What makes intelligence agencies tick? In search of a causal mechanism in CIA administrative behavior

Master's Thesis, 2016
73 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1 Introduction: environments and decisions

2 Literature overview: the relevant data sources and theoretical inputs

3 Method: how to use CPT for theory-building

4 Concept specification: What is an intelligence agency?

5 Inspiration: building a first theoretical construct
5.1 The macro-level perspective: a simple principal-agent-model
5.2 Going deeper: micro-level implications of secrecy

6 Collecting evidence: explaining the torture case with CPT
6.1 Comprehensive storyline: a macro-level tale of institutional torture
6.2 Causal chain: a micro-level retracing ofthe steps
6.2.1 Phase 1: setting the stage in 2001
6.2.2 Phase 2: the rationalization of torture in 2002
6.2.3 Phase 3: the EITs’ institutionalization in 2003
6.3 Leveraging the inspiration: How do the preliminary hypotheses hold up?

7 Refinement: building a causal mechanism

8 Conclusion

Appendix: Event-driven table of EIT history


Register of Illustrations

Graphic 1: Typology of Causal Mechanisms According to the Focus of this Study

Graphic 2: Concept Specification According to Goertz’ (2006) Three-level Framework

Graphic 3: Macro-level Model Following Plausible Deniability Principle

Graphic 4: Causal Chain Leading to the Institutionalization of Torture at the CIA

Graphic 5: The Causal Mechanism Endemic to Intelligence Agency Bureaucracies


This study applies theory-building causal process tracing to the institutionalization of the CIA's EIT programme. It thereby identifies a casual mechanism endemic to a public bureaucracy that functions as an intelligence agency. Secrecy practices and the nature of covert action create an imperfect information market, wherein informal influence is concentrated in small groups. The actions of these small groups might hamper organizational learning and lead to organizational dysfunctions. In the case of the CIA this is shown to be relevant because of the central role the agency's Counterterrorism Center played in the causal chain leading up to the EIT institutionalization. Future studies should test this mechanism in the context of intelligence agencies other than the CIA.

Index of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 Introduction: environments and decisions

In 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was about to launch a new interrogation programme, involving torture[1] techniques, for high-value detainees associated with al-Qaeda. Long-time CIA lawyer and at that time the agency’s acting General Counsel, John Rizzo, was heavily involved in rationalizing the so-called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EITs); so much so that some even labelled him the “CIA Torture Advocate”[2]. In his memoirs, he writes that after seeing a picture of the very first man the CIA would go on to torture he was...

...struck [...] by how ordinary and unprepossessing - almost nerdy - he looked. It caused me to recall the famous title of Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book on the trial of Adolph [sic] Eichmann: The Banality of Evil. (Rizzo 2014: 182)

Unfortunately, Rizzo does not further elaborate on this spontaneous association and does, therefore, not see the immense irony in his statement. Hannah Arendt’s (1963) baffling insights about the Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann[3] rings true not just for al- Qaeda terrorists, as John Rizzo insinuates. But they ironically seem fit to describe CIA bureaucrats, just like Rizzo himself, involved in institutionalizing torture techniques:

[I]t would have been very comforting indeed to believe that Eichmann was a monster [...] The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. [...] this new type of criminal [...] commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong. (Arendt 1963: 276)

Experienced, well-educated and highly professional CIA bureaucrats, like Rizzo, were not ill-meaning, let alone sadistic or barbaric torturers. In fact, reading their memoirs, one gets the impression that they are “terribly normal”. The key issue seems to have been, that they worked in an organizational setting that made it “well- nigh impossible” for them to properly distinguish between “right and wrong”, just like Hannah Arendt (1963) has described for Eichmann. As a result, a governmental agency in a highly developed democracy and working according to the rule of law “tortured some folks”.[4]

While Hannah Arendt (1963), however, was focused on the philosophical and legal implications of the human conscience, this study will look at the decision-making process from an administrative behaviour perspective (Simon 1945). This enables us to focus on the organizational setting of an intelligence agency bureaucrat and the bounds to the individual’s rational decision-making ability that it creates (ibid.). Why did CIA bureaucrats decide to institutionalize a morally ambiguous as well as ineffective practice like torture?

