Pre­sent­ing the real world of spy trade­craft

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - By Joseph C. Goulden

AFIO’S GUIDE TO THE STUDY OF IN­TEL­LI­GENCE Edited by Peter C. Glee­son

The chance ac­qui­si­tion of widely dis­parate books on in­tel­li­gence a few days back prompted a ques­tion: How much ac­tual knowl­edge does the lay cit­i­zen have about the work­ings of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity? And what in­for­ma­tion can be con­sid­ered au­then­tic?

My book splurge be­gan with a $10 bar­gain at a Ge­orge­town book sale, a hand­some boxed set of the 13 James Bond nov­els by Ian Flem­ing. As I thumbed through these books — many for a re­peat read — I kept shak­ing my head, “What non­sense.”

To be sure, Flem­ing had what seemed to be good at­mo­spheric glimpses in­side head­quar­ters of the Bri­tish Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, per his World War II ex­pe­ri­ences. And Flem­ing’s pub­lisher says the thrillers sold more than 60 mil­lion copies and spawned pop­u­lar movies. But based on real-life war sto­ries I have heard from CIA case of­fi­cers, Bond’s ex­ploits bore no re­la­tion to re­al­ity.

Thus, as Robert Gates writes in a fore­word to “AFIO’s Guide to the Study of In­tel­li­gence,” when he joined the CIA in 1966, “about the only pub­lic source about the world of in­tel­li­gence was found in the fic­tion of John le Carre and Ian Flem­ing.” (Mr. Gates rose to be­come di­rec­tor of central in­tel­li­gence.)

Now, sev­eral score mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of For­mer In­tel­li­gence Of­fi­cers have teamed to pro­duce an un­clas­si­fied book that is the most thor­ough — and re­li­able — pic­ture of the real world of in­tel­li­gence that you are apt to find. Although the vol­ume is aimed at stu­dents in the 276 col­leges that of­fer cour­ses in in­tel­li­gence and na­tional se­cu­rity, it is high on my should-read list for any­one in­ter­ested in how the var­i­ous com­po­nents of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity ac­tu­ally func­tion.

The book of 82 es­says, edited by Peter C. Ol­son, who has 48 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­tel­li­gence field, opens with more than 100 pages of his­tory of in­tel­li­gence over the years. Per­sons de­sir­ing to delve deeper will find a rich trove of elec­tronic guides to un­clas­si­fied sources, many of them from in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. (Some of these agency home pages con­tain enough ma­te­rial for hours — yea, days — of read­ing.)

There­after, the book of­fers a de­tailed and highly read­able tour of cur­rent in­tel­li­gence, in­clud­ing the so­phis­ti­cated satel­lite and lis­ten­ing sta­tion net­works that keep a watch­ful eye on Amer­ica’s ad­ver­saries. It goes be­yond tra­di­tional agen­cies to fo­cus on the roles that lo­cal law en­force­ment has in coun­tert­er­ror­ism.

The ba­sic weapons of es­pi­onage re­main hu­man be­ings — per­sons who gather in­for­ma­tion from a va­ri­ety of sources, and an­a­lysts who in­ter­pret what it means. In the words of John R. Sano, for­mer deputy di­rec­tor of CIA’s Na­tional Clan­des­tine Ser­vice, “Hu­man in­tel­li­gence en­cap­su­lates a wide range of skills — from tra­di­tional diplo­matic di­a­logue, to ma­nip­u­la­tion, to de­ceit. At its core is the abil­ity to re­cruit an in­di­vid­ual to con­duct es­pi­onage, to ‘spy.’ ”

There are times, of course, when even a wealth of in­for­ma­tion points to no clear con­clu­sion as to an ad­ver­sary’s in­ten­tion. Hence an oft-heard maxim among CIAs an­a­lyst is, “Es­ti­mat­ing is what you do when you don’t know and can­not find.”

The elec­tronic rev­o­lu­tion has ren­dered ob­so­lete much spy trade­craft. As Stephen H. Camp­bell writes, “The se­cret doc­u­ments that were pho­tographed and dead-dropped dur­ing the Cold War are now likely to be im­aged and trans­mit­ted elec­tron­i­cally. Eas­ily con­cealed me­mory cards re­duce the need for com­pro­mis­ing de­vices to hide film or se­cret writ­ing ma­te­ri­als.”

Although in­tel­li­gence by def­i­ni­tion is a se­ri­ous busi­ness, there are chuck­les here and there. Tech­ni­cians work­ing un­der sci­en­tific in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Gene Poteat (a for­mer AFIO pres­i­dent) wanted to snoop on Soviet-sup­plied Cuban radar. So an elec­tronic sig­nal was con­trived through which “a false air­craft was made to ap­pear to be a U.S. fighter plane about to over­fly Cuba.”

The ploy worked, and Cuban planes were scram­bled to in­ter­cept the in­truder. When a Cuban pi­lot re­ported he was about to “make a fir­ing pass to shoot it down,” a flick of a switch made the phan­tom plane van­ish.

One prob­lem plagu­ing the cur­rent in­tel com­mu­nity is a high turnover of per­son­nel. In the past, of­fi­cers who en­tered the CIA’s clan­des­tine ser­vice served ca­reers of 20 years or more. Presently, the ex­pected ten­ure is much shorter. An es­ti­mated half of the in­tel­li­gence bud­get goes to con­trac­tors, who can of­fer sub­stan­tially higher salaries than the gov­ern­ment.

The col­lege-level in­tel­li­gence cour­ses — many of which AFIO ad­vis­ers helped shape — are aimed at fill­ing the gap. It is a per­fect book for stu­dents — and oth­ers as well. And, as edi­tor Ol­son notes, “Even those who are for­mer prac­ti­tion­ers are likely to have only a lim­ited knowl­edge of the very broad field of in­tel­li­gence, as most spend their ca­reers in one or two agen­cies and may have fo­cused only on col­lec­tion or anal­y­sis.”

In sum, a book that de­serves space on any spy buff’s shelves. Joseph C. Goulden is the au­thor of 19 non­fic­tion books.

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