Fourteenth DCI, William Hedgcock Webster
William Webster: Transition to
Post-Cold War Era
Only an active and forceful stance from the DCI can convert the Community
from its normal proclivity to act like a herd of chickens.
Vice President George H. W. Bush recommended to President Reagan that he nominate FBI Director William H. Webster to be DCI in the wake of Casey’s sudden incapacitation and Gates’s withdrawal from confirmation hearings. Webster’s reputation for integrity and propriety—built in part on his reforms at the FBI in the wake of Hoover-era abuses—served as an asset for an administration under fire, making him an antidote to the suspicion that the DCI and CIA had been involved in questionable activities. Before taking office in May 1987, Webster recommended to the president that the DCI post be “returned to its historic non-Cabinet status.” He believed that this change served both the president’s and his interests. Reagan readily agreed, noting that he had independently reached the same conclusion. Both desired a separation from the controversy and public attention associated with Casey’s tenure, and the symbolic turning of a new page at CIA coincided with the appointment of new leadership for the president’s NSC staff as well.
After being sworn in, Webster had to spend time with clean-up duties at CIA related to Iran-Contra, separating and reprimanding a few officers and ensuring that appropriate guidelines were in effect to guard against similar future problems. He also had the unpleasant duty in his early months of informing the president that new information indicated almost all Cuban agents recruited by CIA had been “dangles” controlled by the Cubans from the beginning. Counterintelligence, it seemed, was going to follow him from FBI and remain an important concern for him as DCI.
Webster’s FBI background gave him a good sense of counterintelligence and internal security, and he had served throughout the Reagan administration, dealing with DCI Casey on various community issues. He wrote John McCone that he had known all the DCIs since Helms and that he “was a good friend of Adm. Sidney Souers,” Truman’s first DCI, who like Webster was from Missouri. Webster was not, however, an administration insider. By summer 1987, he raised with Colin Powell, deputy national security adviser at the White House, his non-inclusion in key meetings of principals on issues with intelligence implications. Powell replied that he was sensitive to Webster’s concern and would arrange his participation in a future cabinet meeting.
Webster had two CIA professionals serve as his deputy. Robert Gates was his DDCI from 1987 until early 1989 when he joined the new Bush administration as deputy national security adviser, where of course he continued to have extensive dealings with Webster. Succeeding Gates as DDCI was Richard Kerr, who had been Gates’s longtime deputy in CIA’s intelligence directorate as well as DDI after Gates moved up to become DDCI. Looking back, Kerr recalled that Webster had treated him “as a real partner,” giving him walk-in access to his office and “a great deal of independence.” Kerr felt that he enjoyed clear guidance from Webster regarding what he needed to be informed about and that Webster was “an easy, relaxed person to deal with.” Webster relied on Gates and Kerr on both agency and community affairs, taking an active role himself where he felt it was appropriate or necessary, but allowing his deputy full rein in taking care of many matters that did not require his personal attention.
On the community front, Webster believed his approach had to fit what he saw as clear limitations on his authority, especially in the program and budget arena, and was more akin to that of a “den chief” than a chief executive officer. He thought, however, that small steps could help create a useful spirit of cooperation. He hosted an off-site meeting of community leaders in the fall of 1987, the seventh in the series begun by Casey in 1983. The first two items on the agenda, congressional relations and budget constraints, pointed to aspects of his job that affected much that he did as DCI. By 1987, the time for bold and expensive initiatives geared to a reinvigorated Cold War had passed, and a more complicated mix of issues connected to dealing with large changes in the USSR and in the world faced Webster and the Intelligence Community.
Coping with Change
At the outset of Webster’s tenure, this shift was not evident. The reinforcement of the community’s decades-long emphasis on the Soviet threat that had marked the first half of the 1980s seemed still firmly in place. In September 1987, the IC Staff submitted a report to the SSCI entitled Strengthening US Intelligence Capabilities against the Soviet Military in the 1990s, and in helping to prepare a new edition of the national intelligence strategy in August 1988, it judged that “the central challenge to US intelligence during the 1990s will continue to be gathering and producing useful intelligence on the Soviet military.” The historic treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear missile forces agreed to between Washington and Moscow in late 1987 brought new demands on intelligence for arms control monitoring tasks and a new atmosphere to US-Soviet relations, but the basic job of assessing a formidable adversary remained seemingly unchanged despite Mikhail Gorbachev’s rhetoric and political maneuvering.
Events soon made clear, however, that Webster would face the challenge of steering the Intelligence Community over the shoals of change. In December 1988, Gorbachev announced stunning unilateral reductions in Soviet military forces in Eastern Europe and then oversaw an amazing transformation of the Soviet position in Europe as the communist regimes set up by the USSR 40 years earlier fell and Germany reunified. The Cold War was basically over as the Soviets began to dismantle their military capability to wage offensive war in Western Europe, and in 1990 Webster commissioned a study of how America’s foreign intelligence relationships might change to accommodate the fluid re-ordering of international relations. Although the collapse of the USSR did not come with finality until the end of 1991, a few months after Webster left office, the impact of international change during Webster’s tenure drove both the overseers of American intelligence and the DCI to take steps to adapt the community he led to the emerging new world.
By 1988, concerns over the cost of expensive overhead collection systems caused the director of the NRO, Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge, Jr., to develop some ideas for reforming his organization, and he wanted to move ahead with reforms at the end of the Reagan administration. He advanced specific recommendations aimed at centralizing planning and eventually co-locating all NRO programs near Washington, DC. Webster’s staff alerted the DCI that some aspects of the proposed changes affected DCI equities and those of other intelligence agency heads and required further study. In early 1989, Webster gained the agreement of Will Taft, IV, then acting secretary of defense, not to move definitively on NRO reform until all issues had been resolved, and he began to sort through the reform ideas and help fashion a solution acceptable within the executive branch and to Congress.
In this case, the DCI came to believe that inaction on his part in the face of a senior community program manager’s initiative might have diminished his authority. Once he understood the issue, Webster was determined to assert what he saw as the DCI’s rightful role in guiding change within the community. Senior CIA officials with knowledge of NRO matters played key roles in alerting Webster to the issue. Although their interest seemed to some parochial—retaining CIA’s influence within the NRO against centralizing aspects of Aldridge’s proposals—they saw it as supporting the DCI’s leadership as head of the Intelligence Community.
