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Archive for May, 2006

[Originally published in The Valley News.]

In an informal speech in 2004, Paul Pillar, then CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, said that the White House had ignored CIA warnings that military intervention in Iraq would intensify anti-American hostility throughout the Islamic world. The White House was furious. Robert Novak, commenting on the speech, wrote, “This leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the president of the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency are at war with each other”.

The White House believes that there is a cabal of active and retired CIA officers who have done everything in their power to undermine the president, including an attempt to defeat him in the 2004 presidential election. Apparently, the president, vice president and Karl Rove all share this view of the CIA.

The White House is also said to be furious that a senior CIA analyst, Michael Scheuer, was allowed to publish the book Imperial Hubris, which was cleared by the CIA while he was still employed there and was highly critical of White House Middle East policy.

Further, after the Iraq invasion, the White House received a number of special messages directed to the president from CIA’s chief of station in Baghdad, saying that the insurgency was going badly for us and would get worse because there were many, many Iraqis who hated us and who supported the insurgents. The president was said to respond angrily after he read one of the reports: “Who is this guy anyway? Is he some kind of defeatist wuss?”

Add to that a goodly number of op-ed pieces and speeches by CIA retirees unfavorable to the White House and its Middle East policies, and a picture emerges of a White House that regards the “CIA cabal” as a major instigator of negative comment on the administration’s foreign policy.

So, the president sent Porter Goss and his minions from the House Intelligence Committee to run the CIA. Given their insensitive, negative and ham-fisted approach, most of which has been aired extensively in the press, it’s clear that the White House placed no constraints on how Goss ran the CIA. It looked both from the inside and from the outside as if Goss was sent to Langley to punish the CIA rather than to reform, improve or redirect it.

The troubling point here is that the White House appears to have put its personal (and wrongly directed) anger above the good of the nation and well above the recommendations of the 9/ll Commission and the Commission on the Intelligence of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Before 9/11 ever happened, everyone who looked at America’s intelligence shortcomings said that “human intelligence” (HUMINT) – the collection of intelligence through recruited human sources – really needed fixing and that the CIA’s Operations Directorate therefore had to be strengthened.

Despite that analysis – and apparently out of personal pique – the White House seems to have set out to weaken the institution still further by having Goss, whom even the White House was said not to respect, keep the CIA in a constant state of turmoil. Recently departed senior CIA officials say they left the agency because of the nasty and vindictive top-down management style employed by Goss and his “gosslings”.

It is absolutely true that there are a number of active and retired CIA officers who, like many other Americans, have taken issue with the White House’s Middle East policy. Many of them have served there. Many focused professionally on that region for decades. Their knowledge of the history and realities of the region led them to view the administration’s radical new foreign policy of pre-emptive unilateralism in Iraq as ill advised at best and dangerous at worst. Only time will tell whether they were right or wrong, but they took those positions because they truly believed the White House policies were disastrous and that not saying so would be a disservice to their country.

The old CIA is now dead and will never be reconstituted. The assignment of Goss to Langley is now mercifully over. The president has proposed a very smart general, Michael Hayden of the Air Force, as his replacement. However, he is a technologically experienced general from the National Security Agency who has never had any experience with human intelligence operations.

The real issue here is what this administration wants and expects from what is left of the CIA. It is generally assumed that the remnants of the CIA – to be known as the National Clandestine Service – will provide human intelligence coverage of critical targets abroad. Given the miserable state of the current CIA, it will need infusions of money, people and, most important, savvy and experienced leadership. The president probably should have picked someone who really understands the human intelligence business.

The fact that he did not leads to all kinds of questions about what he really wants to accomplish and whether or not Hayden’s appointment is simply another example of the White House taking it out on the CIA.

Given the way the White House treats the world around it, it is no surprise that its attitude toward the CIA is punitive and retaliatory. It is sad that the disintegration of the CIA is rooted in petty vindictiveness. Actually, it is more than sad. As the 9/11 Commission made clear, having a capable CIA is the country’s only real hope in addressing the critical need to have human intelligence operations as a tool for fighting terrorism.

Haviland Smith, who retired from the CIA as a station chief in 1980, served in Europe and the Middle East as chief of counterterrorism and as an executive assistant in the CIA director’s office.

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CIA, R.I.P. Now what?

[Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.]

The CIA is finally dead.

It started with President Bill Clinton’s “peace dividend,” declared after the fall of the Soviet Union, which brought bipartisan underfunding and inattention to the CIA for over a decade.

It continued with recriminations from the Bush administration for its putative failures to predict 9/11 and White House anger at and retribution for what it believed to be the CIA’s lack of support for its foreign policies.

It is now ending with the 20-month disaster of Porter J. Goss, which clearly demonstrated the Bush administration’s desire to punish the CIA and reflected its proposition that the CIA is no longer needed.

So we now have the skeleton of an organization that once contained the government’s pre-eminent intelligence analytical component plus its unequaled espionage, covert action, paramilitary, counterespionage and counterintelligence capabilities. What remains is the new National Clandestine Service (NCS) – the old Operations Directorate, or Clandestine Service, by a different name.

Analysis and the counterterrorism center have gone to the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, making him responsible for presidential briefings and thus diminishing the CIA’s role.

Espionage, paramilitary operations and covert action are expanding unilateral enterprises in the Pentagon, challenging even the CIA’s proposed new NCS role.

The FBI, which never has had organizational understanding of, or commitment to, counterespionage, counterterrorism or counterintelligence, continues as the lead organization on all those disciplines.

