Cri­tiquing the CIA: Flawed spy­ing, or bu­reau­cratic turf wars?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

It is ironic. The flaws that spoil Tim Weiner’s pas­sion­ate, malev­o­lent and of­ten mis­guided his­tory of the Cen­tral Intelligence Agency are pre­cisely the same flaws for which he damns CIA: Pre­con­ceived con­clu­sions, lack of in­sight about the tar­get and sloppy re­port­ing. From the book’s sec­ond sen­tence, Mr. Weiner tells you where he’s go­ing to end up: “Legacy of Ashes,” he an­nounces, “de­scribes how the most pow­er­ful coun­try in the his­tory of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion has failed to cre­ate a first-rate spy ser­vice.”

Like most polemi­cists, Mr. Weiner tends to fa­vor sources who but­tress his case and dis­re­gard those who don’t. Thomas Pol­gar, the CIA alum­nus whose par­tic­u­lar weltan­schau­ung of­ten mir­rors Mr. Weiner’s, turns up Zelig-like through­out the book, pro­vid­ing just the right quote or anec­dote when it’s needed.

Jimmy Carter’s al­most uni­ver­sally de­tested di­rec­tor of cen­tral intelligence, Adm. Stans­field Turner, re­ceives re­spect­ful treat­ment too. Hard­lin­ers like CIA’s leg­endary deputy di­rec­tor for plans, Frank Wis­ner, DCIs William J. Casey and Allen Dulles, and coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence chief James Je­sus An­gle­ton are vil­i­fied.

Mr. An­gle­ton is in­tro­duced to read­ers thusly: “Drunk af­ter lunch, his mind an im­pen­e­tra­ble maze, his in-box a black hole, he passed judg­ment on ev­ery op­er­a­tion and ev­ery of­fi­cer that the CIA aimed at the Sovi­ets. He came to be­lieve that a Soviet mas­ter plot con­trolled Amer­i­can per­cep­tions of the world, and that he and he alone un­der­stood the depths of the de­cep­tion.

He took the CIA’s mis­sions against Moscow down into a dark labyrinth.” Not un­til 200-plus pages later do we learn from Mr. Weiner that “CIA was never pen­e­trated by a traitor or a Soviet spy dur­ing the twenty years that An­gle­ton ran coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence.”

Nor is Mr. Weiner above skew­ing the ev­i­dence to sup­port his case — an­other of CIA’s nasty flaws. In 1956, Frank Wis­ner watched help­lessly from Aus­tria as Soviet tanks rolled into Bu­dapest to sup­press Hun­gary’s demo­cratic re­bel­lion.

Mr. Wis­ner, Mr. Weiner writes, “fled Vi­enna and flew to Rome. There, he dined with the Amer­i­can spies of CIA’s Rome sta­tion, among them William Colby, the fu­ture di­rec­tor of cen­tral intelligence. Wis­ner raged that peo­ple were dy­ing as the agency dithered. He wanted to ‘come to the aid of the free­dom fight­ers,’ Colby recorded. ‘This was ex­actly the end for which the agency’s paramil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity was de­signed. And a case can be made that they could have done so with­out in­volv­ing the United States in a world war with the Sovi­ets.’ But Wis­ner could not make a co­her­ent case. ‘It was clear he was near a ner­vous break­down,’ Colby recorded.”

Mr. Weiner wants us to be­lieve Colby thought CIA wasn’t al­lowed to act in Hun­gary be­cause Mr. Wis­ner was so close to a break­down he couldn’t make a co­her­ent case for do­ing so. But that’s not the truth. Colby’s quotes are cherry-picked out of sev­eral para­graphs de­scrib­ing the Hun­gar­ian re­volt in Colby’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Hon­or­able Men.”

What Mr. Weiner chooses not to in­clude is Mr. Colby’s cat­e­gor­i­cal as­ser­tion that no mat­ter what Mr. Wis­ner and his staff might have done, “Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower over­ruled them . . . It was es­tab­lished once and for all, that the United States . . . was not go­ing to at­tempt to lib­er­ate within that sphere, even if the provo­ca­tion was as dra­matic as that in the Hun­gar­ian sit­u­a­tion.”