In 1989, the issue of NRO reform attracted much attention, and Webster found himself under considerable pressure from Congress, PFIAB, and DOD on the issue. In May, he met with the chairman and vice chairman of SSCI, Senator David Boren (D-OK) and Senator William Cohen (R-ME), who were concerned that the DCI might be “slow rolling” needed NRO reorganization and wanted to know why the “Aldridge report” was not being quickly implemented. Webster explained that the report was in his view a “ready, fire, aim” study that—although it contained ideas that he wanted to implement—had not had the benefit of adequate consultation within the Intelligence Community or the NRO’s user community, or of the views of the incoming new head of the NRO (senior HPSCI staffer Marty Faga became head of the NRO in September 1989). He promised rapid assessment by a planning team and early recommendations that he and Richard Cheney, the new secretary of defense, would act on by summer.
To support this future decision, a “restructure team” studied a range of issues: the NRO’s decisionmaking and planning processes; how to strengthen the organization’s responsiveness to military customers; a suggestion to reorganize activities according to “INT”; and the value of continuing the longtime NRO structure of separate CIA, Air Force, and Navy programs. The overall thrust of the ideas considered was toward a more unified organization having a chief with more authority. Two of the three program heads opposed the idea of program co-location because they considered competition between programs within the NRO beneficial, and there was concern not to throw out things that had worked well in the search for improvements.
By the middle of 1989, Webster was able to announce preliminary decisions he and Cheney had reached. The main initiatives they adopted were to co-locate the headquarters elements of the programs, to put with them a new central planning and analysis staff, to establish a new deputy director for military support and a new advisory board, and to appoint as head of the CIA’s program a less senior official than CIA’s DDS&T (thus reducing the impression that he had special clout with the DCI relative to that available to other major NRO program heads). By shying away from the more radical INT-oriented restructuring some had recommended and choosing a half-a-loaf solution on co-location, they attempted to preserve the basic strengths of the organization and forestall the adoption of more radical ideas.
The new advisory board for the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Review Board (NRRB), which held its first meeting in October 1989, was part of a new pattern of community interaction that Judge Webster actively fostered. He saw to it that senior officials from various intelligence agencies held more regular and frequent meetings to give attention to issues of coordination, change, and reform across the entire community. The DDCI gave considerable attention to the NRRB, for example, and included in it the vice chairman of the JCS (who had also been added to the NFIC) to represent the military customer. Webster also oversaw the establishment of new joint advisory, planning, and requirements panels to deepen coordination between CIA and NSA regarding signals collection, and he enlarged senior-level participation in various forums dealing with special collection programs, one purpose being to make programs more responsive to their customers and another being to ensure that providers of similar services did not duplicate work unnecessarily.
New bilateral ties between agencies also grew. During 1990–91, extraordinary bilateral conferences between NSA and CIA fostered unprecedented sharing of program hopes and plans. VAdm. William Studeman, the director of NSA, and DDCI Richard Kerr at CIA chaired these sessions and exchanged officers to serve as executive assistants on their personal staffs, where they would acquire unusual cross-agency exposure. Much of this activity took place without active personal leadership on Webster’s part; all community leaders recognized that they had to make significant changes and that new levels of dialogue and coordination would be mutually helpful. But Webster clearly saw value in bridge-building efforts and helped the community—much accustomed to “stovepipe” approaches—achieve a broader set of forums for considering change in concert, with an expectation of cooperation and coordination.
In addition to continuing the off-site conferences of community leaders begun by Casey, Webster in January 1989 initiated biweekly luncheon meetings among them to keep up with the pace of change. The intelligence agency heads took turns hosting these popular gatherings (they continued through the 1990s), which allowed more informal, timely, and candid discussion of topics that cut across institutional boundaries and helped keep members from acting without at least knowing what others were doing in the face of similar challenges. In addition, in consonance with the new prominence of the NSC’s “deputies committee” in the Bush administration, the number twos of the intelligence agencies began to hold sessions in the “off” weeks between the principals’ get-togethers. Webster also acceded to a request from one intelligence agency head to place the seals of all community members on the cover of the National Intelligence Daily, the community’s main current intelligence product, thus showing symbolically his desire to knit the community more tightly together.
Webster fostered bridge building within CIA as well. At the recommendation of James Taylor, CIA’s executive director, Webster convened unprecedented off-site conferences of all the top managers of CIA down to the level below the deputy directors who ran the agency’s major directorates (called “divisions” in the DO, “offices” in the other directorates). The exercise promoted “one-agency” projects and perspectives among the directorate baronies at CIA, an approach thought to be appropriate to an era of change and reduced resources. That it was a novel, or even thought of as a radical, departure within CIA demonstrated the continuing hold of traditional directorate allegiances (the directorate-level managers at CIA already met frequently in regular staff meetings or as a management committee). Taylor retired just as these off-site sessions were getting under way, however, and CIA abolished his post of executive director, replacing it with a deputy director for planning and coordination (DDP&C, a position filled by senior CIA officer Gary Foster) whose rank and stature were a cut below Taylor’s. Thus, although Webster brought the barons together more, his deputy responsible for leading top-down initiatives of change did not carry the same bureaucratic weight that Taylor had. Indeed, the members of the joint strategic planning body that he chaired were the deputies of the directorate heads. The new officer took over the executive director’s role in representing CIA in interagency meetings, thus reducing the agency’s profile in community forums.
The beginning of a new administration in 1989, and of a new Congress interested in doing its part to define how military and intelligence professionals should adjust to the changing world, brought new pressures on the DCI to bring about change in the Intelligence Community. The new president, George H. W. Bush, was a friend of Webster’s who, when Webster’s first wife had died in 1984, had invited him to visit his home in Maine to help him cope with the loss. Reportedly, he had considered replacing Webster as he set about constructing his administration, but lacking a compelling reason for removing someone he liked and had recommended for the job in 1987, he kept him on. If Webster was more comfortable with Bush than with Reagan, he was no more of an insider in terms of policy discussions. He did not believe, however, that his status adversely affected his ability to shape CIA’s and the community’s continuing adjustments to a changing world.