From experience we know that those intelligence agency bureaucrats play a very influential role in politics, especially where foreign policy is concerned (Gates 1987; Stuart 2008). It should be a priority for political scientists to fully understand in what psychological environment bureaucrats like John Rizzo have to make wide reaching decisions.

To achieve this, the study will engage in a theory-building causal process tracing (Beach & Pedersen 2013) analysis of the CIA’s EIT programme that thrived budget- wise for several years. It will set out to understand how the inhumane and ineffective EIT programme could be institutionalized by the CIA. As will be shown, this is a clear case of an unintended consequence and dysfunctional organizational learning resulting from the structural characteristics of an intelligence agency.

From a case selection perspective, the CIA’s EIT programme could be considered a “least likely crucial case” (Gerring 2007). A torture programme that would be usually associated with authoritarian regimes was institutionalized in a rule-of-law-based democracy with low corruption levels, highly professional bureaucrats, and a high degree of control via free press. In addition, due to the fact that this study wishes to engage in a theoretically ambitious process tracing, the case selection needs to be based on two more criteria: socio-political relevance and data availability. Both of these criteria are fulfilled in this case. The institutionalization of torture techniques at the CIA was a clear departure from a recent socio-political consensus in the U.S. that outlawed such methods and it is very well documented via independent reports as well as CIA insider memoirs.

Analyzing the EIT case and drawing general inspiration from overall CIA history, this study especially focuses on unintended consequences produced by an intelligence agency bureaucracy (cf. chapter 6.3). The causal mechanism will describe how the structural characteristics of an intelligence agency differ from other public bureaucracies (cf. chapter 7): The vast amount of secrecy creates an imperfect information market, in which informal influence is centralized in small groups, which have access to and authority over the largest amount of information. In part as a result, the action alternatives of set small groups are expanded: They are given the authority to classify reports and interpret vague orders by their principal, who wants to retain his plausible deniability (i.e. the situational mechanism). Then, following the logic of “bounded rationality”, the small groups try to maximize their utility functions specifically focusing on the goals of their subunit (i.e. the action-formation mechanism). Utilizing their informal influence, classifying information and interpreting orders according to the subunit’s goals, the groups’ interaction create a macro-level consequence not intended by the intelligence agency as a whole: Organizational learning is hampered, inter alia by small groups’ covering up their miscalculations (i.e. the transformational mechanism).

This theory in part explains why CIA bureaucrats decided to institutionalize a morally ambiguous as well as ineffective practice like torture in the early 2000s (cf. chapter 6.2). A small group of bureaucrats in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center had both the opportunity and the motive to push the development of the EIT programme, while also having the ability to cover up their miscalculations after the fact. They used their power position in the imperfect information market to convince their superiors (inside and outside the agency) that their methods were effective when they were not (cf. chapter 6.1). Organizational learning was impossible.

The study will proceed as follows: Chapter 2 gives a short overview over the literature that on the one hand serves as an empirical data base and on the other hand provides theoretical input for this study’s endeavour. In preparation of the theory-building effort itself, the chapters 3 and 4 explicate in detail the method and the concept specification laying out central definitions. Subsequently, the study will continue with an explorative part drawing inspiration from CIA history and deducing preliminary hypotheses that will guide the following analysis (cf. chapter 5), an evidence collection section including the actual CPT and testing the preliminary hypotheses (cf. chapter 6), and a theory refinement part that constructs a potentially generalizable causal mechanism based on the CPT insights (cf. chapter 7). Lastly, chapter 8 will provide a short conclusion.

2 Literature overview: the relevant data sources and theoretical inputs

The relevant empirical data for this study includes almost every qualitative account of CIA history. They will be used for illustration or probing during theory-building and for the CPT itself. The following paragraphs provide a quick overview over the relevant literature landscape.

When it comes to analyzing, understanding, and explaining CIA behavior, three broad fields of literature can be identified: atheoretical historical accounts including official reports, “grand strategy” explanations, and a number of bureaucratic politics model studies.