Like CIA, Mr. Weiner is also guilty of sloppy re­port­ing. His book is filled with fac­tual er­rors. Some are care­less, like get­ting the cap­i­tal of Switzer­land wrong. (Hint, Tim: It’s not Geneva.) And the Is­raeli hit on Ali Has­san Salameh took place in 1979, not 1978.

Mr. Weiner’s cov­er­age of the ex­e­cu­tion of Che Gue­vara has CubanAmer­i­can CIA agent Felix Ro­driguez de­brief­ing Che for two days. Mr. Ro­driguez ac­tu­ally flew to the vil­lage of La Higuera (Mr. Weiner in­cor­rectly refers to it as Hig­uras) on the morn­ing of Oc­to­ber 9, 1967, and re­turned to Val­le­grande with Che’s body the same day.

Oth­ers are more dan­ger­ous. Books like “Legacy” are of­ten cited in foot­notes, so Mr. Weiner’s dis­tor­tions may be­come part of con­ven­tional wis­dom. For ex­am­ple, Mr. Weiner claims Felix Ro­driguez was on the agency’s pay­roll when he worked to sup­port the Nicaraguan Con­tras in the 1980s. Mr. Ro­driguez was not.

Mr. Weiner also re­gur­gi­tates the leg­end that CIA is re­spon­si­ble for Sad­dam Hus­sein be­cause the agency con­trived a Fe­bru­ary 1963 coup in Iraq that brought the Baath Party to power. Mr. Weiner’s money quote is from Ali Saleh Sa’adi, a Baath Party in­te­rior min­is­ter in the 1960s, that Mr. Weiner found in a book pub­lished in 2001. Says Mr. Sa’adi: “We came to power on a CIA train.”

But Ho­race J. BAR­BER (a CIAstyle pseu­do­nym), the Head­quar­ters Near East Di­vi­sion Iraq Desk Of­fi­cer on duty in Fe­bru­ary 1963, who had a long and dis­tin­guished ca­reer in CIA’s Clan­des­tine Ser­vice, ob­jects.

“I was sum­moned to Head­quar­ters by the watch of­fi­cer and in­formed that the ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim Arab na­tion­al­ist regime in Bagh­dad had been over­thrown by the Ba’th party,” BAR­BER e-mailed me. “This coup came as a com­plete sur­prise to the U.S. Intelligence Com­mu­nity. . . . There is ab­so­lutely NO pos­si­bil­ity that the USG or, specif­i­cally, the CIA could have been in­volved in plot­ting a Ba’th coup in Iraq WITH­OUT the HQS Iraq Desk Of­fi­cer be­ing fully in­volved in, or at least cog­nizant of, this ac­tiv­ity.”

In dis­cussing CIA’s suc­cess­ful covert ac­tion pro­gram di­rected at erad­i­cat­ing the Abu Nidal ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, Mr. Weiner says the pro­gram be­gan only af­ter for­mer pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter “de­liv­ered a pack­age of intelligence to the pres­i­dent of Syria, Hafiz al-Asad, in a March, 1987 meet­ing. Asad ex­pelled the ter­ror­ist.”

Not quite. Ac­cord­ing to Pa­trick Seale’s “Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire,” the ter­ror­ist left Syria on his own on March 28, more than two months be­fore the June 1 of­fi­cial ex­pul­sion or­der. And while Mr. Weiner claims CIA acted in con­cert with Jor­da­nian, Is­raeli and PLO intelligence ser­vices to bring down the Abu Nidal Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ANO), CIA Coun­terT­er­ror­ist Cen­ter cre­ator and thenchief Duane “Dewey” Clarridge says “the op­er­a­tion had noth­ing to do with the Jor­da­ni­ans, PLO, or Is­raelis. Zero.”

What did the trick, Mr. Clarridge in­sists, were a se­ries of de­marches sent (with the strong sup­port of the State De­part­ment’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism co­or­di­na­tor, L. Paul “Jerry” Bre­mer) to the gov­ern­ments of East Ger­many, Greece, Poland, Cyprus and Switzer­land. The de­marches, cou­pled with the wide dis­sem­i­na­tion of CIA’s “Abu Nidal Hand­book,” which laid out in chap­ter and verse facts about Abu Nidal’s or­ga­ni­za­tion, its fi­nanc­ing, and its crimes, elim­i­nated sup­port, lo­gis­tics and money for the ter­ror­ists.

