How does the government, especially the Executive, but the Congress and the Judiciary as well, ensure accountability in the essentially clandestine intelligence field? While it appears that the CIA spun both the press and the White House in terms of the success of its intelligence gathering, the question remains how to oversee such claims? Is the intelligence community an enormous bureaucracy that protects its own interests, sometimes to the detriment of the government and people it is charged with protecting and serving? Of course it is. The question is how to minimize exaggerated or outright false data that may be used to justify any given program or approach to intelligence gathering. And that means answering the question of how one can possibly independently measure the data that the CIA or NSA or any of the 17 “elements” or agencies of the community that collect and analyze data? Perhaps the multiplicity of agencies is not merely turf-staking, but also is meant to provide a multiplicity of viewpoints, as Rumsfeld suggested about 10 years ago. That would mean that the 17 elements of the intelligence community keep each other in check. Given the complexity and secrecy of intelligence gathering and analysis, that hardly sounds like a reassuring proposition.

But the question remains: how can you possibly measure success of any intelligence program on say, a quarterly or annual basis? As if it were the latest job numbers out of Washington? How can you do it when the very act of independently measuring any data obtained might jeopardize the program itself? How can you hold intelligence agencies accountable without undermining their capability to perform their job? The same press that heaps scorn on alleged CIA abuses will lambast them should any terrorist succeed in harming American interests or Americans, at home or abroad.

Clearly the government’s oversight of the intelligence community is a difficult, if not impossible task, and one they must do. Perhaps this release of the report in question is a tactic meant to pressure the CIA and other agencies to provide more credible data, if this in fact is a persistent problem. Unfortunately, in former CIA deputy director Phillip Mudd’s words, “we either get out and sell, or we get hammered.” For this to change, both the government, and the intelligence community need to agree on oversight that is measurable and effective. That’s a tall order for an unwieldy bureaucracy that is also a firewall against violent attack on life on property. Perhaps less getting out and selling and more cooperation, rather than grandstanding, on all sides would be a first step. And measuring success in a way that doesn’t drown in due process would help.