06/04/2013 03:04 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2013

Intelligence: the Times They Are A-Changing

The late MacGeorge Bundy, erstwhile National Security Adviser, confided to the historian Michael Beschloss that he had arranged things so that his important book -- Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years -- did not mention once the name of "the spy." This was Oleg Penkovsky - the great agent of the Anglo-Americans during the Cold War. Penkovsky played a real, though not. a real-time, role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He had earlier provided manuals that helped confirm that the U-2 photographs of Soviet missiles in Cuba, taken on 14 October 1962, were indeed offensive ones. The last meeting with Penkovsky was on 27 August 1962, and he was unable to provide further information. He was arrested in Mocow in October 1962 and executed.

In a similar vein, the British historian, Christopher Andrew, wrote For the President's Eyes Only with the express purpose of integrating intelligence into Presidential decision-making -- largely absent in most diplomatic histories until that time.

This was more than a generation ago, when the American people -- and some departments in Washington -- were still getting used to the idea of an intelligence service in a democracy. The process was not helped by the revelations of the 1970's, including CIA involvement in assassination attempts against foreign leaders and its infiltration of student organizations in the U.S.

Things have drastically changed in recent years: the drone program -- the armed Predator unmanned aircraft; the CIA-spearheaded attack in Afghanistan following 9/11; and the takedown of Osama bin Laden under a CIA ordinance (Title 50 of the United States Code, executed by military personnel temporarily seconded to the CIA).

The CIA has now become part of the "household" of American actions abroad, and the CIA's popularity among the American public has risen significantly. President Obama's speech of 23 May at the National Defense University was essentially an intelligence speech. While reiterating the central rationale for drones ("conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones"), he acknowledged the need for better oversight of the program. But as far as Pakistan is concerned, drone operations will continue until American forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. Stated the President, "We will continue to take strikes against high-value al Qaeda targets but also against forces that are moving to support attacks on coalition forces."