Webster welcomed congressional involvement in coping with change, inviting members of Congress in 1987 to his first off-site conference of community leaders. His belief that congressional oversight was legitimate did not mean, however, that he did not have opinions different from those pressed by legislators. In January 1989, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced legislation that would create a director of national intelligence (DNI), a new kind of DCI with broader powers but no direct control over CIA. At a PFIAB meeting, Zbigniew Brzezinski asked Webster for his views on the idea, indicating he thought Casey had at one time supported the notion. Webster’s staff could find no basis for believing Casey had ever done so and gave Webster all the standard arguments against the idea.
Richard Kerr testified against the idea in passing during his confirmation hearings to become DDCI, but neither the DCI nor any other administration official was called to testify when a full hearing on the idea held in June 1989 heard from several former officials. Adm. Inman and Lt. Gen. Odom, both former directors of NSA, argued in favor of the notion, with Odom also pressing his desire to see much of the community organized by INT. Former ASD/C3I Donald Latham cautioned that he had not heard a compelling case, however, and the idea was shelved, saving Webster the need to enter the fray himself.
In 1988, HPSCI had considered the idea of centralizing management of imagery collection under an “imagery czar.” This initiative attracted little enthusiasm within the IC Staff or the larger community. Many regarded the operations of the DCI’s Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation (COMIREX) as relatively smooth, and the dissatisfactions about imagery’s service to military forces (which arose during the Gulf War three years later) had not yet aroused broader concerns supporting schemes for organizing imagery-related operations more centrally. Hence a reply went to HPSCI in early 1989 indicating lack of DCI interest in a new management structure for this INT.
The advent of the new administration caused William Lackman, longtime deputy director of the IC Staff, to offer Webster some reflections on “community leadership,” including the observation cited at the beginning of this chapter. He told the DCI that “an opportunity exists to further develop the Community concept and move to a higher level of cooperation and collective effectiveness.” He described the concept as having remained “largely inchoate because of bureaucratic rivalries and inadequate leadership” through the years despite President Nixon’s urging more DCI leadership in 1971, President Carter’s exhortation to the DCI to “take charge,” and “the DCI’s central role” described in President Reagan’s executive order in 1981. He warned, however, that “Congress increasingly will look to the DCI to actively manage the Community, and will hold him responsible for the effective functioning of the intelligence effort.”
Lackman argued that the DCI’s community leadership role was now “universally accepted as appropriate and necessary.” Four generations of program managers had served since Executive Order 12036 had highlighted the DCI’s importance in 1978, he stated, and today’s incumbents were “accustomed to, and expective of, the DCI’s leadership role.” He asserted that “departmental antagonism has virtually disappeared” on this issue, and indeed was at times displaced with an “It’s the DCI’s problem!” attitude. The key thing, he believed, was to think in terms of community-wide perspectives (past DCIs, he argued, as well as other intelligence leaders, routinely gave prime attention to their “first-order” line organization leadership tasks) and to use the DCI’s authorities (which he felt were sufficient) “to manage the Community more directly than has been the norm up to now.” He even argued that the DCI’s duties to set priorities, to be the senior intelligence adviser, and to manage resources “constitute 90% of those of a line manager.”
Lackman, an expert on intelligence programs and budgets, stressed the need for efficiency. “Expanding demands, complex international problems, and constrained resources” demanded greater efficiency, he argued, and that “can only come from greater cooperation and coordinated effort than we have known in the past.” Three of the four specific steps he recommended seemed hardly equal to the task: reaffirmation of Executive Order 12333, an active DCI role in nominating intelligence agency chiefs, and instituting a biweekly meeting of community leaders (“keep it small”). The fourth, however, was the establishment of a “Deputy DCI for the Community,” which he argued would help counter the perennial perception of the DCI as biased in favor of CIA and diffuse interest in creating a DNI separate from CIA. In suggesting this potentially more weighty change, Lackman hearkened back to the Bush-Murphy-Knoche model from 1976 as a precedent worth following.
As previously noted, Webster implemented the biweekly meetings idea, and he also promised to be active in pursuing a new head for the NRO. He did not wish to try to reissue or reaffirm the executive order, however, and he did not take up the new, second DDCI idea. It would have required legislation, and Webster feared the initiative would look bad in a time of budget restraint and might open up unwelcome congressional debate.
National Foreign Intelligence Strategy
In June 1989, Webster issued the third DCI-sponsored national foreign intelligence strategy. Casey had issued the first in February 1986, and Gates as acting director had sent out another in March 1987. These documents provided DCI-level guidance to the community, but they gingerly characterized the priorities the DCI had selected for emphasis as offering only “a general sense of how resources should be used.” OSD pointed to the lack of clear linkage between the strategy and programs to argue that such documents “do not appear to have had significant utility” and questioned the strategy’s value in the absence of a congressional requirement. It also complained that support to military operations was not ranked high (it was in the third of three levels of substantive priority) and that the overall “tone” focusing on political, economic, and societal matters belied the fact that most NFIP activities were in DOD.
Lt. Gen. Edward Heinz, USAF, the head of the IC Staff, responded to the OSD comments, pointing out that Soviet military capabilities were in fact a high priority and that the strategy defined support to military operations narrowly, pertaining mainly to dissemination capabilities. He defended the value of general as opposed to specifically directive guidance and said “the DCI strongly believes that this is something that has to be done in the current budget climate,” thus implicitly arguing that it was important to address the congressional audience even in the absence of a specific request for the paper.
Fritz Ermarth, the chairman of the NIC, commented in reviewing the paper that “we have not come to grips with the task of mapping uncertainty, which looms so large over everything, and relating it to real choices we must make.” “We tend to proceed,” he mused, “on the syllogism that we must foretell the future in order to plan for it.” Somewhat diffidently, he offered an alternative approach: “It seems to me that we ought to spend more time trying to figure out how to structure our uncertainties intelligently for planning and what we do with resources in the face of inevitably large uncertainties,” suggesting that flexibility in programs could be one key criterion.
Just six months after the strategy was issued (and after the fall of the Berlin Wall), the DDCI approved the distribution of an IC Staff paper on the implications of international change on intelligence. Although the paper had not been formally coordinated (and, as a substantive product, would normally have been drafted by the NIC), the DDCI apparently wanted to provoke his colleagues into continuing to ponder the implications of unanticipated international change on their future. Webster’s encouragement of such initiatives showed his intent to keep his colleagues focused on the need to adjust resources with on-going international changes always in mind.
