Archive for the ‘intelligence’ Category

[Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.]

In September, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that filmmaker Michael Moore had launched a campaign to free Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been accused of providing most, if not all, of the classified documents being revealed on WikiLeaks. Mr. Manning has not yet been charged with a crime.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he will soon, again, seek the release to Israel of Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen employed by U.S. naval intelligence, who was convicted in 1987 of espionage on behalf of Israel and sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Pollard has admitted that he received thousands of dollars in cash and valuables as well as a monthly salary from the Israelis. According to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent who led the Pollard investigation, interrogated Mr. Pollard and obtained his confession, Mr. Pollard sold or attempted to sell information to other governments (South Africa and Pakistan, for example). Ultimately, he accepted a plea bargain with the U.S. government that he would be sentenced to up to life in prison for “conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government.”

Mr. Pollard was given Israeli citizenship in 1995. In 1998, the Israeli government confirmed Mr. Pollard’s activities. There is absolutely no question that he committed espionage. Clearly, he is a mercenary who was prepared to sell U.S. secrets to anyone who would pay.

Mr. Pollard’s case aside, we need to ask ourselves: Why are the Israelis running espionage operations against us? Are we not their absolute best friends? Do we not support them with every gift one nation can give to another?

The American intelligence community’s approach to Israel has been hands-off. From the creation of the CIA in 1947, CIA operations officers were absolutely forbidden to target or cultivate for recruitment any Israelis. We were their closest ally and friend on the planet. They kept nothing from us. There was, therefore, no need to collect intelligence clandestinely through human sources.

But Israel did not share that point of view. It clearly was running recruitment operations against us throughout the post-war period. FBI officers told us in the early 1970s that there were Mossad officers all over the country in official and non-official positions who were actively recruiting Americans. Numerous sources here indicate that Mossad is more active recruiting Americans today than ever before.

It seems logical that Mr. Manning will be prosecuted, despite what Michael Moore wants. This is an entirely internal U.S. matter.

The Pollard case is the same — yet it is totally different. Mr. Pollard is an American who broke U.S. law, was convicted and incarcerated. It is not an internal political group that seeks his release, as in the Manning case, but a foreign government that has acknowledged that it runs intelligence operations against us.

What would happen if the U.S. were to accede to Mr. Netanyahu’s request to free Pollard? This is not like the recent return of Russian national sleeper agents to Russia. Mr. Pollard is an American citizen. Among many negative repercussions, we would be telling any current Americans who either are spying for Israel, or contemplating that activity, that there may be a way out if caught.

For Mr. Pollard to be released to Israel, he would have to be pardoned by President Barack Obama. What would the rationale be for a pardon for a self-confessed, mercenary spy? How would our president look to the rest of the world in the aftermath of such an action?

The unspoken question here is whether either the U.S. or Israel sees Mr. Pollard a bargaining chip for progress in the Middle East. If that is the case and America agrees to swap Mr. Pollard for, say, a one-year moratorium on settlements, it would be a terrible mistake. We would be prostituting our legal system for questionable goals that so far have proved unattainable.

In the end, a settlement moratorium and the two-state solution represent the only course of action open to Israel if it wishes to preserve itself as a democratic, Zionist state. It is a course that Israel has to want to follow for its own reasons — not one that is worthy of blackmail or bargaining over Mr. Pollard.

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

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

For anyone who has not been paying attention to the national press recently, there has been a really nasty battle going on over the appointment of Ambassador Charles Freeman to the post of chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

Freeman is an extraordinarily creative and innovative public servant who has long been involved at the national level in both foreign policy and military matters, having served as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. As a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he is the kind of person whose experience and views could have added badly needed clarification to the otherwise cloudy issues in the Middle East.

But there is one really big problem. Freeman has not been sufficiently uncritically pro-Israel over the years to garner the approval of right-wing Israelis and those Americans who most fervently support them.

Generalizations often are inaccurate. Having said that, when it comes to Israel, and our policy in the Middle East, Americans tend to break down into two very broad groups.

The first group is made up of informed, pragmatic Americans who strongly support Israel’s right to exist as a democratic, Jewish state and who are equally opposed to those radical Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims who are trying to bring an end to the existence of the State of Israel. This group is typified by the “J Street” organization and more moderate American Jews and Christians who tend to support the “two state solution” for the region.

The second group, equally informed and certainly more strident, supports the further expansion of Israel into Palestine (the West Bank) through the settler program. This group includes AIPAC (the “Israeli Lobby”) and a more amorphous group of “Christian Zionists” who believe that the second coming of Christ will not take place until Jews occupy the West Bank of the Jordan River (Samaria and Judea).

The stakes surrounding the Palestine issue are very high. They include the survival of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state; an end to the perpetual violence that has characterized the region since the British occupation; a damper on the increasing radicalization of Islam and the Middle East and a viable solution to our problem with radical Muslim terrorism.