Firstly, various atheoretical historical accounts have succeeded in unveiling the formerly secret history of this agency (cf. Schlesinger 1965; Ranelagh 1986; Jeffreys­Jones 1989; Andrew 1995; Zegart 1999; Mitrovich 2000; Danner 2004; Sands 2009; Moran 2015). This category also includes both kinds of primary sources these idiographic studies use: official reports and memoirs by central actors. On one hand, official reports include documents by the U.S. Congress (cf. ACHRE 1995), documents by the National Security Council (cf. NSC 10/2), and CIA internal memoranda (cf. Kirkpatrick 1962). On the other, memoirs of relevant actors (cf. Kissinger 1979; Nixon 1990; Yoo 2006; Tenet 2007; Bush 2010; Soufan 2011; Rodriguez 2012; Rizzo 2014) will be used in a triangulating fashion (Marks 2007). This body of literature is labeled “atheoretical” here, because it lacks theoretical explanations and therefore fails to provide generalizable insights for other intelligence agencies. In other words, they stay in the realm of configurative-idiographic studies that “do not easily add up” (Verba cited by Eckstein 2000: 137).

The historical accounts that do in fact try to provide a generalizable theoretical framework for understanding CIA administrative behavior can be labeled “grand strategy” theory explanations here (cf. Gaddis 2007; Heuser 2010; Kennan 2012). These authors construct an overarching policy strategy (e.g., “containment”) trying to explain U.S. foreign policy (Corke 2010). However, these works are often overly simplistic and do not take into account the insights that organizational theory has thusly provided since the 1950s (Long 2014; Gruban & Woidich 2016). In addition, by posing grand strategies like “containment” as the explanans, these studies mostly fail to differentiate between these macro-level organizational goals (that actually might be as simple as a “grand strategy”) and the micro-level motivations of involved actors.[5]

Distinct from these two broad sets of historical literature, there exists a subset of studies explicitly applying organizational theory or bureaucratic politics models to U.S. governmental agencies (cf. Allison 1971; Payan 2006; Schickler 2010; Long 2014). However, even though classifying different types of organizations (cf. March 1965) - as well as bureaucrats (cf. Downs 1967) - has always been a part of the theoretical undertaking, an intelligence agency specific theory of administrative behavior is still missing. Most similar to the goal of this endeavor is a lesser known study by political scientist Todd Stiefler (2004). However, his description of the CIA employee as a risk-averse bureaucrat lacks methodological considerations (i.e. no discernible case study method), empirical detail (i.e. very few observations per case), and theoretical underpinnings (i.e. very little references to existing theoretical works, let alone organizational theory).

To a certain extent, organizational theory and bureaucratic politics models are “blunt instruments” explaining the behavior of all kinds of different government agencies without acknowledging the eccentricities of the “secret services”. This study seeks to address this deficiency in the literature landscape by tapping into already existing literature concerning governmental secrecy and unintended consequences in organizations. In this respect, it will especially draw on Georg Simmel (1908), Max Weber (1922), Herbert Simon (1945), Philip Selznick (1949), Daniel Moynihan (1994), and Scott Horton (2015). It will investigate what theoretical causal mechanism is endemic to the bureaucratic system of an intelligence agency. Or put differently: What might be a systemic reason for intelligence agency bureaucrats to behave differently from bureaucrats in other public administrations?

3 Method: how to use CPT for theory-building

The methodology of qualitative case studies is consistently not subjected to adequate reflection and therefore often not properly understood (Gerring 2007). Even very influential case studies often lack methodological considerations and use the terms “CPT” or “causal mechanism” very loosely without much reflection (cf. Mansfield & Snyder 2005). This chapter aims to address this deficiency by outlining the method of this study in more detail. It will first explain theory-building causal process tracing as the method of this study, then go on to explicate the concept of causal mechanisms central to this research, and lastly explain how deductive and historical inspiration will be the starting point for this study’s analysis.

Firstly, this study will be a heuristic case study, like Eckstein (2000) suggests in his typology of case studies. Unlike configurative-idiographic studies, heuristic case studies analyze one specific case and the manifestation of one specific outcome in detail in order to identify potentially generalizable relations. They, therefore, tie well into theory-building efforts and can be, in Verba’s sense, “easily added up” in follow­up research (Eckstein 2000). This study will concentrate on intelligence agencies, more specifically the case of the CIA, as a special form of public bureaucracies and the unintended consequences they might produce. For the most part this study explores the case of the institutionalization of the EIT programme at the CIA.

Methodically, this study will engage in causal process tracing (CPT) as described by Gerring (2007), Blatter and Haverland (2012), as well as Beach and Pederson (2013). At its basis, theory-building CPT looks at empirical evidence in order to uncover a plausible hypothetical mechanism linking the outcome of interest with a cause. The concept of causal mechanisms will be explained later in this chapter. For now it should suffice to say that on the macro-level this study analyzes the following two phenomena: The causes looked at in this study are the structural idiosyncrasies of an intelligence agency that differentiate them from other public bureaucracies (cf. chapter 4), while the outcomes are unintended consequences found in their administrative behaviour. In other words, this study looks at the theoretical dysfunctions of an intelligence agency from an organizational theory perspective.

CPT always adopts a configurational understanding of causality in that it tries to identify a complex configuration of different causal factors (X1, X2, X3,...) that led, in a certain temporal composition, to the outcome of interest (Y) (Blatter & Haverland 2012). This approach helps to identify a causal chain composed of necessary and/or sufficient conditions (Goertz & Levy 2007). Some of these conditions have created path dependencies (Pierson 2000) for other following conditions and are therefore called critical junctures (Goertz & Levy 2007). In other words, before a critical juncture in a causal chain a range of different outcomes is possible. After it, though, the range of possible outcomes is substantially limited, giving this condition its significance (ibid.).

Furthermore, CPT always implies a counterfactual argumentation strategy (Goertz & Levy 2007). The underlying reflection is always, whether the outcome of interest might have happened in the absence of the alleged necessary condition. This leads to the problematic situation in which “one finds oneself comparing states of affairs as they exist to states of affairs as they might have existed” (Gerring 2007: 182). This study will follow the proximity criterion (Fearon 1996) to address this problem. It forces the researcher to limit his counterfactual argument to highly local situations, “in which the hypothetical antecedent and consequent are close together in time and separated by a small number of causal steps” (Fearon 1996: 66). In addition to this requirement, a counterfactual argument that involves individuals’ decision-making necessitates a behavioural model (Cederman 1996). For this, this study will follow the rational choice model[6] developed by Barbara Geddes (2010) in order to predict individual behaviour on the micro-level. In light of the concept of critical junctures in particular, Geddes’ (2010) understanding of rational choice is very useful, because “rational choice arguments often provide sufficient leverage for explaining path- dependent outcomes” (Geddes 2010: 190).

Central to the qualitative data base of this CPT are “smoking gun” observations that can be derived either from central actors’ confessions (in the form of memoirs or interview minutes) or primary sources such as legal memoranda or email traffic. A “smoking gun” is an observation that is sufficient for causal inference but not necessary (Collier 2011: 827). It alludes to the situation, where the person holding a smoking gun can be assumed guilty of murdering the shot victim in the room. The absence of a gun, however, does not mean set person is innocent. Smoking gun observations derived from memoirs or other literary accounts by central actors will constantly be checked for their plausibility and cross-referenced with official reports, in order to deal with their potential systematic bias.

The level of analysis is very important in this CPT. Throughout the study, the analysis will refer to two separate, but intertwined levels of analysis: Firstly, the macro-level analyzes an intelligence agency as a unitary actor in order to identify broad structural forces. This level, therefore, focuses on the intelligence agency as an organization. Secondly, the micro-level opens up the black box of an intelligence agency aiming to establish a methodological individualism. On this second level of analysis, this study will follow the aforementioned rational choice model developed by Geddes (2010). Since a full account of her approach would exceed the limitations of this study, only three selected aspects will be acknowledged as they are central to this study’s micro-level: Firstly, the individual or small groups are the primary unit of analysis, which implies a methodological individualism. Secondly, “psychological and cognitive mechanisms that underlie individual action” (Geddes 2010: 222) should be paid special attention. And lastly, “contextual factors that systematically influence actors’ behaviour” (Geddes 2010: 222) should be identified. Geddes’ (2010) third point is not strictly restricted to the micro-level but actually hints at a connection to the macro-level. The special attention paid to these contextual factors necessitates an in­depth review of macro-level forces, which in turn explains the inclusion of both levels within this study (cf. chapter 6).