Shepherding the Intelligence Budget
Webster became DCI just as Congress became more active in dealing with the intelligence budget for which he was responsible. He and the administration faced, in Senators Boren and Cohen, SSCI leaders who supported expensive technical collection programs that they tied to the US ability to monitor arms control agreements just then being reached with the USSR. The period of large-scale increases in intelligence funding had passed, and these expensive programs competed with other intelligence programs the DCI and the administration deemed equally or more important. The administration could hardly argue in favor of cutting programs judged important for monitoring treaties it had signed, and it did not wish to be seriously at odds with a bipartisan SSCI leadership on such grounds.
In 1988, President Reagan chose a compromise option Webster had presented that retained the technical programs in the budget even though the viability of their out-year funding was questionable, thus deferring the problem to his successor. Webster’s approach was to represent the programs for which he was responsible, but also to do his part in supporting administration-set overall budget policy and guidelines. In his first NFIP submission to Congress in 1988, he noted his cancellation of one major new collection system owing to fiscal constraints and his dismay that congressional support for investments in the future like those that had been made earlier in the 1980s apparently had ended.
In the early weeks of the new Bush administration, Webster, along with other top officials, met with the president to review the impact on defense and intelligence programs of budgetary limitations faced by the administration. The context was a constrained fiscal environment owing to congressionally mandated rules (the so-called Gramm-Rudman limit on federal spending) and the newly elected president’s promise of “no new taxes.” Webster was circumspect, aiming mainly to ensure that intelligence programs were clearly represented at the top decisionmaking level and pointing out that congressional interest in spending more to monitor arms control faced the president with the dilemma of incurring political damage in Congress or risking inadequacies in intelligence capabilities.
At the suggestion of John Sununu, the president’s chief of staff, Webster wrote to the president and sought another meeting with him. He assured the president that he supported his efforts to control federal spending but requested “some latitude in the budget reduction process to protect the intelligence capabilities you require.” President Bush eventually decided to support the expensive technical programs one more year, although he made sure the senators involved knew that he had done so over the objections of his most senior policy advisers. In working the issue, Webster made sure he maintained his dialogue with Secretary of Defense Cheney, who agreed with Webster that the enhancements were of marginal utility.
Attentiveness to budget woes continued to be necessary. In the fall of 1989, Webster pled with Cheney to fence the intelligence budget from overall DOD budget cuts, citing provisions of Executive Order 12333 regarding his budget authority. Cheney pointed to his own budgetary problems but agreed to work with Webster in convening a meeting of managers affected by the cuts so that they would understand clearly the practical problems they faced. As they met jointly with the president in January 1990, they stood together again in recommending a national intelligence program upon which they could agree, but they asked the president finally to bite the bullet in denying new technical programs that carried unacceptable funding choices in future years.
Statutory Inspector General
Congress had been active earlier in the 1980s in defining limits on covert actions, and the endgame of the Cold War fed renewed interest in intelligence issues. HPSCI decided that it wanted greater visibility into CIA’s activities through access to the activities of the agency’s inspector general (IG), and committee chairman David McCurdy (D-OK) pressed Webster on this issue early in 1989. CIA’s IG, William F. Donnelly, told Webster that the last time Congress had looked at the inspection process CIA had been given high marks, so Webster asked Donnelly to chair a community-wide committee of inspectors general to exchange views and strengthen their effectiveness. The other community leaders agreed with this initiative, thus cooperating with Webster better than their predecessors had with DCI Bush nearly 15 years earlier when he had tried to organize cooperation among them when they had faced the prospect of the new Intelligence Oversight Board established by President Ford.
This modest community initiative did not deflect McCurdy from seeking access to CIA’s IG reports and even attempting to task the office. CIA officials perceived him as viewing the IG “as an extension of the committee” he chaired, and Webster was at pains to explain that he viewed CIA’s inspection reports as part of his management process, not Congress’s oversight role. Congress, he argued, should limit itself to overseeing his performance of duty, not seek to “ride in the saddle with him” as he did his job. McCurdy sponsored legislation not only requiring congressional access to inspection reports but also establishing a statutory IG more beholden to Congress. Webster fought this initiative but was powerless to prevent it, in the end simply recommending that the president register his disagreement when he approved the law.
Community Staff Support
As Webster took office, the SSCI decided to cut the budget of his IC Staff, apparently to demonstrate fiscal responsibility symbolically in the only public budget figure associated with the NFIP. This was quite a change from the 1970s when Congress was willing to increase the staff and its resources to help the DCI exercise more leadership over the community. Webster appealed the decision, pointing out that he had not had time to assess the level of staff support he needed as DCI and that he hoped for success from a recent change within the staff that promised him a greater ability to guide the community’s various programs.
Just before Webster’s arrival in the spring of 1987, acting DCI Gates had created a new requirements and evaluation deputy director of the IC Staff in an effort, once again, to link the information needs of senior intelligence customers and community resource allocation. This “reorganization” addressed “growing concerns” about the orchestration of community efforts, “including more systematic evaluation of our performance against intelligence requirements.” Lt. Gen. Edward Heinz, USAF, director of the IC Staff, drew an organizational chart to accompany Gates’s memo to NFIC members showing his new second deputy as equal in rank to longtime deputy William Lackman, the knowledgeable heart and soul of the community budget process. To fill the new position, Gates appointed Douglas George, an assertive CIA officer who had earned seventh-floor trust at CIA in assisting the DCI on arms control support.
Gates hoped the new position would give the DCI a new community management tool, offering another way of reviewing the program and budget work that went on largely outside the DCI’s view. George was assigned oversight responsibility for the DCI collection discipline committees, including the general charge to strengthen ways of integrating assessments of collection requirements and program performance across the collection disciplines. There was some friction as programs responded to the bevy of new studies he generated, but all recognized the DCI was under pressure to rationalize community programs in order to defend them.
The new emphasis on requirements and evaluation in the IC Staff lasted three years. Although Webster’s personal involvement was not great, he permitted the new deputy to put forward a strategic plan, chair an active committee that considered many important program issues, and work up an ambitious redesign of the DCI’s requirements process to make the community more responsive to change initiated from the top. By 1990, however, George departed to join a congressional staff, and his position, staff, and process quietly disappeared. At the outset, he had ambitiously predicted “far-reaching impacts” on the community from his efforts: “Rice bowls will be cracked and perhaps a few will be broken; that may be a good thing.” But the initiative succumbed to the community’s inertia, and its expiration went unlamented.
