The CIA, the U.S. Senate, Spying, and Leadership

By | March 16, 2014

[March 16, 2014]  Earlier this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman accused the CIA of “spying” on the committee that she leads.  The CIA accused her committee of unauthorized access to CIA computer systems to obtain classified information.  At the heart of this unusual situation is the committee’s investigation of CIA interrogation techniques following the 9/11 terrorists attacks. 

The leadership angle to the story is not so easy to see; the failures and the successes.  The drama however is in-your-face Theater.  In a different part of the Capitol, yet another high profile committee investigation is on-going that involves a House of Representatives Committee and the IRS “scandal on targeting of conservative organizations.” 

But first, two pertinent facts about the CIA investigation:

  1. The Senate Investigation Committee has oversight of the CIA and is attempting to show how the CIA was involved in illegal methods of “torture” of terror suspects across the globe after 9/11.
  2. Disagreements between two important U.S. government organizations have been going on behind closed doors since the investigation began sometime before 2010.  It was a surprise to many of us that the Senate has been doing this investigation for at least 4 years and possibly longer. 

Remember that senior leaders establish mission and the strategy to carry it out.  Strategy provides direction, ensures efficient use of resources, and establishes organizational direction.  Without strategy, the organization has no purpose and drift occurs; wasting time and money, creating animosities, driving good workers out, and putting the organization at a disadvantage. 

There is little doubt that these two government organizations have established a clear and comprehensive strategy to accomplish their mission, and given their importance, both vetted and approved by the President himself. 

There are many problems with this situation; and that while it is not easy to navigate the sea of problems here, it nevertheless demands competent, skillful senior leadership.  At the most fundamental level, the American public demands that our security and value systems be protected.  The CIA’s task is to help protect the United States and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s task is to ensure that it does exactly that. 

The scope of this investigation does not appear, on the surface at least, to adhere to this principle.  It is also unclear how the White House synchronizes these two activities.  The fact that some of the conflict has gone public is telling – confirming that major players do not agree that their strategies are compatible.  At the very least, there is a serious breakdown in communication between the two sides.  More likely, the failure of senior leadership has failed to provide a successful way ahead. 

Until more level heads prevail and senior leadership improves, we will continue to see dysfunctional developments, more animosity, miscommunication, and a widening gap between the two organizations that should be displaying mature processes.  An unintended consequence will be that the American public is exposed to greater risks.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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