Bar­ing bu­reau­cratic hur­dles at CIA

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective -

If even half of what Ish­mael Jones, the pseudony­mous au­thor of “The Hu­man Fac­tor: In­side the CIA’s Dys­func­tional In­tel­li­gence Cul­ture” tells us is true, we have rea­son to be afraid, very afraid. Mr. Jones, who spent al­most two decades as a NOC, or non-of­fi­cial cover case of­fi­cer at CIA, paints a pic­ture of a bloated, top-heavy, mo­lasses-slow bu­reau­cracy in which ca­reerism trumps ini­tia­tive, risk aver­sion wins over au­dac­ity, and spy­ing — the CIA’s core mis­sion, the spot­ting, as­sess­ing, de­vel­op­ing and re­cruit­ing of for­eign na­tion­als to steal or di­vulge se­crets — can be­come a ca­reer-killer.

Mr. Jones is not the first CIA op­er­a­tive to de­scribe an agency in­ca­pable of per­form­ing its core mis­sion. But he is the first to do so without go­ing through CIA’s vet­ting process.

It is un­der­stand­able that CIA wouldn’t want any of “The Hu­man Fac­tor” pub­lished. Mr. Jones re­lates not dozens, not scores, but hun­dreds of in­ci­dents in which CIA man­agers cre­ated a sys­tem of bu­reau­cratic hur­dles that ef­fec­tively pre­vented Mr. Jones and his fel­low deep-cover case of­fi­cers from do­ing their jobs, lied to Congress and cov­ered up in­ep­ti­tude with ob­fus­ca­tion and smoke and mir­rors. Some ex­am­ples:

On as­sign­ment to an un­named Mid­dle East coun­try, Mr. Jones queries head­quar­ters about his mis­sion — re­cruit­ing a sci­en­tist with knowl­edge of chem­i­cal weapons and WMD pro­grams. “Af­ter a month,” he writes, “re­sponses be­gan to drib­ble in . . . Then came long lists of ques­tions about my op­er­a­tional pro­pos­als, as well as rea­sons why things might go wrong. When I an­swered the ques­tions more fol­lowed. The time it was tak­ing them to come to a de­ci­sion was mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to move the op­er­a­tion for­ward. In one case — I’d met the tar­get mul­ti­ple times — the chief asked, ‘What will you tell him when he asks you where you got his name?’ “

“Congress,” Mr. Jones writes, “asked the Agency how many new per­son­nel it had hired as non-State Depart­ment of­fi­cers. The Agency cre­ated a num­ber by tal­ly­ing all of the sup­port staff, the of­fi­cers in train­ing, and the peo­ple who were as­signed to posts in the United States. The num­ber looked good.”

“Af­ter Pres­i­dent Bush gave his ‘Axis of Evil’ speech,” Mr. Jones writes, “the Agency be­gan send­ing my col­leagues on mis­sions to th­ese and other rogue states. They didn’t con­duct any in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions there — just vis­ited, stayed in ho­tels and re­turned to write detailed af­ter­ac­tion re­ports about their itin­er­ar­ies. HQs briefed Congress about all of them. This be­came known around HQs as Axis of Evil Tourism.”

And then there’s the Three Stooges men­tal­ity at head­quar­ters. “Like most or­ga­ni­za­tions, the CIA had its own sta­tionery. Its of­fi­cial en­velopes had ‘Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency’ writ­ten on the re­turn ad­dress. The Agency mis­tak­enly used this sta­tionery for a mail­ing on its new di­ver­sity pol­icy, a mail­ing sent to of­fi­cers [. . . ] who were work­ing deep un­der cover in for­eign coun­tries.”

In the early 1990s, Mr. Jones sought per­mis­sion to re­cruit Ab­dul Qadir Khan, Pak­istan’s lead­ing nu­clear sci­en­tist when Khan made a trip to the Mid­dle East. “Our sta­tion in Is­lam­abad would hear none of it. The Agency had no in­ter­est in con­tact with Khan or his sub­or­di­nates.” This is the same A.Q. Khan, of course, who the CIA had to ad­mit a decade later sold and ex­ported nu­clear tech­nol­ogy to rogue states.

Be­cause the CIA had been so badly burned by dou­ble agents work­ing for East Ger­many, Cuba and the Soviet Union, head­quar­ters de­vel­oped a sys­tem for test­ing that “turned out to be an enor­mous pile of rear-end cov­er­ing ex­tra pa­per­work. [. . . ] Lots of the tests were silly or in­con­clu­sive.”

Charl­ton, one of Mr. Jones’ deep­cover col­leagues spent his time cre­at­ing “front com­pa­nies, offices, res­i­dence apart­ments, cor­po­rate shell com­pa­nies of­ten in out of the way coun­tries where the Agency had lim­ited ac­cess.” Why did Charl­ton do that? Be­cause, Mr. Jones ex­plains, “dur­ing Agency brief­ings to Congress, the Agency could point to a map stud­ded with pins, each rep­re­sent­ing an Agency pres­ence. Many of th­ese pins were the Potemkin fa­cil­i­ties Charl­ton had cre­ated.”

Some NOCs be­came so frus­trated over the CIA’s in­abil­ity to deal with op­er­a­tional ap­proval re­quests in a timely fash­ion that they took des­per­ate mea­sures. Lo­man, an­other of Mr. Jones’ deep-cover col­leagues, “had been as­signed to a coun­try in North Africa. He re­ported di­rectly to head­quar­ters, cut­ting a lo­cal agency sta­tion out of the loop. Still, he re­ceived no replies to his re­quests for ap­proval.” Lo­man’s so­lu­tion? “Fi­nally he flew to HQs, found a com­puter ter­mi­nal and an­swered his own re­quests. He re­turned to North Africa and car­ried out his op­er­a­tions,. When he needed new ap­provals he trav­eled back to HQs and sent them to him­self. He con­tin­ued to an­swer his own mes­sages for about six months un­til he was caught.”

In 2003 and 2004, at the height of the Global War on Ter­ror, Mr. Jones says CIA’s leaders were “in­vent­ing new ways to draw down our over­seas pres­ence. For in­stance, they were re­quir­ing of­fi­cers to change as­sign­ments ev­ery two years.” For NOCs, who had to weave them­selves into the so­ci­etal fab­ric of the coun­try in which they worked, a two-year tour vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed that they’d be able to pro­duce no use­ful in­tel.

“Dur­ing the spring of 2006, Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties in Europe shut down. The Agency had been ter­ri­fied of con­duct­ing in­tel op­er­a­tions in France for some time. Then the Ital­ian sta­tion sent a ca­ble to Agency offices world­wide stat­ing that did not in­tend to ap­prove travel to . . . Italy be­cause ho­tel rooms were dif­fi­cult to re­serve from early spring to late fall.” Sim­i­lar ca­bles were sent world­wide by CIA sta­tions in Switzer­land and Ger­many. “No one,” writes Mr. Jones, “seemed to find it un­usual that a ma­jor part of the Agency’s op­er­a­tional ter­ri­tory had just been shut down.”

The Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency is not happy with Mr. Jones. A CIA spokesper­son has re­ferred to “The Hu­man Fac­tor” as “fic­tion.” To be can­did, Mr. Jones does di­vulge in­for­ma­tion that might be con­sid­ered sources and meth­ods. He pro­vides read­ers with sev­eral op­er­a­tional de­tails that CIA is loath to talk about. He points out for ex­am­ple that CIA sta­tions are ac­tu­ally some­times lo­cated in U.S. em­bassies, and that many CIA of­fi­cers work un­der State Depart­ment cover. He con­firms that CIA has mul­ti­ple sta­tions and bases in­side the con­ti­nen­tal United States, from which the agency tar­gets for­eign na­tion­als. And in a cou­ple of cases, he slips up and ac­tu­ally iden­ti­fies a spe­cific coun­try in which he worked.

None of this is par­tic­u­larly shock­ing. But Mr. Jones did — as all CIA em­ploy­ees do — sign an agree­ment not to pub­lish any­thing without it be­ing vet­ted. This agree­ment Mr. Jones has ob­vi­ously bro­ken.

His goal, how­ever, is noble. Mr. Jones ob­vi­ously be­lieves that the United States de­serves the best in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tion in the world. He be­lieves pas­sion­ately that ev­ery Amer­i­can tax­payer is be­ing cheated be­cause we are pay­ing scores of bil­lions of dol­lars for a bloated, in­ef­fec­tive, risk-averse or­ga­ni­za­tion that can­not per­form the mis­sion for which it was cre­ated. Since the in­tel­li­gence dis­as­ter that was 9/11, pre­cious few heads in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity have rolled. In fact, Ge­orge Tenet, the di­rec­tor of cen­tral in­tel­li­gence re­spon­si­ble for the great­est in­tel­li­gence fail­ure since Pearl Har­bor ac­tu­ally re­ceived the Medal of Free­dom for pre­sid­ing over the 9/11 de­ba­cle.

One won­ders what sort of award Mr. Jones will get.

John Weis­man’s most re­cent CIA nov­els, “Jack in the Box” and “Di­rect Action,” are avail­able from Avon Books. He can be reached at black­ops@john weis­man.com.

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