capability and which organization is best suited to do what functions,” she said.

The CIA director used to be the president’s senior intelligence advisor.  But in late 2004, Congress created the post of director of national intelligence to oversee the whole intelligence community as part of a package of post 9-11 intelligence reforms.  Thomas Fingar, who served as deputy director of national intelligence, says the CIA director has still maintained much of his clout in the White House.

“For a variety of reasons - familiarity, personality, continuity - the CIA under both Bush and Obama has retained something, and sometimes a great deal, of its old standing with the director of CIA because of the role of covert action, and the stuff that is not really covert but is done under intelligence authorities,” he said.

If that holds true, Amy Zegart says, Petraeus will have to ensure he does not overshadow the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

“One of critical issues will be, especially with Petraeus’ outsize public image, will the CIA continue to eclipse the director of national intelligence as the leader of the intelligence community," she said. "For the community to really work well the director of national intelligence really has to run it.  And so that is one of the outstanding questions that we are just to have to wait to see what happens.”

How long David Petreaus will remain in his new job is unknown.  The CIA director serves, as the law says, at the pleasure of the president.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs