We've all heard of trying to get more bang for the buck, but more intelligence for the money? That's exactly the challenge facing the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. spy operations.
The Los Angeles Times reports that President-elect George Bush, a former CIA director, is being pressured to make that agency and others more capable in a time of tighter budgets.The issue of what direction the CIA should take has been around in one form or another for a long time. At one point, the question was who was watching the agency. Later, because of the Iran-Contra scandal, it became a question of credibility.
Now, there are many budget choices the new president will have to make, given the unprecedented financial squeeze the agency is likely to face as Congress attempts to reduce the federal deficit.
Among those choices: Costly technological equipment, such as spy satellites, versus more spies; keeping an eye on the entire world versus zeroing in only on trouble spots; and more visible actions, such as paramilitary aid, versus collection of information used in policy decisions.
The demand to spend less comes at a difficult time for the agency. International terrorism is an ever-growing priority. The recent arms control pacts must be monitored. And counter-intelligence must be improved. In the past decade, more than 60 Americans were caught doing espionage work on behalf of foreign governments.
Bush is expected to give the CIA and the country's intelligence operations more attention than past presidents, because he served as CIA director for a year under President Gerald Ford.
That experience may prove invaluable during what will surely be a turning point for the country's intelligence-gathering operations.
In the spy business as in much else, the U.S. cannot afford to cover all the bases, but must focus on the most vital ones. The trick is deciding which are vital and which can be neglected. That won't be easy.