Archive for the ‘CIA’ Category

First Published in Vermont Digger

The Soviet Intelligence Officer’s Handbook defines an “agent of influence” as “an agent operating under intelligence instructions who uses his or her officialdom or public position, and other means, to exert influence on policy, public opinion, the course of particular events, the activity of political organizations and state agencies in target countries.” Thus, the concept of an agent of influence was well known in the USSR and remains so in today’s Russia.

During the Cold War, it was generally accepted at the CIA that coercive recruitments involving some sort of blackmail more often than not did not work at all, or if they initially appeared to work, they often fell rapidly apart. The reason for this is clear. People who are coerced into recruitment find themselves in a subservient position to the recruiter (case officer). They are constantly worried that the secret on which the coercion was based will become public and are continually concerned that the secret will ultimately be used to force them into increasingly dangerous situations. All of which is a shaky basis on which to start an inherently dangerous clandestine relationship.

We learned that good recruitments are based on mutual interest. Recruitment is a successful nonsexual seduction. If the potential agent can be found to have needs or desires that can be satisfied by the case officer, that is precisely where we wanted to be. We wanted the potential agent to understand that we supported him or her in many possible ways. Money? Perks? No problem! Some of our targets wanted revenge on their bosses. One particularly fascinating agent wanted revenge on the KGB because during collectivization in the 1930s, they had taken and later killed his grandfather’s cow! That was his sole motivation for cooperating with us. He never took a penny while he totally raped the KGB and the USSR.

In fact, some “successful recruitments” never involved acknowledgement on the part of the agent that he or she was an agent at all. Normally in such cases, some fig leaf of a noble motive for mutual cooperation was concocted to make such an admission unnecessary – support of world peace, avoiding conflict, etc.

This could be particularly important when dealing with a potential agent of influence, many if not most of whom were important people in their own environments. If they had not been, how could they be of assistance? The only important characteristic in an agent of influence, is that he be motivated to carry through on the goals important to the case officer. Even if he was recruited in a “honey pot operation” (sexual seduction), a critical staple of the Russians, or was motivated by his need for money, power, recognition, revenge or anything else, that agent could often be enticed into full cooperation on the basis of the premise that he was cooperating for reasons that were morally acceptable to him, that he was saving world peace or improving relations between the two countries involved. It mattered not one whit whether or not this was objectively true.

What mattered was that he support the goals of his case officer and take direction from him.

In this context, it is fascinating to look at the positions taken by President Donald Trump on U.S. national and international issues, as those positions clearly support the goals of today’s Russian government.

Putin would do everything possible to weaken the United States. He would love to see ethnic and religious divisions in the United States grow. He clearly revels in the dissent that now exists in our political system between Republicans and Democrats. Ditto our relations abroad, particularly those with European countries. He applauds our disengagement from economic cooperation around the world, seeing us therefore weakened.

Additional Russian goals include: The weakening or destruction of NATO and the European Union; the encouragement of authoritarian governments in countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Denmark in the context that European dissent would weaken Europe and increase Russian chances of reestablishing hegemony over the USSR’s former Warsaw Pact allies. They support Brexit as it weakens European cooperation. These goals are supported by most Trump policies.

And through it all, Trump defends Putin in the context of Russian meddling in our elections over the judgments of his intelligence community!

Despite the fact that there are clearly jointly held goals and policies, this does not mean that any sort of formal relationship exists between Russia and Trump. If he falls into any convenient category, it may well be that of unacknowledged cooperation as described above.


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Originally published in the Perspective Section of the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times Argus

When Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947, establishing the Central Intelligence Agency, it was the first time the United States had ever had a peacetime intelligence organization.

The concept of a secret U.S. intelligence organization had been widely publicly discussed between the end of the Second World War and l947.  Those who opposed the idea pointed out the dichotomy of housing such an organization in a liberal democracy.  Wouldn’t its existence go against the basic tenets of democracy?  It was a serious, prolonged discussion which was finally resolved in favor of the creation of the CIA.  The rise of the USSR and its acquisitive policies in Europe played a major role in forming a consensus that America would need the services of such an organization in the coming years.

So, the CIA was created to stand with existing military intelligence organizations and, in 1949, with the National Security Agency, as the United State’s primary espionage agencies.  This effort came to exist primarily because of the proclivity of other nations to guard their secrets, particularly when those secrets represented any potential threat to the U.S. and its citizens.

