CIA chief weighs ambitious overhaul of US spy agency

This Feb 4, 2014 file photo shows Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan as he testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee on worldwide threats at the US Capitol. -- PHOTO: AFP
This Feb 4, 2014 file photo shows Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan as he testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee on worldwide threats at the US Capitol. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - CIA director John Brennan has ordered a sweeping internal review that could dramatically change how the country's leading spy agency is organised, officials said Thursday.

In a Sept 24 message to employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, Brennan said it was time "we take a close and honest look at ourselves" and examine whether the spy service needed to be restructured to be more effective.

"I have mentioned several times over the past year that I have become increasingly convinced that the time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organised as an agency and at whether our current structure, and ways of doing business, need adjustment to ensure our future success," Brennan said in the message, portions of which were provided to AFP.

Brennan in late September asked several experienced intelligence officers "to conduct an in-depth review to determine whether the agency is optimised for enduring mission effectiveness, specifically in the areas of integration, agility and resilience," CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said.

The review was first reported by the Washington Post. And the newspaper, citing current and former intelligence officials, said the overhaul could include dismantling separate spying and analysis divisions in the CIA to build units focused on specific geographic regions or threats.

Boyd said the officers carrying out the review are still "in the information gathering stage" and it was too soon to say what possible options might be in play.

The impetus for a potential restructuring came in part because Brennan had become frustrated with efforts to bolster US intelligence on the situation in Syria, where American warplanes are now bombing Islamic State militants even as a complex civil war rages in the country.

But Boyd said no crisis in particular prompted the review.

"There was not a singular event or singular threat that triggered the review," Boyd told AFP. "We're in a time when there are an incredible number of diverse threats, ranging from cyber to threats in the Middle East, to Ukraine, and others.

"We need to periodically evaluate ourselves so we are best positioned to meet these and future challenges."

The CIA's performance has come under criticism in recent years, with lawmakers accusing the agency of failing to grasp the importance of Arab uprisings at their outset and for failing to anticipate the onslaught of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Some experts and former intelligence officers worry the CIA has become pre-occupied with paramilitary operations - such as drone strikes on Al-Qaeda extremists - at the expense of traditional intelligence gathering and analysis.

In his note to CIA "colleagues," Brennan - who once worked as an intelligence officer - said he has been struck by how technological advances now enable the agency to leverage data and expertise "in a real-time fashion."

The agency needed to take full advantage of the new technology to ensure the CIA carried out its mission "with the speed, agility, and efficacy that are expected of us," he wrote.