All political arguments about the future of Israel aside, there is one extremely important demographic reality at play in Israel: Palestinians living in Israel and Palestine are reproducing at a rate far greater than Israelis. One can dispute when the day of reckoning will be, but the fact is that if demographics continue in typical historical pattern, Palestinians will fairly soon outnumber Israelis in both Israel and in what is becoming, through the settler program, occupied Palestine.

That will leave Israelis with only bad choices: They can let the burgeoning Palestinian population become the majority (a one-state solution), remaining democratic, but relinquishing Israel’s Jewishness. They can set up an apartheid system which will relegate the Palestine majority to total political impotence, giving up any Israeli claim to democracy. Or, they can expel all the Palestinians in Israel and Palestine, giving up their international credibility, while retaining their Jewishness at the cost of democracy.

Only the two-state solution has the potential to solve many of both Israel’s and Palestine’s most important problems. Past opportunities to find a viable and even-handed solution have been passed up by both sides for good and bad reasons, but what really matters are the realities of today.

If Israel wishes to continue as a Jewish democracy and the Palestinians want a state of their own, major compromises will be needed from both Israelis and Palestinians and the full weight of western, particularly American influence, will have to be brought to bear on both sides of the dispute. If America continues its laissez faire policies of the past that underplayed both Arab rockets and Israeli settlements, there will be no peace. Israel, in the end, will be at the mercy of the inevitable march of demographics.

Against that backdrop, we have just had the opportunity to see Israel’s most strident American supporters gear up over the appointment of Ambassador Charles Freeman. Before coming under attack and withdrawing his candidacy, his beliefs and honor were questioned in every conceivable way by uncritically pro-Israel American individuals and organizations.

Accusations that he was somehow controlled by Saudi Arabia, China or anyone else are wholly spurious. If you take the trouble to look carefully at the accusations leveled against him, and do so against the backdrop of his own record, it becomes immediately clear that the campaign against him was not undertaken because he is viewed as anti-Israeli, but rather because he is viewed as insufficiently pro-Israeli. He does not support Israel 100 percent, preferring to consider American national interests in the policy mix.

This campaign against Ambassador Freeman is not unique. Such campaigns have taken place against numerous insufficiently pro-Israeli Americans over the past 60 years of Israel’s existence. However, it is sad in a number of ways.

Purely internally, it is a bad foreign policy start for the Obama administration in the Middle East. Quite simply, they would have been far better advised either to have anticipated the ÅIPAC onslaught and not made the Freeman appointment, or having decided to do so, should have been prepared to stick with him, thus avoiding the shocking embarrassment of having an important personnel decision dictated by foreign-oriented interests.

Further, robust political debate is a way of life in Israel. There is a constant stream of opinion in the Israeli press on any and all contentious political issues from every sector of the political spectrum. Yet, Israel’s most fervent, Israel-centered American supporters use personal attack indiscriminately against those it views to be its critics in the United States, effectively smothering legitimate debate on an issue which has wide-ranging potential consequences for America.

If a representative, effective policy is to evolve in the United States on the Israel/Palestine issue, it will only be validated if it is thoroughly debated in America. Short of that, any policy we undertake will bring with it the potential for political retribution.

Secondly, however many common goals America shares with Israel in the Middle East, our national interests are not always identical. They are not the same on Israel’s territorial goals in Palestine simply because those goals will inhibit an equitable solution to the Israel/Palestine struggle which is and will remain a critical element in our attempts to deal with Muslim fundamentalism and terrorism.

Additionally, our interests are not the same on Iran, where Israel clearly would like either to have us wipe out Iran’s nuclear program, or do it themselves with our weaponry and tacit blessings, while we, in our own national interest, would prefer to pursue negotiations.

Lastly, it would appear that we have crossed a new line and that AIPAC and its supporters will react to appointments like Freeman’s, and presumably to American policies, governed only by the depth and breadth of their commitment to Israel’s definition of their own foreign policy goals and national interests.

We are either heading for, or have already reached the point where Israel’s most strident American supporters hold veto power over our foreign policies and personnel assignments on Israeli-related issues. That is a bad situation in which to find oneself, certainly not one the Israelis themselves would permit the American government to exercise over their sovereign interests and probably not one that a thoughtful Israeli government would like to see in effect today in America.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served over 25 years in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff. He lives in Williston.

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[Originally published on AmericanDiplomacy.Org.]

A retired CIA station chief examines they marriage between human intelligence collection and covert action that came about in the early years of the Cold War and its detrimental effects on the Agency’s ability to produce useful and timely intelligence on U.S. enemies. If we cannot eliminate covert action entirely, he concludes, it should at least be separated from the intelligence collection function. – Ed.

America has lived with its “Intelligence Community” – the CIA, NSA, DIA and all the other lesser intelligence organizations – for decades.  Depending on your viewpoint, they have been somewhere between successful and unsuccessful in providing our government both with the organizational structure and with the intelligence needed to protect our country and advance its international interests.

Whatever your take, there is one immutable involved in intelligence work:  It is an aggressive, risk-taking business that withers when bureaucratic inertia and caution settle in.

The issue today is whether the post-9/11 reorganization of the intelligence community has made sense or has improved the ability of the organizations within it to carry out their jobs.  The omission of the FBI, our national law enforcement organization, in the “intelligence community” list does not obviate the need for the creation of a functioning internal intelligence organization to deal with domestic issues.  We still need such a service – one without the power of arrest.

At its highest level, it is the purpose of any intelligence organization to produce finished intelligence analyses of information on the capabilities and intentions of their country’s enemies.  Much of the raw intelligence behind such analyses is collected through highly technical means and thus, in America, is the province of the National Security Agency or the National Reconnaissance Office.  Nevertheless, even acknowledging that technical operations can see and hear, they are still not able to read peoples’ minds, and those minds often hold the key to intelligence on the capabilities and intentions of our enemies.

A new weapons system is vulnerable to technical collection when it is first test fired.  However, to deal effectively with it we need to know of its development years before that firing.  Similarly, intentions, if not ascertained well in advance, are only observable when the planes hit the Twin Towers and Pentagon, missiles are unleashed, or enemy troops begin to mass for an attack.

HUMINT Operations

Like technical collection, it is also the function of human intelligence (HUMINT) operations to produce intelligence on the capabilities, specifically including military research and development, and the intentions of our enemies.  The difference is that HUMINT operations seek to find human beings with access to critical information who will talk frankly with us.  Where intentions and critical military research and development activities are not normally or broadly vulnerable to technical collection operations, they often can be sniffed out through the recruitment of well-placed spies.

The Central Intelligence Agency was conceived in 1947 as the lead intelligence organization in the U.S. government.  Its chief was not simply the chief of CIA, he was given the title of Director of Central Intelligence, and with that august title, the responsibility to coordinate and direct the overall intelligence operations of the United States government.

For a variety of both good and not so good reasons, no DCI has ever really carried out that responsibility.  In the aftermath of the purported intelligence failures of 9/11, a new overall leader, the Director of National Intelligence, was created.  That left the CIA as simply one of many equals in the intelligence community.

During the Cold War, the CIA had broad responsibilities and conducted all manner of activities in the fields of intelligence analysis and collection.

The primary analytical arm of the CIA, known as the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), began its life after the Second World War and its Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at the State Department.  It was then moved into the new CIA in the late l940s.  Even then, some of INR’s employees remained at State.  The State Department’s analytical function remained in INR and has continued to this day to provide analytical insights in support of foreign policy.

In addition to the DI, there is the Directorate of Science and Technology.  According to the CIA website, “The DS&T creates, adapts, develops, and operates technical collection systems and applies enabling technologies to the collection, processing, and analysis of information.”

The other major analytical organ in the U.S. government is the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.  It provides intelligence analysis support to Department of Defense activities and requirements.

National Clandestine Service

The other operational CIA collection component is the National Clandestine Service (NCS), which, according to the CIA, “operates as the clandestine arm of the CIA and serves as the national authority for the coordination, deconfliction, and evaluation of clandestine human intelligence operations across the Intelligence Community. The NCS supports our country’s security and foreign policy interests by conducting clandestine activities to collect information that is not obtainable through other means. The NCS also conducts counterintelligence and special activities as authorized by the President.”

In the early days of the CIA, there were two types of activities that fell under the Clandestine Service.  The first was HUMINT (human intelligence), made up of positive intelligence, counterintelligence, and counterespionage, and the second was CA (covert action), consisting of propaganda and political action operations, which, at their most potent, involved regime change.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, CA and HUMINT operations were literally housed in separate CIA stations in the same foreign cities.  As the Cold War progressed into the 1950s, this arrangement was found to be less than attractive by an Eisenhower administration that was vitally interested in CA operations being used to counter the Soviet threat around the world.  For that reason, the two activities were combined under the same station roofs abroad, and CA and HUMINT were forced to coexist.

The results of this were many, but two were of major importance.  First, CA operations began to compete with HUMINT operations for the only resources the CIA had – money and manpower.  In this context, CA broke down into two major sub-forms:  propaganda and political action (mainly regime change) operations.  Propaganda was far and away the more prevalent and consisted, inter alia, of support of radio stations, the placement of newspaper articles favorable to the United States or unfavorable to the USSR, or the publication of materials to be sent in to the socialist world.

These propaganda operations were viewed as important within the CIA and the U.S. government, and it was perfectly feasible for any given CIA officer to make a very successful career out of them without getting involved in far more difficult and potentially less successful HUMINT operations, particularly those against “hard targets” like the USSR, China, and the lesser socialist countries.

The involvement of CIA officers in political action operations designed to overthrow any given government was far less likely.  Despite reports to the contrary, in relative terms, there simply were not that many such operations, nor did they involve many of our officers.

The result of this phenomenon was that many officers profitably spent their careers in CA propaganda operations without dipping their toes into the far more critical waters of our hard target operations.

Uneasy Marriage

The second, far more significant result of the uneasy marriage between HUMINT and CA operations was both practically and psychologically negative.

Espionage that is confined to the collection of significant intelligence through HUMINT operations is a politically low-risk business.  When actually exposed, such operations usually result, at worst, in the expulsion of our officer, a testy response from the target country, and icy relations for a usually manageable period of time.

When a political action operation goes wrong or gets exposed, particularly if it involves regime change, the results can have a virtually endless negative impact.   Latin America still chafes under the conviction that the United States attempted regime change in seven different countries in the 10 years between 1954 and 1964.  Worse yet is the fact that the fallout of the overthrow of Mossadeq in Iran in 1953 remains a major bone of contention over 55 years later!

It is fairly safe to say that our CA propaganda operations, despite what they cost us in terms of resources, were little more than a pinprick to the Soviets.  Our political action operations, particularly those designed to change regimes, are a bit more difficult to evaluate in terms of their net worth to the U.S. government.  So many such “operations” have been laid at our doorstep that it is really impossible for an outsider to put together an accurate list.  Nevertheless, some that went bad have had a profoundly negative effect on us.  That negative effect is not only to be measured in international political terms, but has to be looked at in terms of the effect that it had on our own human intelligence collection operations. The negative publicity that the CIA has gotten over the years as a result of its covert action operations, both real and imputed, has had a direct inhibiting effect on its clandestine intelligence collection operations.

The CIA may well have been at its most prolific in terms of its production of intelligence on our enemies’ capabilities and intentions during the 1960s and 1970s.  We had learned a great deal about the conduct of Cold War clandestine collection operations during the 1950s and early 1960s, and that fact, combined with a loosening of Soviet control over its citizens, presented us with a very favorable operational environment which we were increasingly able to exploit.

We were able to do that because CIA management was still very much in the hands of the old OSS members who had migrated to the Agency.  Whatever negativity they brought to the Agency in terms of their positive focus on covert action operations, they were always aggressive.  The CIA was a risk-taking organization, and if your goal is successful espionage, that is one of the prerequisites.

Church Committee Impact

All of that began to change with the publication of the Church Committee findings in 1976. The CIA took the fall for all the Political action (regime change) operations undertaken against foreign leaders, the implication having been made that the CIA, the “rogue elephant,” planned these operations entirely on its own.  No mention was made of the fact that all of them were planned and undertaken at the direction of sitting presidents.

The negative results on CIA’s intelligence collection operations were both physical and psychological.  CIA officers felt unjustly accused and inappropriately undefended.  They had done what they were asked to do and had broken no laws in doing so.

Worse than that, there was an almost immediate effect on our operations.  HUMINT collection activities that had been approved and successfully carried out in the past were suddenly put on hold.  Management had become wildly risk-averse.  They were gun-shy because of realities in their own country.

Intelligence organizations, specifically those operating on behalf of democracies, are incredibly susceptible to the normal organizational aging processes.  While a successful commercial organization tends to reinvent itself when under duress, if only to reestablish profitability, intelligence organizations tend to go to ground when they are under intense scrutiny.  It is probably an unavoidable fact that as they age and their successes and failures become increasingly well known, intelligence organizations get more and more cautious and conservative.

America should probably give up its political action operations.  It is quite likely that a dispassionate evaluation of all those operations over the past 60 years would conclude that they caused us far more difficulty and embarrassment than they were worth.  Nevertheless, It seems unlikely, given the world in which we now live, that any U.S. president would voluntarily give up that part of his legal authorities that lets him commission “special activities as authorized by the President” – an open-ended license to carry out covert action operations, most emphatically including regime change.

Covert action operations, like those attributed to the CIA particularly during the paranoid era of the early Cold War, have consistently been uncovered and publicized to the detriment of CIA’s intelligence collection operations. On the other hand, clandestine intelligence collection operations, when exposed, cause momentary discomfort in the area where they were being conducted, but they rarely result in lasting negative consequences for the CIA or the United States, and they rarely have a lasting negative effect on the continuation of such collection operations.

One acceptable way to counter the stultifying effects on HUMINT operations of organizational aging coupled with publicized covert action failures is to separate the two.  A National Clandestine Service without CA responsibilities, but imbued with the esprit and risk-taking proclivities of the OSS and early CIA, would be a greatly improved intelligence collection organization, undistracted and undeterred by CA from its HUMINT goals.

The point here is to have a HUMINT service that is not burdened with the psychological, bureaucratic, and organizational negatives of having to conduct covert action operations.  Even if we are unable to do away with regime change operations, anything we can do to improve our collection operations is worth consideration.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief. A graduate of Dartmouth, he served in the Army Security Agency, undertook Russian regional studies at London University, and then joined the CIA. He served in Prague, Berlin, Langley, Beirut, Tehran, and Washington. During those 25 years, he worked primarily in Soviet and East European operations. He was also chief of the counterterrorism staff and executive assistant to Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Frank Carlucci. Since his retirement in 1980, he has lived in Vermont.

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[Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.]

Enormous pressure has been placed on al-Qaida since the fall of 2001. Our Afghan invasion cost it heavily, but more important, through our relationships with cooperative foreign intelligence services, we have been able to put al-Qaida under relentless pressure. Many of its top people have been killed or captured. Its communications and finances have been identified, monitored and disrupted, and its target countries have greatly increased their terrorist countermeasures. All of these things have weakened the terrorists and strengthened us and our friends.

This has resulted in a basic change in al-Qaida’s structure. Instead of the cohesive, centralized organization that dispatched a team of highly trained and effective terrorists to the United States to perpetrate the horrors of Sept. 11, it has become far less centrally controlled. The Sept. 11 plot, based, trained and funded from overseas, was a counterterrorism nightmare. Catching a homogeneous, dedicated group like that is extremely difficult. The new, homegrown terrorists are a different matter. Confronting them will require a new approach, and the U.S. might do well to look to the British model for answers.

In some ways, al-Qaida has franchised its activities to independent groups overseas, like a terrorist version of McDonald’s. The pressure we have put on its command structure has made that necessary. Although it might not tell any individual franchise what to do and when to do it, it is certainly supportive of their terrorist plans.

What is different about these new groups is that they are mostly homegrown. That means that their members are often second- or even third-generation citizens of their adopted countries. Depending on where they live, but particularly in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, they are politically, socially and economically isolated. Their hopelessness in the face of such isolation pushes them into ghettos. The most disaffected of them will tend to be the most susceptible to fundamentalist Muslim blandishments and thus more likely to become jihadis.

As beginning jihadis, they will not be as well-schooled as the original al-Qaida jihadis who trained for extended periods in the Afghan camps. More important, they will not have the same level of security consciousness as their better-trained colleagues. In short, they are far more likely to be second-rate jihadis who run sloppy operations using poor tradecraft and thus be more vulnerable to the security services arrayed against them.

Early reports from Britain indicate that MI-5’s first tip about the cell came from a member of the High Wycombe Muslim community who did not share the liquid bombers’ fundamentalist fervor and reported them as “suspicious” to the authorities. MI-5 is said to have then initiated technical operations against cell members and infiltrated or recruited an agent inside the cell.

As new organizations mature, they tend to change. This can be true of an Internet startup or of a terrorist organization. Once the excitement of the revolutionary moment has passed, human nature takes over. This may come quickly or take decades, as it did in the Soviet Union. Petty jealousies play increasingly important roles and management can become arbitrary. Members of the group can become disaffected and vulnerable to recruitment by hostile elements.

In human terms, there is no reason that this dynamic should not surface in fundamentalist Muslim terrorist groups. It may already have. There is also no reason why Muslims without animus toward the West should not continue to inform Western security services of unusual behavior in their communities. If this can happen in Britain, where large numbers of Muslims feel isolated and hopeless, it should be even more the case in America, where our history of acceptance of immigrants should minimize Muslim fundamentalism and encourage those who would help us with this struggle.

MI-5 has done a terrific job on this case. America’s problem is that the FBI, though an excellent law enforcement organization, is absolutely clueless on counterterrorism.

It is a shame that when we had the opportunity to do it right during the intelligence reorganization process after Sept. 11, we didn’t have the sense to follow the British model and establish a domestic intelligence service like MI-5. With proper legislative and judicial oversight, such a service is hardly a threat to civil liberties, and has the personnel, structure and operational philosophy to make major strides against the terrorism that preoccupies us all.

Haviland Smith retired as a CIA station chief in 1980. He served in Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun

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[Originally published in the Valley News.]

In the 2004 election, George Bush sold us on the premise that he, better than John Kerry, could protect us from another attack.  We will never know if that is true, however, under his guidance, we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars, completely rearranged all those elements of the Federal government that had anything to do with security of our homeland, conducted hours and hours of congressional and other hearings and invaded Iraq – all on the premise that it would make us safer at home.  In that regard, a 2005 Gallup poll says that 60% of Americans believe that we are now more vulnerable to terrorism.