Secondly, at the heart of this study is the social sciences’ concept of causal mechanisms (Bunge 1997; Hedström & Ylikoski 2010; Blatter & Haverland 2012). The idea of mechanismic explanations is based on the notion that the simple causal linking of macro properties (such as “democracy” and “peace”) in the social sciences is unsatisfactory (Hedström & Ylikoski 2010). Thus, a link to the micro-level, i.e. the individual actors and their actions, is necessary for a deeper understanding. Drawing a parallel to the natural sciences, social scientist Mario Bunge (1997) argues that “no event or process is regarded as having been satisfactorily understood unless its actual or possible mechanism has been unveiled” (Bunge 1997: 454). He argued that causal mechanisms are therefore a systemic alternative to either individualistic or holistic explanatory models (ibid.). The advantage of this conception is that it looks “behind the curtain” of the macro-level and tries to disaggregate social phenomena in order to unveil the individuals’ actions that are involved (Blatter & Haverland 2012).

In order to achieve this micro-foundation of theoretical propositions on the macro­level, the term “causal mechanism” is used to refer to a two-level model including three different types of mechanisms (Blatter & Haverland 2012). First, a “situational mechanism” links the macro-level phenomenon to the actor on the micro-level. This first mechanism refers to the social structures and cultural environments that constrain or impact the individual’s capabilities, desires or beliefs (Hedström & Ylikoski 2010: 59). Secondly, an “action-formation mechanism” captures the model according to which the individual is expected to decide between action alternatives. This second mechanism links the individual’s beliefs, desires, and motivation to his or her action (ibid.). Lastly, a “transformational mechanism” translates the individuals’ micro-level action into the outcome of interest on the macro-level (ibid.). This last mechanism refers to the ways in which the actions and interactions of individuals lead to intended and unintended social outcomes. The following graphic illustrates this three-fold conception of a causal mechanism already adapted to the context of this study:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The goal of this study is to examine the causal link between structural factors in an intelligence agency and its administrative behaviour output including unintended consequences. To fully understand this macro-level association, this study must identify the situational mechanisms impacting an intelligence agency bureaucrat’s “psychological environment of decision” (Simon 1947: 107); it has to assume a behavioural model on the micro-level as an action-formation mechanism answering how an intelligence agency bureaucrat is expected to behave in this environment; and it must identify how these individual actions interact to create intended or unintended outcomes forming the administrative behaviour. Overall, this amounts to identifying a plausibly generalizable causal mechanism (cf. chapter 7).

Lastly, before engaging in theory-building CPT this study seeks to leverage deductive theoretical insights as well as empirical knowledge from other episodes of CIA history. As Beach and Pederson (2013) have pointed out...

...theory-building process-tracing is usually an iterative and creative process. Hunches about what to look for that are inspired by existing theoretical and empirical work are investigated systematically. (Beach & Pederson 2013: 18)

Before constraining its scope to the EIT case, this study therefore wants to collect “hunches” by being broadly “inspired by theoretical and empirical work”. This study acknowledges that “[t]heories do not come from a vacuum, or fully and directly from data” (Eckstein 1994: 146-147). Therefore, it is faced with the challenge of attempting to logically combine deduction and induction in a productive manner. It will both deductively build and inductively probe theoretical propositions about the psychological environment of decision in an intelligence agency. The preliminary hypotheses produced before the actual CPT should not be understood as the end product of this study, but rather as an analytical tool that guides the researcher’s attention (cf. chapter 5).

This chapter has explained CPT including its logical implications, the concept of causal mechanisms, and the importance of theoretical as well as empirical inspiration for this study. The next chapter will go on to build the basis for this analysis by defining the central term “intelligence agency”.

4 Concept specification: What is an intelligence agency?

As already argued in the literature chapter, little has been written on the abstract notion of intelligence agencies (cf. chapter 2), leaving us with only configurative- idiographic studies that “do not easily add up” (Verba cited by Eckstein 2000: 137). In order to be able to open the field up for broader generalizability, we have to create definitions that can easily “travel” (Sartori 2009) from one context to another. In other words, we need to build an abstract description of intelligence agencies, in order to enable social sciences researchers to think about these institutions in different political systems. Since this study has this theoretical ambition, it begins by utilizing general ideas implicitly already prevalent in the U.S. intelligence literature (cf. Ranelagh 1987; Zegart 1999, Stuart 2008). This chapter will follow the three-level concept specification method by Goertz (2006).