All of this discussion was open and public in nature.  None of it was classified.  Anyone who wished to become informed on the subject could find ample original source information in the public media.  The result was that anyone who chose to know could find out in short order that the United States was setting up a post-war intelligence structure to support foreign and military policy makers in the coming Cold War.

Now, suddenly, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have jolted us, as an amnesic nation, into re-opening the same conversation, proving, if nothing else, that

America has no corporate memory.

If you believe that serious threats to the American nation ended with the demise of the Soviet Union and that no other such threats exist against the United States today, then probably you don’t see any objective need for this country to maintain an intelligence gathering structure.

If, on the other hand, you are concerned with America’s ability to protect herself against non-state terrorism, nuclear proliferation and nations that might somehow wish to harm us, then perhaps you can see some advantage in our having an efficient, functioning intelligence collection system.

The sole purpose of such a system is to provide policy makers with accurate information on the capabilities and intentions of any group that might wish to harm us.  During the Cold War we benefitted from the fact that we knew pretty well precisely who and where those hostile groups were.

Today’s world is far more complicated and confusing.  We are faced with a fragmented, franchised terrorist enemy which comes at us not only from abroad, but from within our own country.  Unlike an enemy directed by the Soviet Union, today’s enemies are self-directed individuals and groups, often with no ties to any central organization.  In intelligence terms, this deprives us of the option of penetrating the main organization to learn what the affiliates are planning to do.

Then, strictly in support of foreign policy, we are dealing with regions like the Middle East where political stability is a thing of the past and where the main result of the “Arab Spring” has been chaos, which has made policy decisions extraordinarily complicated and accurate intelligence mandatory.  Further, the nuclear activities of countries like Iran and North Korea mandate intelligence input.  And because none of these countries and non-state actors is going to tell us what they are up to, covert intelligence collection is the only answer.

Intelligence collection was never designed to go unmonitored in America.  The 1947 Act and subsequent legislation creating the intelligence community have had built into them appropriate controls that mandate legislative and judicial monitoring.  In fact, today all we have are allegations that wrongdoing is possible, not that it is actually happening. That’s akin to saying that the US military shouldn’t have guns because they might one day aim them at their fellow Americans.

What that implies is that those Americans who are most agitated by information coming from today’s leakers and are most negative on intelligence collection are those who believe that those who work in the intelligence community or monitor their work are not to be trusted.

There are two keys here.  First, the overwhelming majority of employees in the intelligence community are honorable, patriotic, well-intentioned people.  When you combine their sense of right and wrong with solid, appropriate oversight, you minimize whatever problems might arise.

Second, without intelligence, we are blind in an increasingly hostile and dangerous world.


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Originally published in Sic Semper Tyrannis


The Central Intelligence Agency was born out of American experiences in the Second World War and our anxiety over Soviet intentions and activities in the post war period.


Having had no formal intelligence organization prior to World War Two, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, was put together under the Joint Chiefs of Staff to meet the needs of the war itself.  That meant that the origins of the American intelligence were paramilitary.  The OSS was there, in effect, to fight the war from a paramilitary perspective.  OSS parachuted into occupied Europe and contacted indigenous partisan groups there.  They blew up bridges and dams and other important pieces of European infrastructure.  They were, quite simply, heroes running the unconventional part of our war against the Axis powers.


We came out of that hot war into the Cold War.  Many of the people who had run OSS during the hot war were tapped for leadership roles in the new CIA.  And that was what we got, a management structure whose primary experience was in paramilitary, hot war operations.  And we were facing the entirely new requirement that we produce intelligence on the capabilities and intentions of our enemies in a peaceful environment, a task that was essentially alien to a majority of our managers.


The CIA headed into the Cold War largely unprepared to run the kinds of operations that would be required of it.  The Cold War was an intelligence war of subtleties.  No more hand grenades or parachute drops.  No more paramilitary operations.  No more hot war.  Just the difficult and demanding job of recruiting spies in the Soviet empire and running them in place in hostile environments characterized by pervasive 24/7 surveillance.  We did this with no experienced leadership.  We felt our way, had our share of failures, but ultimately got to the point where we could recruit the kinds of assets we needed and then run them in place in their homelands.


The Cold War ended.  A decade later, we were suddenly post-9/11.  And where did that put us?   Right back in a paramilitary environment without the guidance and experience of all those Second World War OSS veterans who actually knew how to run the needed operations!


So, the twenty-first century edition of the CIA rushed back headlong into paramilitary operations.  Having cut our teeth in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, we now found ourselves back in a kind of role reversal.


According to press reports, that has now morphed into the lead role in the drone business.  CIA, the organization that had to work its tail off to get out of the paramilitary business, is now back in that business in spades.  The real question here is not the alleged validity of the drone program.  It is to question the appropriateness of having it vested in the CIA.


This is not the first time this discussion has emerged.  In the early years of the CIA, two completely separate organizations within the Agency ran intelligence operations.  OSO conducted intelligence collection operations, where OPC was responsible for what remained of the OSS’s psychological and paramilitary operations.  The ultimate decision was that they would be combined with the result that an uneasy relationship existed between them throughout the Cold War.


Those who conducted intelligence collection operations always felt there was a real incompatibility in being lodged in the same organization with those who ran our propaganda and paramilitary operations.


Since its inception, the CIA has been charged with producing intelligence on the capabilities and intentions of its enemies.  To have propaganda operations, and, even more, paramilitary operations, woven into the same organization is not good thinking, however “convenient” it may be.  At best the relationship is uneasy, at worst it is competitive and self-destructive.


An excellent example of this is Pakistan today where, given the realities of Pakistan’s perpetual and dangerous rivalry with a nuclear India, the organization that allegedly flies the hated drones hamstrings itself when it is the same one that is responsible for securing the covert cooperation of important people who are our best hope for learning what’s really going on in that important, nuclear country.


If the US Government must have a paramilitary drone capability, then it should be lodged somewhere in the military establishment or in an organization completely separate from our CIA and its human collection operations.  To put it anywhere in the CIA is risky, foolhardy and ultimately counterproductive, serving neither our covert human collection nor our paramilitary operations.




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[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus]

One of the primary purposes of any foreign intelligence organization like the CIA is that it provide to policymakers the best and most accurate information and analyses. In the language of the trade it’s called “speaking truth to power,” a statement that correctly implies that not all makers of foreign policy welcome the information provided to them by the intelligence community.

It is a simple fact of life that much of our foreign policy evolves as a result of domestic political needs rather than the intelligence and analyses that reflect the facts on the ground where the policy is to be implemented.

An excellent example of the perils involved in foreign policy formulation can be seen in the efforts of the Bush White House to influence the production of intelligence analysis during the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Former CIA officers have reported that Vice President Dick Cheney made numerous visits to CIA headquarters to ensure that a crucial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on weapons of mass destruction was alarmist enough to scare Congress into authorizing the Iraq invasion.

At the same time, an Office of Special Plans was set up in the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz and headed by Douglas Feith to “relook” or re-examine the raw intelligence that had led to the unhelpful conclusions that the White House found “inaccurate” and unsupportive. Its purpose was to find “overlooked” raw intelligence that would support the White House’s planned Iraq invasion.

It also has been reported that George Tenet, the CIA director at the time, finally told his analysts that if they wished to have any influence on Bush White House foreign policy, they would have to modify their analyses.

This can happen during foreign policy formulation. If the foreign policy authors have already decided on the policy they want to pursue and that policy is not supported by the available intelligence and analyses, it can lead to attempts to subvert the intelligence system.

The appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as director of the CIA raises some interesting issues. In his March 2011 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee he said, “As a bottom line up front, it is ISAF’s assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas. However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible. Moreover, it is clear that much difficult work lies ahead with our Afghan partners to solidify and expand our gains in the face of the expected Taliban spring offensive.”

Petraeus is an intelligent, ambitious, educated military officer. He enjoyed unprecedented success with the “surge” in Iraq, even though there were other critical elements over which he had no control that heavily contributed to the surge’s success.

However, while the general was speaking of the progress made in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times was saying that the analysts of 16 intelligence agencies in Washington (in an NIE) “contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban” and that Pakistan’s intelligence services continue to train, support and manipulate Taliban groups in Afghanistan.

And this while we are dealing with a totally dysfunctional President Karzai and Afghan realities and history that have defied foreign manipulation and exploitation for centuries.

It was subsequently reported that the 2011 NIEs on Afghanistan and Pakistan said that the fight was not winnable without Pakistani engagement against Taliban militants on its side of the border. Our military commanders have challenged this conclusion.

The question here is not who is right or wrong about Afghanistan. The question is whether or not any individual, despite an exemplary character and record, is capable of changing roles from that of head cheerleader for Americans who favor our continued involvement in the Afghan war to director of the organization that up until now has been reluctant to be optimistic, given the realities that exist in Afghanistan and Pakistan, about our prospects for any kind of success in that region.

Given the current demands on our national purse — our aging population, our current economic fragility, our infrastructural disintegration, our failing educational system and the expense of the largest military establishment in the history of the world, it is inordinately important that the new CIA director be able to accept the analyses of his organization and pass them on to the White House.

He must speak truth to power.

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Too few eyes, ears for big world

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

According to the CIA’s official website, “The mission of the National Clandestine Service is to strengthen national security and foreign policy objectives through the clandestine collection of human intelligence (HUMINT) and Covert Action.”

The lack of targeted focus of the CIA’s clandestine collection efforts in the past has never been widely discussed outside intelligence circles, but given today’s realities, particularly the slowing availability of resources and the threat of terrorism, it certainly should be.

During the Cold War, the only critical requirement for the National Clandestine Service was to provide its customers with intelligence on the “capabilities and intentions” of our enemies. Human intelligence gathering was the only collection method that worked against these requirements, as they were essentially immune to technical collection.

We needed to target Soviet military research and development. We knew that if we waited until a new weapons system hit the test pads (and was finally vulnerable to technical collection), the United States would be unable to develop countermeasures for at least seven years. Thus, to be safe, we needed to know what systems were being developed in Soviet military design bureaus. Finally, of course, we needed to penetrate their decision-making apparatus for intelligence on their intentions.

It is an unfortunate fact that only a relatively small percentage of Cold War NCS officers actually worked on the recruitment of Soviet citizens who could report on our most important requirements. Much lip service was paid to the importance of the Soviet target, but with far too few exceptions, many of the NCS’ geographic area divisions and their personnel were doing other, far less meaningful things.

There were two reasons for this reality.

First, every administration hedges all its bets. If a potentially bothersome or embarrassing issue pops up in some obscure part of the world, they expect the intelligence community to be on top of it. This translates into a tasking system within the community, including the NCS, that tries to cover everything in anticipation of that one potentially unpleasant and embarrassing surprise.

Second, an NCS Cold War case officer in Latin America knew that the odds of recruiting a significant Soviet were very low and that he would more likely be viewed as successful if he were to run propaganda operations or recruit local politicians and local Communist Party members, none of which, however, would get us remotely close to our critical national need for intelligence on Soviet military research and development and intentions.

What we can learn from these realities is the probability that at any given time, only a relatively small proportion of NCS officers are working on targets that are critical to our national goals. There are simply far too many other targets available. From there, it is fairly easy to stipulate that those who are not working such goals are not performing critical functions and might better be retargeted.

If we were really worried about terrorism, why were we active in Iraq where there were no terrorists before our 2003 invasion, and in Afghanistan today where there are few if any terrorists, only insurgents?

The present-day equivalents of our Cold War requirements are all connected with the ability of terrorists to attack us with weapons of mass destruction. We cannot afford to have a nuclear weapon detonated in one of our major cities.

Effective operations against the terrorist target will include the recruitment of anyone who supports terrorism: foreign supporters, terrorists’ lines of communication, document support, travel support, terrorist funding mechanisms — anything or anyone who can give us insight into terrorist plans and intentions.

Our intelligence commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan support only our ongoing military operations there, not our struggle with terrorism. They certainly are an injudicious use of manpower if our major target really is terrorism.

Intelligence organizations are, by their nature, omnivorous. They will slip into and fill any empty space and easily justify it in terms of their overall mission. The enormous size and meaningless tasks of the NCS commitment in Vietnam were a perfect example. But these are different times. International and domestic realities have created an environment in which selective intelligence targeting will become increasingly important.

If terrorism truly is our existential intelligence problem, policymakers need to learn to focus their requirements better. They must learn to differentiate between terrorism and insurgencies and to shy away from unconnected, less important activities.

If, because of overly broad White House tasking, the NCS feels it has to know about an impending coup in every obscure Third World country, it will be less likely to learn of an impending terrorist attack on the homeland.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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Why we lack intelligence

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

The director of National Intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, resigned from his post in late May. The miracle is first, that given the endemic structural and political issues in the intelligence community he accepted the job at all and, second, that he lasted as long as he did.

The intelligence structure of the United States is broken. It started with Bill Clinton’s “peace dividend” after the fall of the Soviet Union, when many of the most substantively and linguistically talented CIA officers opted for early retirement simply because their ship was rudderless under a White House that should have been at the helm.

It was that rudderless CIA ship that limped into 9/11 and ultimately took the fall for the overall ineptitude of the entire intelligence community.

When the federal government is faced with a crisis and really doesn’t know what to do, it reorganizes. It was inevitable that 9/11 would bring us a “Patriot Act,” a piece of legislation that bears testimony to the fact that its authors and supporters had no idea what they were doing.

The Patriot Act inserted yet another layer of bureaucracy on top of an already dysfunctional, uncoordinated and stratified intelligence community. It created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence when it already had a position with essentially the same coordinating authorities and responsibilities, the director of Central Intelligence.

Because of the way Washington usually functions, a succession of DCIs either was not permitted by the White House to carry out their intelligence community oversight responsibilities, or felt insufficiently secure to try. None of the other myriad organizations in the intelligence community ever had any intention of allowing the DCI, or today’s DNI, to oversee its operations. And it was often politically difficult for any given White House to establish or support the primacy of the DCI, as is clearly the case today with the DNI.

The problems that confront this country in the intelligence arena are many and complex. They start with the totally irrational expectations of the American people who, fed by Jason Bourne, 007 and “24,” really think that they can be protected from evil-doers by the wondrous workings of the intelligence community.

In a world of increasingly self-motivated self-trained singleton terrorists, it is irrational to think that we will somehow escape this period unscathed. The underwear bomber and Times Square were lucky breaks for us, but that sort of thing will happen again and we won’t be so lucky. What we need to avoid at all costs is the real WMD.

We need to keep terrorists from detonating a nuclear device, the only true WMD, on our soil. That is where we need to concentrate our real counterrorism operations – on the potential sources of such weapons and the networks that would be expected to move them should they become available. In relative terms, however unsettling, a car bomb in Manhattan is peanuts!

Intelligence collection and analysis are imperfect arts. Critical analysis is not possible without excellent collection because, by and large, only clandestine collection has the potential to obtain critical information on the capabilities and intentions of our enemies (strategic intelligence).

There has always been a conflict between the collection of tactical military intelligence and strategic intelligence, particularly in time of war. It is safe to conclude that, as in the case of Viet Nam, since our 2003 invasion of Iraq, CIA has been increasingly tasked with the collection of tactical military intelligence in support of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s hard to imagine that the hundreds of CIA officers who have probably been committed to the region for political reasons, have been working on terrorism and WMD. Certainly since 2006, terrorists have become increasingly scarce and it’s clear that the WMD never have existed there.

Rivalries and jealousies exist throughout the IC. Sharing operational information is unusual and IC member management is interested In using the intelligence they gather or protect their relative positions in the IC. Thus the intelligence process, the primary purpose of which is to speak truth to power, always has been used by Washington’s politically ambitious to forward their organizational interests and careers.

Washington could well do away entirely with the DNI structure. It could be replaced by returning the authorities, responsibilities and the DCI title to the CIA Director, where they resided from 1946 until 2001. If they had the political guts, which seems unlikely, they could put enough real teeth into the DCI’s authorities to enable him to really oversee the IC and thus measurably strengthen it.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.

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Is this the best we can do?

[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

In late December 2009 at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province, a suicide bomber, who was offered to the CIA by the Jordanians as an agent who could penetrate al-Qaida but who was really working for al-Qaida, killed four CIA officers and three contract security guards on the base.

It appears that CIA personnel at Khost Base felt it necessary for four case officers to be present for the debriefing of their Jordanian “agent.” During the Cold War, which was a far less physically dangerous time for CIA officers, it was rare that even a KGB agent was met by more than one case officer. More than that was unprofessional, operationally insecure and unnecessary.

Add on three contract security guards and the situation becomes more confusing. What was their role? If they were needed for their security expertise, the Jordanian would appear not to have been trusted. If that was the case, why had they not already searched him before he came on base?

Or it tells us that the guards had no security or protective role, or for that matter any understandable operational role. In short they were superfluous.

It says that Khost Base officers, probably with CIA headquarters’ concurrence, apparently felt it was too dangerous to meet their Jordanian agent outside the base. Since Jordanians are, prima facie, our friends, does that mean that the operational environment is too dangerous to meet anyone at all off base? If you can’t meet a Jordanian outside, how could you meet a Taliban or al-Qaida agent?

It says that the difficult, time-consuming process of developing and recruiting new agent penetrations of critical targets has become extremely cumbersome, dangerous, perhaps even impossible. Do we run any unilateral operations or do we now rely primarily on friendly intelligence services for new sources?

All in all, it suggests that not much thoughtful, operational expertise was given to this particular meeting.

Twenty years ago, CIA case officers moved easily, even in difficult Middle East environments and could cultivate targets where they lived, worked and played as long as careful consideration was given to appropriate tradecraft. Now, it seems, our case officers had to bring onto American real estate what they obviously believed was a bona fide and important agent, a practice highly dangerous for such a sensitive source.

It is difficult to measure the impact that this event is likely to have on the CIA’s clandestine collection operations in that very difficult part of the world. Risk-taking is the lifeblood of intelligence organizations. Unfortunately, the first reaction will be that field stations will become more cautious. Fear of additional provocations will inhibit them. They will withdraw and shed some additional portion of whatever risk-taking proclivities they may have had before the incident.

The almost inevitable combination of reactions to this unfortunate incident will probably have fairly long-lasting negative impacts on the agency’s ability to get its job done.

More recently, we see a fascinating account of the petty jealousies that exist between the FBI and the New York Police Department as shown during the recent Times Square bombing case. National Public Radio’s Dina Temple-Raskin gives her account of the purposeful leakage of critical information to the press by both the FBI and the NYPD. It is an appalling example of the kinds of incredibly short-sighted practices of employees of the two organizations, prompted by their petty jealousies and rivalries.

In the process of blowing their own horns and trying to denigrate each other’s activities, Temple-Raskin says, FBI special agents and NYPD officers leaked to the press the identity of the suspect, his home address in Shelton, Conn., the address of an additional apartment he had in Bridgeport, sensitive operational details about the VIN number on the suspect’s car, the fact that he was an American citizen of Pakistani descent, and God knows what else.

This was certainly enough to tell the holder of bachelor’s and MBA degrees that he was a suspect and when he was finally arrested on the aircraft heading for the Middle East, after having ditched his FBI surveillance, his first question was whether the arresting officers were FBI or NYPD. It was a miracle he didn’t get away.

The FBI is this nation’s premier law enforcement agency, responsible for domestic counterterrorism. The NYPD is said to be far and away the most effective American police organization on counterterrorism operations. The CIA is this country’s premier foreign counterterrorism intelligence gathering organization.

Is this is the best we can do?

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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The CIA’s gray world

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

There is an essential philosophical disconnect in the existence of a secret intelligence organization in a liberal democracy. For those who don’t remember, that was one of the arguments presented when the creation of the CIA was being discussed in Congress after World War II.

Nevertheless, after due deliberation, the decision was made to go ahead with the creation of the CIA, based primarily on the nature of the world in which the discussion was being held. That was not a happy world. In the aftermath of the war and the Holocaust, and in the face of the upsurge in Soviet involvement around the world, the decision was made that, given a proper set of rules and sufficient oversight, it was in our national interest to have just such a secret intelligence service.

Now, more than 60 years later, recent articles in the press have called this decision into question. The issue revolves around the CIA’s movement of German Nazis to the United States in contravention of our own laws and practices covering the arrest and detention of Nazi war criminals. This concern has widened to question the propriety of the continued existence of the CIA.

The CIA was faced immediately after the war with the fact that certain of its “assets” could not safely remain in their countries of origin, mostly in Europe. As Nazis, they were being hunted by numerous organizations. As American agents or defectors, some Soviet citizens were being hunted by the KGB. In most cases, these were assets who had served the United States well or who had the strong potential to do so.