We are now four years past the horrors of 9/11.   This country has changed incredibly in that period of time.  Since the stated purpose of all these changes has been to forestall a repeat of 9/11 and, failing that, to respond effectively to any given incident, the question we must now ask ourselves is how effective our disaster response has been.

In the broader sense, Katrina has exposed how unprepared this country is to deal with the aftermath of another 9/ll.   All the whoopla, politicking, showboating, rearranging of the government – everything that was done to “protect” us from the next terrorist attack (which most certainly will come) – has been exposed by our experience with the aftermath of Katrina as totally inadequate for the needs of the population.     One of the most important functions of government is to protect its citizens from things from which they are unable to protect themselves.  Clearly, government as constituted in America in 2005 has not.

Things have been so bad on the Gulf Coast that one has to wonder if there ever really was a plan for dealing with this kind of disaster.  We know that a catastrophic hurricane been predicted for some time.  The New Orleans Times Picayune ran a series in 2002 which almost perfectly laid out the scenario that came to pass.  Most experts agreed.  Why did no one figure out that there were thousands in New Orleans who simply did not have the wherewithal to evacuate?  We have been told that many problems were created because of a lack of effective communications.  With the foreknowledge that cell phones would not work under the Times Picayune scenario, why did none of our planners consider satellite phones? If flooding was a certainty, why were there no plans for a massive use of boats and helicopters?  Right away, that is – not days after the fact.

There have been clear problems in coordination between Local, State and Federal governments.  Regardless of what the President says to mitigate the Federal complicity in this ongoing catastrophe, we have to believe that as a nation we are capable of doing much better.   In the context of terrorism, it doesn’t matter how well the response ends.   What really matters when terrorists hit is how quickly and effectively the response begins and how many lives are spared.

Apparently thousands of people on the Gulf Coast have perished, some of whom, it is alleged, could have been saved by a better organized, earlier, more effective response.   Additionally, it is said that there are probably many people still in their attics or hidden elsewhere who, in the absence of a timely and thorough search effort, are equally likely to die.  In short, it is predicted that thousands will have perished by the time a body count is completed, many of them needlessly.

Unlike 9/11, this can’t be attributed to an intelligence failure.  For Katrina, we had the best possible intelligence provided by satellite photography, hurricane fly-throughs and climatological and meteorological input and analysis.  The analysts even got the impact point right.  More importantly, they gave us a week’s warning that something really bad was going to happen.  Despite that clear, scientific finding, our collective government blew it.

What will happen with the next terrorist attack on America?  With the exception of the Irish Republican Army (a relatively benevolent terrorist group) in its battle with the UK, terrorists are generally not given to announcing their mayhem in advance.  Even with advanced warning on Katrina, we really blew it.  As critical as the prevention of terrorist attacks is, the issue underlined by the Katrina experience is, what is our government going to do to mitigate the aftermath of the next terrorist disaster?

If this pathetic performance on Katrina is an indicator of what four years of planning and billions of dollars have done for us, we are in a world of hurt. Just wait till the really bad guys get after us again.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served, inter alia, in Europe and the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff in Langley.  He lives in Williston, Vt.

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[Originally published in The Valley News.]

About 25 years ago, some skeptical and cynical CIA officers in the clandestine service used to say, only half-jokingly, that we hoped there was a real clandestine service out there somewhere working for America’s interests abroad. If there was not, then we were in real trouble. We said that because some of us were realistic enough to acknowledge that we were not doing all we could do against our country’s enemies.

Now, in the wake of the report from the 9/11 commission and most recently a presidential commission headed by former Sen. Charles Robb and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman, we find that the Americans who have pushed for these reports and for reform, most of whom are politicians, have decided that the CIA is dysfunctional, suffering from a lack of competent employees and from stultified, unimaginative and cautious management.

It is the nature of a secret intelligence agency in today’s democratic America to be risk-averse. This has been more or less true since the CIA was implicated in the Watergate scandal, resulting in heavy congressional oversight and media scrutiny, which continue unabated today. When the CIA has moved away from such caution, as it did during the Iran-Contra scandal in the Reagan administration, it is reminded that caution is far safer than aggressive operations.

Now there are calls in Washington to “fix” or reform the CIA. Everything we hear and read in the press indicates quite clearly that the CIA is viewed to have lost its way sometime prior to the demise of the Soviet Union. What Americans now want the CIA to do is not completely clear, but a perfectly good case can be made that the CIA as now constituted, cannot be “fixed”. The real issue is whether or not America can or should create an organization capable of aggressively seeking out and clandestinely destroying terrorists abroad – the stated goal of the Bush administration.

The history of the CIA does not give hope that it can be changed into an aggressive, risk-taking organization. Even before Watergate, during the Cold War, senior managers of the Clandestine Service, that part of the CIA that runs our spy operations, were not consistently aggressive – managerially or operationally ó against the main Soviet target. If they were cautious against the Soviets during the Cold War, what could we have expected of them during the í90s?

