November 21, 2008

Has the CIA Created Another Ombuds Program?

A New York Times article on an internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency into the accidental downing of a missionary plane in Peru in 2001 reveals that the agency may have created an Ombuds program earlier this year. A report by John L. Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general, said that the agency routinely authorized interceptions of suspected drug planes “without adequate safeguards to protect against the loss of innocent life.” According to the Times, Helgerson agreed to a series of changes earlier this year, including the creation of an Ombuds position to hear complaints from CIA officers being scrutinized by the IG. This corroborates reports from earlier this year, based on leaked internal emails, of a new CIA Ombuds program. (NY Times;

These recent developments would seem to imply that there had not been an Ombuds program at the CIA previously, but a 2004 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee indicates otherwise. When the Senate investigated the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war, it took testimony from the CIA's Ombuds (who reported that the "hammering" of analysts was more severe than he had ever seen in his 32-year career). In summarizing that testimony, the Senate report offers this glimpse into the structure of the CIA Ombuds program:
The CIA created the position of Ombudsman for Politicization in 1992 to respond to alleged issues of politicization and analytic distortion. According to the Ombudsman's Charter, the position serves as an "independent, informal, and confidential counselor for those who have complaints about politicization, biased reporting, or lack of objective analysis. The Ombudsman reports directly to the Director of Central Intelligence.

In his testimony, the CIA Ombuds revealed that he had launched a "formal investigation" after receiving a verbal complaint that an intelligence report was misleading. There is no indication that the Ombuds asserted a privilege or revealed the names of the individuals he consulted. (Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence via FAS Intelligence Resource Program; LA Times; US News & World Report.)

So the CIA apparently had an Ombuds program from 1992 until at least 2004. Then, in 2008, the agency agreed to create an Ombuds program for IG matters. Are there now two programs in place? Or was the first program shut down? These questions and others are likely never to be answered. The CIA Ombuds program is not mentioned in the comprehensive Report to the President on Federal ADR Programs, which includes 42 different agencies and departments, nor does the CIA have any representation on the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen.

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