CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Air Force Association conference today that the enormous increase in CIA agents since 911 "is causing unique stresses for us."
Hayden, who retired from the Air Force in July, ticked off some numbers to illustrate the rapid increase in the number of field agents. The National Clandestine Service budget has increased four-fold since 2000, fueling a 44 percent increase in staff and a 40 percent increase in stations and bases overseas, resulting in triple the amount of intelligence reporting coming through the pipeline.
But many of these new agents operate under non official covers, leaving them without the diplomatic status that protected so many CIA officers during the Cold War. They were able to rely on embassies and the State Department for help taking care of their families. Now many of the new recruits don't have access to that support, Hayden said. Their families and neighbors may not know who they really work for. While the agent is overseas, often in harms way, their families are largely alone and cannot call on the support the military provides its families while a soldier or airman is deployed to foreign lands.
On top of the increase in agents, the director of intelligence -- who leads the agency's analysts -- has hired more half of its analysts since Sept. 11, something Hayden called "a scary statistic."
Most these new analysts are hired out of college and have little experience of the outside world, for the most part, posing a "significant challenge for the agency," Hayden said. CIA can't afford to wait 15 or 20 years for these analysts to develop the intimate knowledge and experience they need to do a good job. "We find one of the best ways is to kick them out of Langley and get them into the field," Hayden said. Complicating the agency's recruitment of analysts is the fact that unlike during the Cold War, academia has not shifted many resources to provide more courses and professors studying the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran as they did in creating Russian and Soviet studies departments.
Hayden also detailed a major strategic shift in CIA operations since 911. During the Cold War much of the information gathered by the CIA was strategic, used by the president and military leadership to plan the way ahead and help make major policy decisions. Today, Hayden said, the agency has shifted course, generating a great deal of what he called "operational" intelligence. This new approach relies a great deal on close cooperation with the military, he said. "We use military operations to excite the enemy, prompting him to respond," and that response generates even more intelligence, the director said. This is, he said, "a highly virtuous cycle."