In the early ‘90s, the “peace dividend”, implemented by a Republican-controlled Congress and a Democratic president, brought significant CIA budget cuts. The demise of the Soviet Union was seen as obviating the need for a large portion of the intelligence budget. By 2000, the Clandestine Service had become even more cautious and bureaucratic. It had atrophying management, too few officers who could speak the languages of the world of terrorism, and far too few who had the depth of experience needed to staff the CS. As always, CS leadership was risk-averse and tended toward self-perpetuation.

As organizations of all kinds grow older, they run the risk of stultification. Unless there are powerful, innovative forces at work within them that are either a part of, or at least supported and encouraged by management, the likelihood of failure is very high. Those innovative forces appear to have largely departed the CIA by the 1990s.

The CS has always been an inherently American organization, reflecting the American values of its time. It will never be a KGB or an Abwehr, Germany’s intelligence service during the two world wars. Anyone who wants to change that culture is on the wrong track. Can its work be improved? Possibly. However, if the job it will be asked to do will change materially, it will not be easy.

According to an article by Seymour Hersh in the Jan. 19 New Yorker, the Bush administration plans to switch from the CIA to the Pentagon for proactive, paramilitary, anti-terrorist operations simply because such activities if run out of the Pentagon, are viewed by the administration as outside the legal purview of congressional oversight. This would open new possibilities for more aggressive clandestine and paramilitary operations against overseas targets of the administration’s choice (“terrorist hunting”), presumably without congressional oversight. If the Pentagon shies away, as prudent military managers probably should, it could fall to the CIA, which, if you believe in our own American democratic values, is fortunately woefully ill-equipped to do that job and is likely to remain so.

In a perfect world, congressional oversight would prevent extra legal activities, but not inhibit activities consistent with American values.

“Terrorist hunting”, regardless of whether it is conducted by the CIA or the Pentagon, is the kind of activity that will mold world public opinion about the United States. As such, it is a very important issue that requires national debate before any significant change is implemented. Do we really want an intelligence service operating proactively without congressional oversight when oversight provides the balance between caution and over-aggressiveness? Do we want an intelligence effort that reflects American values, or do we want a KGB clone that is capable of assassinations and other “wet affairs”? If we do, do we really want our professional military establishment to carry out such activities? If not, will the CIA, or any successor organization, be up to that kind of task?

So far, we have lots of questions, little discussion and no consensus.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Prague, Berlin, Beirut, Tehran and Washington and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston, Vt.

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Seeking the weak link

Congress has so far failed to pass legislation reflecting changes in the intelligence community that were recommended by the 9/11 commission, but that may not be all bad.

The legislation before Congress reflects the frustration this nation has had with the inability to act on the clues that were present before Sept. 11, 2001. If they had been properly collated and interpreted, they might have led to the detection and neutralization of the al-Qaida cell that attacked New York and Washington.

The impetus for the passage of this bill has been the efforts of the 9/11 families who understandably want a law that will better equip the United States to deal with terrorism. They have suffered far more than most of the rest of us, but that does not make them experts on intelligence collection, analysis and production. Their eagerness to act may be precipitous. The premise that it is the structure of the intelligence community that is to blame for intelligence failures is not the core issue.

The legislation was drawn up on the premise that the intelligence community’s problems result from ugly, unacceptable interagency struggles. That may be partially true. But the real problems are not grounded in whether the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon communicate sufficiently well together. Rather, they lie in interagency issues, in the cultures of the organizations involved, that can be approached only from within the management of each agency, not through the proposed reorganization of the intelligence community.

Interagency issues can be solved. The president has had the authority since 1947 to mandate cooperation among intelligence organizations, though he never has used it.

The Pentagon’s intelligence collectors never have been terribly effective; they are outcasts in a mission-hostile organization. The FBI is a law enforcement organization in which intelligence collection is alien to its core culture. The CIA, at least until 9/11, has not been interested in tactical military intelligence, thus fueling the Pentagon’s appetite and argument for gathering its own intelligence.

The CIA has been decimated since the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union by successive administrations and by a Congress bent on saving money at the expense of the agency’s ability to collect intelligence with old-fashioned spying. It also has been referred to recently as “risk-averse,” a quality that does not support the kind of aggressive intelligence operations we need in order to operate against terrorists.

A good first step might be to set up only one House/Senate oversight committee and eliminate all of the other committees so that everything would be codified under one manageable roof. It would concretely demonstrate Congress’ support of efficiency over turf issues.

It would be dangerous to create an intelligence czar to oversee the intelligence community. It is the diversity of positions in the intelligence community that makes intelligence valuable. To properly do their jobs, policy-makers must have a profound understanding of those differences. We should not expect or want the CIA, the State Department, the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department to have identical interests or positions.