The CIA Act of 1949, also known as Public Law 110, created a structure that permitted the CIA to operate secretly without the normal fiscal and administrative controls that exist in the U.S. government. PL110, Section 8, also enabled the CIA to bring into the United States 100 foreign citizens per year outside normal immigration procedures if their entry was determined to be in “the interest of national security or essential to the furtherance of the national security mission.” These individuals were to be “given entry into the United States … without regard to their inadmissibility under immigration or any other laws or regulations.”

That is the law that permitted the CIA to bring German Nazis into the U.S., for past services rendered to the U.S., or for their potential contribution to our intelligence and defense needs, as in the creation of our missile capability. It also permitted the immigration of considerable numbers of Soviet citizens and their allies who had served or would serve American interests.

In this respect, it is difficult to see much difference between former Nazis and, for example, former KGB officers. Many Nazis had been involved in unspeakable crimes against humanity, but then, so had many KGB officers. Keep in mind that the KGB killed millions more Soviet citizens than the Nazis killed Jews, Gypsies, handicapped people and homosexuals.

We live in a rather gray world. Let’s assume for the argument (and because we hope it is true!) that the CIA is a wildly successful intelligence organization that, in pursuing its clandestine targets around the world, has produced critical information that has saved thousands of American lives in a dangerous world of international terrorism.

Is such a CIA worth having around even though its very existence is philosophically problematical for our liberal democracy? That is the sort of question that was resolved in favor of the CIA’s creation in 1949. Where the world is very different today, it is hardly less dangerous.

Is the CIA up to the tasks it now faces? That is impossible for outsiders to know. If it is not, then it needs examination with a view to reorganization or redirection. In any event, the United States needs a clandestine intelligence service to protect itself in a very dangerous world. Without such an organization, America is more vulnerable than it should be.

And while we’re at it, perhaps we should take another look at the entire intelligence community and the USA Patriot Act. Certainly that poorly and hastily conceived legislation did little more than give us an additional layer of bureaucracy and cover the posteriors of our elected and appointed officials.

As was the case 65 years ago, America needs to decide whether today’s realities warrant an uncomfortable coexistence with a clandestine intelligence structure and how that structure should be configured and managed for optimal results.

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

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With world watching, CIA is in hot seat

[Originally published in the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus.]

The Attorney General has opened an enquiry into the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a Bush administration euphemism for torture.

If it is to go forward, this process should have two distinct components. The first is an examination of which, if any, CIA officers exceeded the parameters of those “enhanced interrogation techniques” legally permitted and approved by Bush administration lawyers and officials. Anyone found to have done that should be held accountable.

The more important component is: who approved the use of those techniques and whether they truly were legal. CIA Director Leon Panetta has come out in opposition to any such enquiry because he is reportedly fixed on trying to restore a reasonable degree of morale in a very important, but otherwise accused, abused and badly used organization.

President Barack Obama has stated on a number of occasions that he would prefer that his administration look forward, rather than backward, implying his own lack of enthusiasm for inquiries into the past practice of torture. This may well reflect his own enthusiasm for the congressional bipartisanship he seeks, but has found illusory.

Democrat members of Congress, who share none of the president’s responsibilities to actually govern, would like to go after the people in the Bush Administration who got the torture ball rolling, using a search for truth to further discomfit the leaderless Republicans.

The CIA interrogators who were involved in the enhanced techniques, some of whom have commented on the likelihood that such techniques would probably become public and cause them trouble, probably would like the entire issue to go away.

Republicans, particularly those members of Congress who avoided the consequences of having supported eight years of Bush policies and were, however improbably, reelected in 2008, would also most certainly like the issue to disappear. Such an inquiry would at minimum push the Republicans farther into the political wilderness.

Finally, it seems pretty clear where President George Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney and former CIA Director George Tenet would come to rest on the issue.

During the early years after 9/11, the Bush administration quite deliberately set about getting enhanced interrogation techniques accepted and employed by the intelligence community. Only two US Government organizations had any real experience with interrogation, the Military with POWs and the FBI with criminals. The military is said to have refused any such activity in order to protect their own troops from torture at the hands of any enemy. The FBI is said to have told the Bush administration that they would not participate because such techniques did not produce valid information.

So the Bush Administration apparently approached the CIA with its submissive Director George Tenet and found a far more willing audience. This was probably because over the years, the CIA has not been involved in interrogation. The name of the game for CIA was always debriefing people who wanted to talk to them, not interrogating those who did not. That’s police and military business. So, the enhanced interrogation techniques ended up in the hands of those government employees who knew least about what they were being asked to do!

