Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Intelligent Americans

Next week, CIA Director Leon Panetta will discuss the future of national security in what will be one of the three safest talks at The Commonwealth Club in 2009 – the other two having already been given by FBI Director Robert Mueller earlier this month and by Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair this past September. All events have more than your usual attention paid to on-site security. (At such events, one is tempted to advise attendees against making any sudden moves.)

The talks come at the end of a decade that has, for the American intelligence community, been tumultuous to say the least. Drastic changes following the events of 9/11, the challenges of pursuing Bin Laden and the host of problems presented by the Iraq war have given rise to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, human rights violations, wire-tapping issues and, dare we mention it, a hunt for weapons of mass destruction whose existence was hotly contested.

The decade has also seen unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and the FBI – agencies whose odd-couple mismatch of culture and purpose appears to be rapidly dissolving in the face of threats both at home and abroad.

In one of the stranger developments in American counter-terrorism, there has been unheard-of outsourcing of erstwhile domestic operations (information gathering, law enforcement and cyber-crime prevention, etc.) to independent contractors. Though this has allowed for rapid, flexible responses to agencies' logistical problems, it is also responsible for the scandal surrounding Xe (the contractor formerly known as Blackwater).

During Panetta’s visit on October 23, we look forward to learning what the famously clandestine CIA sees as its biggest challenges going forward, and what it must do in order to meet them. More information on the upcoming talk is available at The Commonwealth Club's web site.

--By Andrew Harrison


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