On the basic level, the term “public bureaucracy” (Peabody & Rourke 1965: 802) represents an all-inclusive term for governmental agencies in modern society that shall be used in a strictly descriptive Weberian sense here. It might be important to point out in connection to this, that a bureaucracy is a special kind of organization, whereby an organization is defined as a “pattern of communications and relations among a group of human beings, including the processes for making and implementing decisions” (Simon 1945: 18). Following this reasoning a bureaucracy is an organization with (1) a vertical administrative hierarchy, (2) a horizontal specialization of skills, (3) a set of discretional rules, (4) impersonal behaviour vis-à- vis its clientele, and (5) a separation of ownership and control over instruments or tools used by the bureaucrats[7] (Peabody & Rourke 1965: 803). The term “public” is used in a narrow sense and refers to a bureaucracy that is governmental as opposed to non-governmental.[8]

On the secondary level, “intelligence agencies” will only be distinguished from “non­intelligence agencies”. The underlying assumption is that there are characteristics that are specific to (or most pronounced in) this kind of organization. Or to phrase this differently, intelligence agencies are special. They are the negative pole to the positive extreme of “ordinary” public bureaucracies. Most definitions of the term “intelligence” revolve around the collection and analysis of information[9], which is reflected by the Dictionary of United States Military Terms for Joint Usage (1957) that describes it as...

...the product resulting from the collection, evaluation, analysis, integration, and interpretation of all available information which concerns one or more aspects of foreign nations or of areas of operation and which is immediately or potentially significant to planning. (DUSMTJU 1957)

The term “intelligence agency” according to this definition of “intelligence” might actually be somewhat misleading. An intelligence agency does not necessarily only engage in “intelligence activities” in the narrow sense. This will be further clarified on the last level of this concept building effort.

On the indicator level, a public bureaucracy is an intelligence agency if it shows the following three characteristics:

1. A public bureaucracy’s mission includes intelligence activities (Stuart 2008).
2. A public bureaucracy has installed an immense amount of formal organizational rules that ensure secrecy vis-à-vis the public, its supervising authority, and possible counterintelligence activities (Aftergood 1996; Friedman 2001; Moran 2015).
3. An intelligence agency’s mission includes covert action (Stuart 2008; Gates 1987).

The first indicator is the most obvious: An intelligence agency should be charged by its governmental principal with the mission to research and analyze information on specified areas of governmental concern (Stuart 2008). This is a necessary condition for an intelligence agency to be classified as such, but it is not sufficient.

The second indicator is also a necessary condition for the classification of an intelligence agency. The presence of “classification” practices for top-secret documents rules out governmental agencies that provide general research or publicly accessible information for its governmental principal (e.g. the U.S. Department of Agriculture providing the president with information for upcoming agricultural policy decisions). However, classification and in general organizational secrecy practices are used by other public bureaucracies as well. According to Max Weber (2010), there is an incentive for secrecy endemic to all public bureaucracies, because a bureaucracy wants to secure its power position vis-à-vis its principal and to control its public image:

This superiority of the professional insider every bureaucracy seeks further to increase through the means of keeping secret its knowledge and intentions. Bureaucratic administration always tends to exclude the public, to hide its knowledge and action from criticism as well as it can. (Weber 2010: 3; own emphasis added)

Nevertheless, it should be expected that intelligence agencies make use of these secrecy ensuring practices excessively (ACHRE 1995; Aftergood 1996), which is why there should be an “immense amount” of them for an agency to classify. This obviously has to be judged by the classifying researcher against the backdrop of the rest of the political system the agency is situated in. An intelligence agency’s amount of “secretiveness” can be expected to vary from country to country based on the overall amount of governmental openness of set system.

The first and the second indicator are jointly sufficient for a public bureaucracy to classify as an intelligence agency. However, the second already hints at the fact that the classification of an intelligence agency as such might be a matter of degree. With the third indicator, this “grey zone” is even widened. This means scoring on the second and third indicator brings the agency under consideration closer to the “ideal pole” of a “real” intelligence agency.

The third indicator requires an intelligence agency to be engaged not only in intelligence activities, but also in covert action. This is in line with various, less systematic attempts at defining an intelligence agency that also include both kinds of activities as necessary indicators (cf. Stiefler 2004; Lowenthal 2008). This kind of governmental mandate is reserved for a far smaller class of agencies than is intelligence work. According to early definitions by the U.S. National Security Council, covert actions[10]...