Inspector General Report on IC Staff
In 1989, Webster approved an IG study of the IC staff, the first such review ever conducted. The resulting report, issued in March 1990, found widespread perceptions in the community that, while the staff was “performing a useful mission,” it was “too large and unfocused,” pursued its own agenda, and had become “a management issue in its own right.” As for the “well-intentioned” change of 1987 to enhance evaluation, the report judged that it was “not working.”
Most striking were the report’s observations about the DCI’s relationship with his community staff. It found that the staff “acted on the perception that recent DCIs have been generally detached from the Community process” and that many staffers believed “the current DCI neither understands nor cares about what they do.” The staffers were frustrated by this gap, a number of them telling the inspectors that “issues can be resolved only if the principals want them resolved.” This factor, the report concluded, affected the quality of personnel serving on the staff, which was not “up to the caliber that should be at the DCI’s command.”
The inspectors “repeatedly” heard from those they surveyed that the model for effective IC Staff support to the DCI was the arrangement constructed by DCI Bush, when a deputy DCI for the Intelligence Community—unburdened by CIA duties—had been able to concentrate on important community issues while simultaneously directing the IC Staff. The report enthusiastically recommended that this position be resurrected in the hope that “a DDCI/IC with the kind of stature we envision might go some way toward emphasizing the DCI’s Community role” by giving the DCI “a high-profile, day-to-day manager of Community affairs.” (At about the time the IG report was issued, the executive secretary of the NFIC conveyed to the head of the IC Staff concerns of some on the NSC staff that NFIC was not active enough. In a memorandum entitled “Reactivation of the NFIC,” he pointed out that the NFIC only met a couple times a year for budget discussions and suggested other topics it could take up if the DCI wished.)
Webster asked DDCI Richard Kerr to review the IG report: “It’s been a tough one to get my teeth into…. I sense it is too sprawling to be helpful to me personally and I probably count too much on the D/ICS and his deputies because of this.” Kerr responded with thoughtful comments. He did not view an upgraded community deputy position as threatening to his own, but he doubted that it would make any difference. He agreed that the three-year effort to stress evaluation in the IC Staff had failed. “Part of the problem is that the two deputies are not equal,” Kerr noted; also, although the community believes that the second deputy “listens to the Community, he then does what he wants without any reference to the Community input.” Kerr recommended simplifying requirements: “No one can respond to several hundred priorities [in the current list of NITs].”
Kerr also agreed with the call for a leaner and better quality staff and implicitly with the report’s cry for more involvement by principals, suggesting the use of ad hoc groups of officers from line organizations, rather than central staff officers, to attack high priority problems identified by the DCI. He commended Webster for improving the quality of people assigned on a rotational basis to CIA’s IG office and suggested use of the practice to upgrade the IC Staff’s personnel. Kerr recommended developing a mission statement for the staff and requesting that its new chief, Lt. Gen. Norman Wood, USAF, design a reorganized staff to fit it.
Wood indeed suggested a reorganized staff structure late in the summer of 1990, including a call for a “collection coordination committee” to enhance cross-discipline work. In March 1991, one year after the submission of the IG report, Webster approved most of the IG report recommendations but declined to nominate an upgraded second deputy for community affairs: “The arrangement used in the Ford Administration may have worked well, but at the present time the addition of a second DDCI would risk confusing management of the Community more than strengthening it.” He did not renew the second deputy position in the IC Staff, and Lackman, the remaining deputy head of the IC Staff, took over the task of coordinating the collection committees. In announcing the changes to his fellow intelligence agency chiefs, Webster characterized them as responding to world change and budget austerity, and he urged that they assign promotion-worthy people to serve on his community staff.
Childs Study Group
Also in March 1991, Webster ordered a broader review of the community’s mission, functions, and organization by a group headed by veteran CIA officer and budget expert Dan Childs and including seven other senior officers drawn from the major community players and the JCS (a former vice chairman). In addition to identifying alternative ways to strengthen the community to deal with the changed world, the team reviewed the DCI’s authorities and duties and made recommendations “for enhancing his role in managing and directing the Intelligence Community.” The “Childs Study Group” relied on anecdotal evidence derived from interviews of some 70 former and current senior officials with extensive experience in intelligence, as well as the extensive relevant backgrounds of the study group members. The quality and experience level of the group’s members, and of those whom they interviewed, allowed the group to explore many major issues in a short period of time, and it reported its conclusions at the end of May 1991.
The group set out what it called a “conceptual framework” for its findings, arguing that the changing world and declining resources suggested “the need for a more centralized management structure and stronger mechanisms for planning, resource allocation and operational efficiency.” The community had evolved, the group thought, from a loosely knit group of organizations with separate missions “to a more closely aligned confederation of agencies” with some shared goals. The group rejected the notion of a “‘super agency’ with a single, accountable manager,” in favor of “a tighter confederation, with stronger leadership and greater central management focus, including more institutionalized mechanisms” aimed at supporting the DCI’s roles as senior intelligence adviser to the president and “senior manager of the Intelligence Community.”
The group rejected major restructuring of the community as unnecessary and judged that the DCI’s authorities were “generally adequate.” The ability of the community to meet the challenges of the 1990s, the group felt, “remains largely a function of the caliber of its people and the leadership, initiative and creativity they demonstrate.” Instead of reorganizing, the group declared, the community should undertake “management initiatives” in the areas of community management, program evaluation and resource decisionmaking, and imagery and human source intelligence activities.
The group also struck a note of implicit warning to the DCI, noting that “a number of significant organizational changes are in the process of being implemented in certain parts of the Intelligence Community” and stating that it was “incumbent upon the DCI and the Secretary of Defense to ensure that the results of these efforts are as intended….” It identified the most important of these as the reorganization of the NRO and a new OSD plan for managing intelligence within DOD. This extraordinary statement seemingly reflected a perception that the DCI was not in charge of some of the most important changes being undertaken within the community he putatively led. In a final finding, the group warned that fixing intelligence problems revealed in the just-concluded Persian Gulf war should not become “the driving force behind decisions on how the Intelligence Community should be postured to do its job in the 1990s and beyond.” Presumably, this reflected a fear that the coincidence of efforts to learn lessons from the recent war and to reform the Intelligence Community could lead to an overemphasis on military needs in the latter enterprise.