What appears to have been lost in rearranging the deck chairs after 9/11 is the unavoidable fact that the U.S. desperately needs a functioning human intelligence-collection component to conduct operations against its enemies abroad. Only the new NCS has the potential to provide this capability.

That the NCS does not have the personnel, experience or linguistic talents to successfully conduct on-the-ground spying is the fault of those in Congress and the White House who should have been supporting and funding this country’s intelligence operations from 1990 to 2006 but did not do so adequately.

Running intelligence operations abroad, which is based on breaking the laws of other countries, is tricky. It requires that the NCS be pre-eminent in running spies. For both the NCS and the Pentagon to be conducting uncoordinated spy operations in the same geographic area would be an invitation to disaster. In addition, the NCS, in order to maximize and protect its operations, needs to be in charge of liaisons with foreign intelligence services and responsible for overseas counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

Finally, NCS will need unfettered access to the best government analysts. It is the interplay between intelligence collector and analyst that moves any operation toward its optimal results.

The NCS as a spy operation will function better without responsibility for covert action, which is defined as operations intended to manipulate foreign groups or governments to take actions favorable to the United States. The ability to mount and run such operations was always viewed by CIA directors as a plus in the old Washington power game. It was a capability that many presidents could not and did not refuse.

But covert action operations in the Clandestine Service complicated its role as intelligence collector and diverted resources. It was always easier to place a pro-American, anti-Soviet article in the local press than it was to run a complicated recruitment operation against a Soviet official, and it got people promoted.

Since the CIA has been all but destroyed and because the spy activities it formerly undertook remain even more tactically critical today than during the Cold War, everything needs to be done to regain and improve the capabilities that existed before the dismemberment of the organization.

Clandestine operations need to be kept clear of the existing bureaucracies and remain under independent leadership. Human intelligence is not a job, it’s an art form. A bureaucratically managed spying effort working under some other bureaucratized government component such as the Pentagon or the director of national intelligence will never get the job done.

In that respect, it’s difficult to understand, assuming that the White House wants to bolster our human spy capability, why Gen. Michael V. Hayden, with only a technological background, would be nominated to head an organization in which experience in conducting human intelligence should be the first requirement for employment. This is a dangerous time for our country to have a CIA director with a steep learning curve.

Haviland Smith, who retired from the CIA as a station chief in 1980, served in Europe and the Middle East as chief of counterterrorism and as an executive assistant in the CIA director’s office.

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We’re Running Out of Options in Iraq

[Originally published in the Valley News.]

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, have suggested a new approach to the growing and deteriorating situation in Iraq. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, they propose that America drop its current policy of working to install democracy in Iraq and adopt one that encourages the formation of a loose federation of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish states or republics with a capital in Baghdad.

There is little point in going over all the reasons why Bush administration policy is failing to achieve any of its goals in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. That has been done ad nauseum. We are where we are. Whether we should be there or not is really relevant only to historians.

Iraq is a creation of colonialism. There is nothing about it that stems from a natural political, tribal or religious experience or evolution. It is there because it suited someone else to create it, and it is highly unlikely that it will hold together except by dint of colonial or dictatorial force. It was not designed to function under any other circumstances.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that every component part of the internal Iraqi struggle for power has supporters and opponents outside the country who are likely to intervene to protect their own interests.

Does this appear like an impossible situation? Absent some as-yet-unidentified power prepared to impose peace on Iraq, it is. The religious and ethnic realities that existed before our invasion of Iraq have not been and cannot be changed by the power of prayer (or even rational discourse).

The Biden-Gelb proposal suggests that a group of surrounding nations and interested parties – Iran, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia – get together and accept responsibility for guiding the successful march of the warring Iraqi components toward peace. This group, in turn, would be “encouraged” by Western governments in its trek toward peace.

A force of regional “interested parties” cannot succeed because in its inclusiveness it brings with it all the issues that create and maintain instability inside Iraq, and all of that on a grander and far more dangerous scale.

The last thing the Turks want is an autonomous Kurdish entity on their southeast border. They assume, probably correctly, that this would destabilize their own country, presenting the millions of Turkish Kurds with an alternative to their current second-class status in Turkey.

The Iranian government would likely view southern Iraq, the oil-rich section of the country where their co-religionists predominate, as a desirable acquisition in a chaotic post-American-withdrawal world. In addition, Iran has not forgotten the war waged against it by Saddam’s Iraq.

The Sunnis and their outside protectors would be tempted to play the role of spoilers, as the Iraqi Sunnis will have lost not only their long-time disproportionate political power in Iraq, but also their claim to most of Iraq’s oil.

In simple terms, the Biden-Gelb plan comes up against the same set of hard, immutable realities that made our poorly thought out invasion of Iraq so prone to failure. It has a less than equal chance for success.

So, where does all this leave us? Only a dictator or a 21st-century imperial power can solve this issue. As was the case in Vietnam, this war can be won, but not on a timetable that is likely to be politically acceptable here at home.

Considering that most of the rest of the world regards the situation in Iraq to be the result of our own arrogance and destructive policies, there is little chance that we ever will be able to find or create an entity to take on our role in moving Iraq in the direction so naively championed by the Bush administration. With our half-hearted troop commitments, we have lost our chance to find a constructive solution on our own. What is far more likely is a slow slide into civil war (if we are not already there), which could easily lead to a broader religious, ethnic and political armed conflict in the region.

When the U.S. electorate shows insufficient support for this first application of the Bush administration’s policy of pre-emptive unilateralism, it will be time to seriously consider a “cut and run” strategy. This is what we ultimately did in Vietnam. At that point, the American people can look upon this episode as a lesson given by the Republicans and George Bush on the exercise of American power in foreign affairs!

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston, Vt.

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