When a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is written and forwarded to the White House, much of its strength is in its diversity of opinion — its dissents, disclaimers and qualifications from the participating agencies.

Condoleezza Rice’s statement in a radio talk-show interview that no one in the White House read the State Department disclaimers in the August 2002 NIE on Iraq is either pathetic or willfully obtuse. The disclaimers warned of post-invasion hostilities.

The devils really are in the details, and the job of policy-makers is to read all of the details in those NIEs. That’s where the meat of intelligence is. Not to do so, whether because they are lazy or because they did not wish to consider information that argued (as the State Department did) against their predetermined Iraq invasion policy, can be exceedingly dangerous, as is evident in all of the negative ramifications of our Iraq policy.

If Congress creates an intelligence czar and if CIA Director Porter J. Goss becomes that czar, will he implement his stated position that the job of intelligence analysts and case officers is to “support the administration and its policies”? Given the indifferent performance of the administration on intelligence provided before the invasion of Iraq, we should not expect that much would change.

If administration policies continue to be formulated before intelligence is examined and then those policies are implemented despite the available intelligence, the creation of a czar may worsen the situation. If he is all-powerful and provides the homogenized intelligence sought by the administration, we stand the chance of losing the extremely valuable and important diversity of the existing intelligence community and its nuanced positions. That could really hurt us.

It could easily lead us into repeats of the Iraq debacle, which serves no purpose other than to set us back in the struggle with terrorism.

Haviland Smith, a retired CIA station chief who served in Europe and the Middle East, was executive assistant to Frank C. Carlucci when he was deputy director of the CIA from 1978 to 1980.

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[Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.]

The British government recently complained quite clearly about the U.S. release of information obtained in Pakistan about planned terrorist activities. The complaint and the release of intelligence underline a key difference between the way terrorist threat information is handled in the two countries and points out a serious flaw in the American approach.

Intelligence on terrorist organizations like al-Qaida is hard to come by. Of course, the best intelligence would come from an ongoing human penetration of that organization at a level of sufficient importance to give access to continuing, important intelligence on the capabilities and plans of al-Qaida.

The acquisition of such a source requires either the tremendous luck to be there when a disgruntled terrorist chooses to volunteer to us or to find a sufficient number of American intelligence officers with the language skills, experience and knowledge necessary to recruit such a source. It would seem that we are not in that comfortable and desirable position.

Our ability to exploit technical collection — phone, fax, e-mail, etc. — has been increasingly denied to us because of al-Qaida’s awareness of our collection methods.

Instead, we seem to be relying, appropriately, on our relationships with friendly liaison intelligence and security services, particularly those in Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. Their employees have the languages, area knowledge and physiological characteristics needed to operate successfully in that part of the world. Can you imagine a blond, blue-eyed CIA officer working the mosques in Pakistan?

What we do when we get counterterrorist information underlines the difference between us and the British. The British will withhold that information from the public until they are sure there is no further exploitable intelligence in it.

If there is, they will continue to withhold until they have exhausted their ability to exploit the available leads even though there may be some risk of missing a terrorist operation. This gives them the chance to recruit terrorists, affording the opportunity to learn more about terrorist plans, thus protecting themselves even more fully in the long run. This was the reason for the British complaint about our release of the information, which precluded further such attempts.

We seem married to the concept of wrapping up these “operations” before we know whether they really do exist. In that sense, we are married to the color-coded terrorist alert system that so far has simply served as a self-protection mechanism for the Bush administration: release the information to the public regardless of whether it is valid. The thinking is, if you do, you’re on the side of the angels if the operation is real. If it is false, no immediately discernible damage will be done. If you don’t put it out and something bad happens, there will be all hell to pay.

While this has some short-term benefits for politicians and bureaucrats, there is no long-term gain. Rather than carefully and covertly investigating the alleged targeted sites to see if hostile activity is still going on, we blow the whistle and cover the exposed backsides in the administration.

To have identified or captured/arrested a terrorist in the act of planning or implementing terrorist activity could lead to the penetration of the terrorist organization and ultimately might give us access to things about which it would appear we know very little.

This American approach is a combination of our politicized system (which will not serve us well in counterterrorist operations) and the history and culture of our internal security organization — the FBI, which, unlike Britain’s MI5, has virtually no understanding of this kind of operation. This is, however, the way the FBI operates because it is a true police organization that really does not understand intelligence or counterterrorist operations.

These little things will haunt us in the struggle against terrorism. Ultimately, if we really want to win, we will have to take some risks here in the United States. There will be failures, but without those risks, it us unlikely that we will get the intelligence that we need to truly neutralize al-Qaida’s operations in our homeland.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Beirut and Tehran and as chief of the CIA’s counterintelligence staff.

Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun

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