In light of Senator Specter’s efforts to create a DNI, the group felt compelled to deal with this option, which included as usual the designation of a separate head for CIA. It concluded that it was a bad idea because the DNI would not be connected enough to the analytic support needed for his substantive advising role (or, alternatively, if he took the analysts downtown with him, he would separate them too much from the collectors), and because the president would probably choose to deal with CIA’s chief directly on covert action matters, further diluting the DNI’s effectiveness. “Most importantly,” the group asserted, ”we believe the DNI concept would align the incumbent far too closely with the policy community, thereby impuning [sic] the objectivity of his advice and guidance to the President and other policymakers.” In the end, the group judged, a DNI probably “would evolve into a position that would lead the Intelligence Community in name only,” thus defeating the original objective.
The group also considered how best to support the DCI’s community role and concluded that establishing a second DDCI for community affairs was in fact an idea whose time had come (despite Webster’s rejecting it just two months before). Both community and CIA matters needed closer management attention at the top, the group believed, and to link the second deputy closer to the DCI, they recommended that the senior leadership of the IC Staff be co-located with the DCI’s office at CIA headquarters at Langley. They cited the Goldwater-Nichols Act and its effect on the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Staff as a model for thinking about the DCI’s community role and staff.
The group also suggested that NFIC be supplemented or replaced by a smaller, more senior executive committee for resource decisionmaking, and that the DCI’s budgetary authority be strengthened by giving him final authority for formulating and executing the NFIP and for reprogramming funds among programs within it. They called for a streamlined requirements process with an overarching “all-source” mechanism to integrate collection planning across the different disciplines. They suggested rethinking the NIC as well, urging the community to be “more aggressive in its analytic judgments” in order to keep up with “increasingly complex demands of policymakers in the future.” In dealing with the major collection disciplines, the group chose not to recommend an imagery czar, explicitly rejecting the “SIGINT model” commonly used to justify the idea.
All in all, it was a thoughtful report, and its ideas prefigured some changes coming in the near future. But Webster, whose departure was announced before the report was submitted, was in no position to implement changes based on it. He thanked the group for “a tremendous job well done” and noted that the congressional oversight committees as well as his successor would profit from the group’s efforts.
Congress Pushes Reform
March 1991 was a red-letter month for Webster. Congressional interest in pursuing Intelligence Community reform had impelled his IC Staff changes and commissioning of the Childs study group, and in March Senator Boren led the SSCI into hearings to consider a full range of intelligence reform ideas. A paper outlining the committee staff’s views obtained by the DCI’s Office of Congressional Affairs declared: “Problem #1: The DCI’s Community role is Weak,” and concluded that a second DDCI for community affairs was more feasible than the DNI concept that Senator Specter favored.
The DCI’s and DDCI’s executive assistants offered balanced assessments of what the staff paper portended for the SSCI’s actions. Tactfully, they characterized some points as “ill-informed” or “hard to believe” and the paper’s authors as “ignorant” of existing community management mechanisms. The SSCI staff’s ideas seemed to have momentum behind them, the assistants feared, and hence they needed to be handled skillfully. DOD was already preparing to undertake action on a number of the SSCI’s points dealing with defense intelligence, however, and they speculated that if the Childs study helped the DCI deal with other points effectively, then the outcome might be satisfactory. Still, the community viewed the SSCI’s initiatives with considerable distrust. VAdm. William Studeman, NSA’s director, told the Childs group, for example, that he saw them as a serious assault on the current organization and leadership of the community. At the same time, some of the criticisms in the SSCI staff study paralleled observations being made by those who were interviewed by the Childs group, including the perception that the leadership at the top of the Intelligence Community was weak.
Senator Boren kicked off hearings on Intelligence Community reorganization on 21 March 1991. In his opening remarks he made what probably were the two most powerful arguments for considering reform, noting the changes under way in the world and observing that “many of the agencies and offices which comprise the U.S. Intelligence Community of today did not exist in 1947.” He asked that the executive branch keep an open mind regarding change and not regard the SSCI’s efforts as confrontational. At the same time, in referring to the congressional review that led to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act—a review he cited as directly analogous to his own—he cited “fierce antipathy” on the part of the US military toward that reform when it was enacted. He then went on to attribute US victory in the just-concluded Persian Gulf War “in large part” to that reform, thus setting a lofty goal for his own efforts.
Boren kept his reform effort carefully independent of the executive branch. Rather than inviting the DCI to kick off the hearings as a lead witness, he simply read a letter Webster had written him promising the DCI’s and the community’s full cooperation. Webster also made clear that he too was moving to meet the challenges of the 1990s and that the SSCI’s efforts “cannot help but enlighten the process” of executive branch planning. He seemed as determined as Boren to indicate independence and initiative in defining how the community should reform.
Boren’s lead witnesses were the same trio he had used in 1989 on the DNI issue: former DDCI Inman, former NSA head Odom, and former ASD/C3I Latham. Inman offered a number of suggestions on various issues, including commending declassification of the overall intelligence budget figure. Regarding community leadership, he said he supported the Bush-era model, with a second DDCI for the community, as useful during a period of budget drawdown. He said he liked the DNI idea, too, but only in times when resources for intelligence were flush, thus deflecting Senator Specter’s favorite reform. Odom offered his usual praise for INT-oriented organizations and a number of other observations, including the view that community had serious structural flaws and that the president’s senior intelligence adviser had to be located right at his elbow, thus implicitly supporting a DNI-like concept. He concluded, however, that any reorganization should be undertaken by the executive branch and not by legislation.
Latham declared that a DNI could be effective only if he had full control of the intelligence purse as well as total responsibility for all activities of the community. He painted a threatening picture of the world, stressing the need to enhance intelligence support to US military operations and arguing for “a strong DOD role in the joint management of any national intelligence organization.” He gently threw cold water on the primacy of INT organizations by noting they were the “virtually standalone empires” of the community that needed to be knit together better for target-oriented tasks, including the first-order problem of improving support to the US military. If Boren’s objective was to air some ideas but leave the field open for contending opinions, he had chosen his initial witnesses well.
Webster’s IC Staff, told that senior CIA staffers were preparing a summary of actions CIA had taken in the last several years to cope with change, prepared for the DCI a similar list of efforts taken from the perspective of the community as a whole. It covered the efforts of ASD/C3I to re-think and re-order DOD intelligence, a project just then coming to fruition, and it mentioned the efforts of the DCI’s collection discipline committees to plan for a different future. It also stressed the importance of reprioritizing intelligence targets after the Cold War, both through the ordinary requirements processes and through task force projects to assist emphasis on economics, counterintelligence, and narcotics, noting CIA’s efforts to establish or strengthen various DCI “centers.”