...are understood to be all activities [...] against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups but which are so planned [...] that if uncovered the US Government can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. (NSC 10/2)

These clandestine activities that are supposed to be “plausibly deniable” for the governmental principal encompass various measures like.

propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world. (NSC 10/2)

There is a grey zone between the extreme poles of intelligence and non-intelligence agencies, because there are public bureaucracies that do not have a mandate for covert action, but could be still considered intelligence agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) comes to mind. In the sense of this classification, however, an agency that scores on the third indicator (i.e. is charged with both intelligence and covert operations) should be considered “more” of an intelligence agency for the purposes of this study. A “grey zone” intelligence agency like the FBI will not necessarily be subject to all of the theoretical propositions developed in later chapters (cf. chapter 5). The same applies for an intelligence agency that has a low score on the second indicator, i.e. a low amount of secrecy measures.

This three level conception is summarized in the following graphic:

Graphic 2: Concept Specification According to Goertz’ (2006) Three-level Framework

illustration not visible in this excerpt

[Source: Own depiction]

Going away from Goertz’ (2006) three-level structure, a comprehensive definition of an intelligence agency that can be used in different contexts could go as follows:

An intelligence agency is an organization that has (1) a vertical administrative hierarchy, (2) a horizontal specialization of skills, (3) a set of discretional rules including strong rules keeping methods and sources secret, (4) impersonal behaviour vis-à-vis its clientele, (5) a separation of ownership and control over instruments or tools used by the bureaucrats, (6) a close affiliation with the government, and (7) a mandate to collect and analyze information on specified areas of governmental concern. In addition, (8) it might (but does not have to) be tasked with covert action by the government.


[1] This study follows Senator McCain’s opinion from 2005 that the EITs, despite all legal deliberations about the meaning of the word “severe” (cf. OLC 2002), are in fact a form of torture (Rizzo 2014: 242).

[2] see http://thinkproqress.orq/politics/2008/11/07/31992/rizzo-obama-interroqation/ [last accessed on 26/07/2016]; Rizzo himself even acknowledges and discusses this label in his memoirs (cf. Rizzo 2014: 216). In fact, he set the legal groundwork for institutionally sanctioned torture, because his back- and-forth communication with the Department of Justice (DoJ) was used as a legal cover by the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), which implemented the EITs (Danner 2004; Rodriguez 2012). Counterfactually speaking, preventing the CIA torture programme would have been “a relatively easy thing to do [for Rizzo]” (Rizzo 2014: 186).

[3] Hannah Arendt (1963) has written the book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” primarily as a journalistic report on the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann in front of a Jewish court in Jerusalem, where his involvement in the Holocaust was being judged upon. Most prominently, Adolf Eichmann had been overseeing and organizing the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz (Arendt 1963).

[4] These are President Obama’s words; accessible via https://www.thequardian.com/world/2014/auq/01/obama-cia-torture-some-folks-brennan-spyinq [last accessed on 26/07/2016]

[5] In other words, they lack a good reason to deviate from methodological individualism (cf. Geddes 2010: 221).

[6] For a detailed discussion of different rational choice approaches see Hug (2014)

[7] Put simply, they do not own what they work with.

[8] For a detailed discussion on the separation precision between governmental and non­governmental, i.e. public vs. private, bureaucracies see Peabody & Rourke (1965: 804)

[9] For more definitions on the term “intelligence“ see https://www.cia.gov/librarv/center-for-the-studv- of-intelliqence/kent-csi/vol2no4/html/v02i4a08p 0001.htm [last accessed on 30/07/2016]

[10] The terms “covert action“, “covert operation”, and “clandestine services” are used interchangeably in this study.

Excerpt out of 73 pages


What makes intelligence agencies tick? In search of a causal mechanism in CIA administrative behavior
University of Constance
International Administration and Conflict Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
2358 KB
CIA, organizational theory, secret services, intelligence agencies, torture, EIT
Quote paper
Maximilian Woidich (Author), 2016, What makes intelligence agencies tick? In search of a causal mechanism in CIA administrative behavior, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/346353


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: What makes intelligence agencies tick? In search of a causal mechanism in CIA administrative behavior

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free