Per­haps the most trou­bling as­pect of “Legacy” is the fact that Mr. Weiner has a tin ear when it comes to the gestalt of intelligence. He tries to ap­ply the same met­rics to CIA as one would use on GM or Star­bucks. Yet B-school cri­te­ria don’t work when it comes to the “wilder­ness of mir­rors.” Are there huge prob­lems at CIA? Yup. Has the agency be­come dys­func­tional be­cause of bad lead­er­ship and mis­di­rec­tion? Ab­so­lutely. Should there be a book about those prob­lems? Yes — but Mr. Weiner’s isn’t it.

Be­cause Mr. Weiner just doesn’t get it. He wants a zero-de­fect CIA. He frowns on the amoral as­pects of hu­man intelligence gath­er­ing. And yet HUMINT is built around the holy trin­ity of Spot, As­sess, Re­cruit — the art of one per­son con­vinc­ing an­other per­son to be­come a traitor.

“If I’m not break­ing the laws of the coun­try to which I’ve been as­signed, I’m not earn­ing my salary,” is the way one long-time covert op- er­a­tive put it to me some years ago. Mr. Weiner would no doubt dis­ap­prove.

Did a ca­bal of lib­eral CIA in­sid­ers run a covert ac­tion pro­gram against the White House in or­der to un­der­mine the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s war against ter­ror­ism? That’s the the­sis of for­mer Wash­ing­ton Times re­porter Rowan Scar­bor­ough’s “Sabotage.”

The premise holds prom­ise. Since 2001 there have been re­peated leaks de­tail­ing sen­si­tive intelligence in­for­ma­tion and em­bar­rass­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Add to that the cho­rus of CIA alumni Jeremi­ahs who make them­selves avail­able to bash Bush at the drop of a sound-bite, op-ed or book jacket. So Mr. Scar­bor­ough has po­ten­tially rich ground to mine.

Prob­lem is, he just scratches the sur­face. There are lots of ac­cu­sa­tions about “CIA bu­reau­crats,” but Mr. Scar­bor­ough doesn’t name very many of them or pin down who leaked what and to whom.

He goes over a lot of old ground — the Va­lerie Plame leak, the ac­cu­sa­tions of for­mer CIA of­fi­cer Tyler Drumheller and the anti-Bush writ­ings of Michael Scheuer are all re­counted. Mr. Scar­bor­ough does a good job of re­con­struct­ing the UAE Ports deal fi­asco and in­cludes, as few have, the fact that the UAE agreed to al­low our intelligence com­mu­nity to use Dubai Ports World as cover for its per­son­nel.

But Mr. Scar­bor­ough is so de­fi­cient in specifics about CIA’s an­tiBush sabotage pro­gram that he di­gresses to pad his book with some of the suc­cesses in Amer­ica’s war against ter­ror­ism.

He re­counts op­er­a­tions staged by Task Force Orange, the elite group of cut­ting-edge intelligence gath­er­ers and Delta/SEAL/Ranger shoot­ers that tar­geted, pin­pointed and killed Abu Musab Zar­qawi. He de­scribes many of the ways in which NSA has in­creased its abil­ity to scoop sig­nals intelligence out of the ether. And he re­lates the 2003 op­er­a­tion that iden­ti­fied and snatched up an In­done­sian ter­ror­ist named Rid­uan Isamud­din, a.k.a. Ham­bali, “the only non-Arab to sit on al Qaeda’s lead­er­ship coun­cil.”

It’s a nice story with a happy end­ing. But it is still mad­den­ing to read a pas­sage that goes, “In my own in­ves­ti­ga­tion for this book, I counted at least eight oc­ca­sions on which cur­rent or for­mer intelligence of­fi­cials made se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing against the pres­i­dent’s men that turned out to be un­true,” only to have Mr. Scar­bor­ough list none of them.

“Amer­ica,” Mr. Scar­bor­ough says in con­clu­sion, “can­not af­ford an intelligence agency more de­voted to bu­reau­cratic turf bat­tles than to de­fend­ing the home­land.” How ab­so­lutely true. And how dis­ap­point­ing that “Sabotage” of­fers so few so­lu­tions to this long-run­ning Wash­ing­ton prob­lem.

John Weisman’s most re­cent CIA novel, “Di­rect Ac­tion,” was re­leased in pa­per­back by Avon Books in the spring of 2006. He can be reached at black­ops@john­weis­man.com.

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