Defense Intelligence Reform
March 1991 saw yet another intelligence reform surface that potentially affected the DCI’s community role. ASD/C3I Duane Andrews gained the secretary of defense’s approval of a plan for strengthening intelligence within DOD. Most of the plan’s elements involved improving support to military operations and OSD’s management of DOD’s intelligence programs and had little impact on the DCI. But consolidating control of DOD intelligence programs under a deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, or DASD(I), under Andrews seemed to some to threaten the DCI’s ability to deal directly with DOD intelligence program managers in formulating the NFIP. This new official was given control of the General Defense Intelligence Program (GDIP), a major NFIP component, replacing the head of DIA, who objected to the change. (Another change DOD adopted was the establishment in the major regional military commands of Joint Intelligence Centers, or JICs, enhancing the intelligence support available to combatant commanders in planning and conducting their operations.)
Andrews, like Webster, was hoping to fend off congressionally directed change, and he believed his ideas did not diminish the DCI’s community role. Lt. Gen. Norman Wood, the head of the IC Staff, felt otherwise. He acknowledged that much of the plan did not affect the DCI, but he believed that the new OSD program and budget control was a bad idea, both because it took it away from the head of DIA, a professional military officer, and because it might intrude into the DCI’s NFIP responsibilities. He felt strongly about the latter issue: “The effort by Duane to put himself in charge of all aspects of Defense Intelligence is potentially fatal to the DCI’s responsibilities and authorities under Executive Order 12333. I believe this should be opposed vigorously.”
DDCI Kerr was more relaxed, believing the scheme could be made to work but uncertain that it would prevent Congress from legislating its own ideas. Interestingly, he received from the IC Staff’s deputy head, William Lackman, a different view from that voiced by Wood. Lackman endorsed the new DOD plan to Kerr: “It is in the DCI’s interest to have a strong spokesman for intelligence matters in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.” This would help organize DOD inputs to the NFIP, he argued, and help coordinate the NFIP and TIARA elements of the overall budget, something often criticized in Congress. He also delved a bit into internal OSD history, noting that intelligence matters sometimes had been diffused among two or three different undersecretaries. He hoped for a strong ASD devoted just to intelligence (complaining that Andrews’s predecessor had spent much of his time on the “C3” element of his job) and noted that Congress had pushed that idea as well. “The DCI should support creation of an ASD(I),” Lackman wrote, hoping that Webster could weigh in and improve Andrews’s proposal. He agreed with Woods that the GDIP should remain under a military officer rather than be transferred to a senior OSD civilian (although he preferred the newly strengthened J2 on the Joint Staff to the Director of DIA for this role).
Support to Military Operations
Dan Childs’s work on the community study was scarcely complete when, on the eve of Webster’s departure, Dick Kerr chartered him and another senior CIA officer, NIO for Warning Charles Allen, to lead a study of how intelligence support to the US military might be improved in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. Although an IC Staff study on the topic had been published, the DDCI wanted a CIA-led effort to get some additional ideas moving, and Webster—who would be gone before the new report would be submitted—was willing to have his deputy see the effort through. The report of this interagency study group was turned in to Kerr in his last days as acting DCI, in November 1991, and it showed the difficulty of bridging DOD’s and the DCI’s points of view. DIA wrote a dissenting footnote, for example, asserting that the report, which purportedly examined NFIP-wide performance, addressed mainly the performance of non-DOD elements in the community. DIA stressed, in footnotes, the necessity for those non-DOD elements to integrate into DOD systems when war loomed, whereas the report emphasized their integration into a national war effort.
The report provided grist for future thinking about reforms on a topic that came to be central to the Intelligence Community in the 1990s. Indeed, the topic of intelligence support to the military had come to a head during the Gulf War in February 1991 when Webster had questioned the degree of damage caused to Iraqi forces by coalition air attacks prior to the ground campaign. Webster’s comments occasioned a backlash of dissatisfaction within the military that fed future efforts to improve intelligence support to the military—especially imagery support—and to keep the topic of battle damage assessment restricted to the Pentagon, and indeed, to the professional military.
Establishment of DCI “Centers”
One initiative associated with Webster was the establishment at CIA of several “centers” aimed at strengthening the overall intelligence effort on especially important topics. Casey had set up the first such center, devoted to countering terrorism, in 1986. The terrorist attacks of the mid-1980s cried out for improvement in intelligence on this front, which had been a Reagan administration concern from its first day. Webster believed centers were a useful way to increase community teamwork, and he established additional ones for countering narcotics trafficking, coordinating counterintelligence, and supporting arms control policy.
Each of these efforts had its unique features, but common to them all was lack of clarity as to whether they were properly “community” bodies. From a CIA perspective, they enhanced joint work between CIA and other organizations and hence were “community” initiatives (most were styled as “DCI” centers). Observers outside CIA, however, saw them more as “CIA” centers. All the centers included officers from other agencies but were headed by CIA officers and located at CIA headquarters. In the case of narcotics, the head of the IC Staff in late 1988 offered himself as chairman of a “DCI Foreign Counternarcotics Intelligence Committee,” but Webster opted instead to have the CIA officer he had selected to head the new center chair any needed community-wide committees or activities regarding narcotics. Most notably, the centers were the organizational manifestations of an issue-oriented approach to intelligence, an approach that became increasingly attractive in later years.
The counterintelligence center set up in 1988 mainly bolstered CIA’s emphasis on this important mission (enhanced cooperation between the CIA’s directorates was regarded as a key novel feature) although community-wide training was envisaged. The FBI participated in it, but was slow to assign a permanent senior representative. Also, the center did not encompass all elements of the CIA-FBI relationship or of the DCI’s overall counterintelligence and security responsibilities, which continued to be handled in the IC Staff. The counternarcotics center set up in 1989 involved major players outside as well as inside the Intelligence Community and was more prominently known outside CIA. The DCI’s Arms Control Intelligence Staff (ACIS), set up also in 1989, essentially promoted CIA’s longtime staff supporting arms control policymaking to the status of a DCI “center” (although it continued to be called a staff), moving it from CIA’s DI into the office of the DCI (in a somewhat changed form, it returned to the DI in 2002).
