Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Fixing the CIA

The Weekly Standard has an article by a guy who was in the CIA in the 80s. He fears the CIA's real problem, a system that is very inefficient at getting good human intelligence, will not be fixed, even with all the current heat on the CIA for its misperception of Iraq. The systemic problem he refers to goes back even before the 80s. Some excerpts:
NOW, as in the days of Iran-contra, the CIA is front-page news. Odds are Tenet and his Agency will get hammered for all the wrong reasons.
When you stack up the Agency's assessment of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq during the Clinton administration and under Bush, the continuity of Tenet's positions is compelling. It is most unlikely that either he or politically ambitious CIA managers below him ginned up intelligence on Saddam Hussein's WMD programs.
Historians will probably view CIA reporting on the Iraq WMD threat as no less responsible than Agency analysis of the WMD threat from the former Soviet Union.
It is also absolutely true that George Tenet's CIA failed to penetrate Saddam Hussein's inner circle.... But it is also true that the CIA failed to penetrate Moscow's inner circle in the Cold War and that the great agents we did have (the most valuable were probably scientists) were all volunteers.... one simply cannot judge the caliber of a Western espionage service by its ability to penetrate the power circles of totalitarian regimes. The difficulties are just overwhelming.

One can, however, grade intelligence services on whether they have established operational methods that would maximize the chances of success against less demanding targets--for example, against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, which is by definition an ecumenical organization constantly searching for holy-warrior recruits. It is by this standard that George Tenet failed and the CIA will continue to fail, assuming it maintains its current practices.
The abysmal espionage apparatus that William Casey presided over was decades in the making. It was in great part structurally foreordained: Not only the promotion system but also the decision to deploy the vast majority of case officers overseas under official cover--posing as U.S. diplomats, military officers, and so on--set in motion a counterproductive psychology and methods of operation that still dominate the CIA today. (emphasis mine)
What needs to be done?
The entire system for finding, training, and deploying overseas case officers of this type needs to be completely overhauled. The "farm," the legendary training ground for case officers in the woody swamps of Virginia, ought to be abandoned. It has never had much relevance to the practice of espionage overseas. It is a symbol of the Agency's lack of seriousness. This new cadre needs to be a breed apart. Their operational half-life in the field might be at most ten years. It is hard to imagine them married and with kids. It is also hard to imagine their coming into being unless these jihadist moles are well paid. A starting salary of a quarter of a million dollars a year would be reasonable. Outsiders will know such a change is afoot when there are rumors of case officers' regularly dying abroad.

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