If there is to be any sort of real justice, there has to be a complete investigation. That investigation has to cover not only what was done, but who approved it either explicitly or tacitly. Tacit approval appears to have been at work in Abu Ghraib and it should not be overlooked in any ongoing investigation. Only working stiffs in the field were punished for Abu Ghraib.

Now we have CIA in the hot seat. They may well deserve to be there, but the real issue isn’t whether or not those CIA interrogators who employed “enhanced interrogation techniques” should be investigated with a view to determining their guilt or innocence. The issue really is: who was involved in the approval of torture and bears the guilt for what appears to have happened.

If any investigation is to be successful, it has to look at the approval chain at minimum and at maximum, it has to look at the atmosphere created at the highest level of the administration in power at the time. The prevailing climate after 9/11, as represented by the actions and comments of Vice President Cheney, is equally as important as whatever normal chain of command is involved in the approval process.

Anything less would be a waste of time.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He is a longtime resident of Brookfield who now lives in Williston.

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[Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.]

The ongoing turf battle between Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, and Leon Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has brought back unpleasant memories of the ill-conceived and poorly drawn Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, a legislative process that was started in the wake of 9/11.

It seems almost impossible that there could be a dispute going on over the authority of the DNI to appoint non-CIA officers as station chiefs abroad. It took until close to the end of the Cold War for the CIA to mature to the point where its station chiefs were no longer the product of OSS and the Second World War, but rather of the collective operational experience of the Cold War CIA. Only then did most stations come under the kind of operational management that brought hope for broader success.

And now the DNI wants to put neophytes in those jobs? That is simple insanity. Clandestine operations really do require as much experience as is available. Otherwise, surprises can be very embarrassing.

The simple process of drafting that 2004 law permitted all the knives to come out. It was time for all the angry and ambitious agencies that felt they had suffered or chafed under the overseas coordinating authority of the CIA and its station chiefs to go after increased (if not total) autonomy in their overseas operations. If they could not get autonomy, they wanted to wrest control from the CIA as it was reflected in the role of the station chief. Clearly, what you see today in the tiff between the DNI and the CIA director is a reflection or continuation of that tussle.

All the agencies involved – State, Defense, the FBI, the National Security Agency and others – wanted and presumably still want to be either on top of the overseas intelligence collection effort, or at least free from domination by any other organization. None of those agencies agreed with the concept, as spelled out in the original National Security Acts of 1947 and 1949, that the intelligence community abroad had to speak with one voice and that that voice should belong to the only organization that was involved purely in clandestine intelligence operations: the Central Intelligence Agency.

If you strip away all the politics and petty jealousies, the problem is that there are activities and responsibilities that are best carried out by the CIA, which has been running successful clandestine human intelligence-collection operations for 60 years. They may not be perfect, but they are the best we have.

The other part of that operational collection process is the conduct of liaison with foreign intelligence services. That liaison is critical in today’s operations against terrorist organizations. Liaison services can and do operate highly effectively in environments where it is often extremely difficult for our officers to move unnoticed. Conducting liaison relationships requires the same level of experience and expertise that is demanded by collection operations.

These activities require the best, most experienced clandestine collection personnel in the U.S. government. To vest responsibility for those activities anywhere else at a time when intelligence collection is often a matter of survival is sheer folly. To give an operationally naive DNI that responsibility is irresponsible. It’s just like the Cold War days, when most chiefs of station had been trained for World War II in the OSS. It didn’t work well then and it won’t work well now.

What the DNI can do perfectly effectively is run the intelligence community and the community’s analytical processes. Let them be responsible for the production of Intelligence Estimates. That is an important job that, to an outside observer, appears recently to have been poorly done, particularly in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. What seems to have been missing is the ability or inclination to speak truth to power. To discharge that critical responsibility, the DNI will truly have to control the flow of analysis to the White House.

Of course, what is really needed here is a second look at the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Because of the pressures generated by 9/11 and the prejudices that existed at the time, it was poorly designed from the start and contains anomalies that need to be corrected. Given the extraordinary lack of interest in Washington, that probably won’t happen, but at very least the DNI needs to take himself and his growing number of troops out of the operational business.

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

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