Casey had given high personal priority to national counterintelligence policies and coordination, an area related to the DCI’s responsibility under the law to protect sources and methods but also one that involved parts of the federal government beyond the Intelligence Community. Webster, who at the FBI had built up counterintelligence capabilities long viewed as secondary to law enforcement efforts, cooperated with Congress in strengthening coordination on these topics. In early 1989, SSCI set up a panel of experts headed by New York businessman Eli Jacobs to examine the nation’s capabilities in this regard, and in the spring of 1990 it produced a set of recommendations. Webster played an important role in providing community support to the panel and in helping the administration fashion by October 1990 a presidential directive that charged the DCI with coordinating the interagency effort to achieve a comprehensive set of goals.
Problems with the security of American embassies abroad had become a major issue in the 1980s. The 1983 bombings in Lebanon of the US Embassy and of barracks housing US Marines highlighted the terrorist threat to US facilities abroad. Discovery of Soviet tampering with electric typewriters being shipped to the US Embassy in Moscow, and then of Soviet technical penetration of the new US Embassy building under construction there, raised counterintelligence concerns to a new level. A panel headed by former DDCI Inman studied the matter and recommended extensive improvements.
By 1988, congressional pressures led the White House to insist that the DCI take a leading role in devising new standards to improve embassy security. Webster had not sought this task, which went beyond exercising an Intelligence Community role, but he accepted it as appropriate to his responsibility in helping to lead government-wide counterintelligence and security efforts. He formed a Security Evaluation Office (SEO) to advise, consult, set standards, assess, and otherwise assist the Department of State on this issue (over the objections of CIA’s chief security officer, who felt he should have been assigned the task). Unfortunately, the issue brought nothing but difficulties at the working level and a confrontation with Secretary of State George Shultz.
Webster tried to make the initiative palatable to State. He made it clear that he wanted only a non-operational advisory and standard-setting role and that SEO was a DCI, not a CIA, entity. He placed it within his own office and sought to have a State Department officer serve as its deputy chief. To head it, he chose Fred Hutchinson, a counterintelligence specialist and senior executive at CIA.
Despite this approach, and several personal attempts by Webster at bilateral fence-mending, Shultz regarded the effort as an intrusion into his management sphere and did not accept the “joint enterprise” label Webster attached to his role. Shultz’s approach may well have been shaped in part by the staff support he received from State’s senior security officer, who was adamantly against the initiative, as well as from the generally anti-CIA attitude of many in the foreign service. Ronald Spiers, Shultz’s undersecretary for management, tried to be helpful, pointing out that Webster was trying to help State cope with congressional dissatisfaction with its security performance in the field, but he could do little against the tide of bad feeling in State toward CIA.
Shultz was reluctant to grant the DCI leadership of the office, and he objected to Webster’s insistence that its employees, including State Department officers, undergo lifestyle polygraph examinations. Webster and Shulz and their deputies were unable to reach agreement despite multiple exchanges of views, and the issue ended up on appeal at the White House, which had issued the original orders to set up the office. Webster was upset over Shultz’s suggestion that the Intelligence Community budget pay for much of the cost of new security measures and objected to Shultz’s unilateral call for a meeting of the comptrollers of Intelligence Community organizations to consider this option. Shultz had written directly to the president on the matter, noting that the State Department’s budget could not absorb all the new costs and telling him that he was exploring “a transfer of appropriations from intelligence community accounts to the Department to help fund the new building [in Moscow].” Upon learning of the letter, Webster immediately wrote to the president as well, objecting to using such monies for basic embassy construction costs at the expense of the intelligence collection mission.
In this episode, Webster dealt firmly with a cabinet officer over an issue he had accepted as being within his area of responsibility, attempting both to resolve it and to defend his leadership role. It no doubt dismayed him that he was unable to do more to reach agreement, but policy decisionmaking in the Reagan White House in 1988 probably allowed him no better option. By the time Colin Powell had become Reagan’s final national security adviser, he helped Shultz and Webster continue their dialogue up to the end of the administration. The issue carried over into the Bush administration, but by the time Webster submitted his first required report on the new enterprise to the president in July 1989, he was able to emphasize areas of progress and achievement in working with James Baker, Shultz’s successor as secretary of state.
Early in 1991, Webster came under public fire as the administration went to war in Iraq. A late February broadside in the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Senator Specter as saying “The Intelligence Community is virtually rudderless.” The article portrayed Webster as under attack in Washington and a non-player in key administration meetings. The chairmen of both congressional intelligence oversight committees commented on the need to review the performance of intelligence and possibly reorganize the community, and Senator Moynihan introduced legislation to abolish CIA. A noticeable absence of defenders of Webster made it clear that the DCI had suffered political damage. Public dissatisfaction with intelligence expressed by members of Congress had become a new element affecting the DCI in Washington’s bureaucratic wars.
In early May 1991, Webster called the president and told him of his decision to leave office. He believed that the political atmosphere foretold a period of reform and retrenchment for intelligence and did not wish to preside over a dismantling of the capabilities he led. He stayed on until late summer, but the hearings on his successor, Robert Gates, unexpectedly dragged on, leaving CIA and the community after August in the hands of his deputy. Webster opposed a bill proposed by Senator John Glenn (D-OH) that would require Senate confirmation of all senior CIA executives, but he made clear to national security adviser Brent Scowcroft (who also opposed the bill) and Gates that he would tailor his dealings with Congress on the issue to fit Gates’s own circumspect and noncommittal approach, thus leaving his successor maximum flexibility in dealing with senators in connection with his confirmation hearings. By this time, Webster was content to see action on change put off until after his departure.
The winds of change that had been building when Webster took office became stronger during his tenure despite a generally good performance by intelligence in supporting US military forces in the Gulf War and in predicting the failed coup attempt against Gorbachev (an event that occurred just days prior to Webster’s departure from office). The public attacks on Webster’s leadership in 1991 unfairly disregarded his encouragement of many processes of change, but they demonstrated that a DCI needed to appear to be more visibly in charge and more aggressive in embracing his leadership role. The SSCI was willing to defer until 1992 action on reform, but it remained determined to do something in law to strengthen the DCI’s community leadership position. In the meantime, it dealt with the task of confirming Robert Gates, the person President Bush had chosen to protect and improve the Intelligence Community he himself had once headed.