In the Spring 2002 issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Robert D. Chapman shared a little history that explains some of our intelligence failures prior to 9-11. (Chapman is a retired CIA operations officer with covert experience.
"Back in the Cold War, a deep terrorist penetration agent reported that an (unidentified) commercial airliner was going to be hijacked. We knew if we blew the whistle, this valuable one-in-ten thousand agent would be blow sky-high."
The agency decided that they would only intervene if an American citizen was on board. None were and the plane was hijacked.
"Several years later a congressional oversight committee heard about the incident and reamed the agency until it hurt, "
Going forward, the agency would not have the option to protect an agent in this way. This could explain why we have a hard time getting inside the terror network.
Chapman also reminds us of the post-Watergate fallout:
"When the oversight committees learned of the Agency's support of the anti-Allende coup in Chile, there was hell to pay. Case officers following orders were threatened with criminal prosecution. To pay for their legal defense, homes were mortgaged and college nest-eggs robbed; good, competent officers quit over it. For an operation undertaken years before, they faced prosecution in an entirely different era."
CYA isn't always about avoiding embarrassment or advancing careers. Why would any young CIA officer take risks when he saw the punishment meted out to senior officers during the Church/Pike era?
In a similar vein, i have little sympathy for the pundits and nano-pundits calling for more aggressive special operations and condemning the military brass for timidity. When General Garrison displayed the old can-do spirit in Mogadishu, his career was destroyed because the operation turned into a public relations disaster.