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Politicized espionage
Insiders fear that changeovers at the CIA will weaken the agency
BY JASON VEST

IF CHANGES IN government agencies were characterized as album titles, the soundtrack to Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Porter J. Gossís November restructuring at the CIA might be named, with apologies to U2, How To Dismantle an Effective Senior Leadership Staff With an Atomic Bomb. Though, in the name of precision, "neutron bomb" might be the better choice of words. While the CIAís headquarters in Langley, Virginia, still stands, vaporization seems to be the order of the day there, for both people and trust.

First came the resignations of Stephen Kappes and Michael Sulick ó widely regarded as the best veteran case officers in years to head the CIAís spy-managing Directorate of Operations (DO). Kappes and Sulick left after Goss decided to back Patrick Murray, his highly partisan consigliere from Capitol Hill now installed in the novel post of "chief of staff," in a dispute stemming from Murrayís bullying, disrespectful behavior toward career DO officers. Next came Gossís agency-wide memo that, despite his nomination-hearing pledges of "non-partisanship," effectively told everyone to toe the Bush-administration line. Then, on Thanksgiving Eve ó and on the heels of trenchant anti-Goss op-eds from retiring deputy director of central intelligence John McLaughlin and former deputy director for operations Thomas Twetten ó came word of two more resignations, this time by the DOís Europe and Far East division chiefs.

If thereís one thing on which both pro- and anti-Goss elements inside and outside the agency can agree, itís that the recent departures ó 20 in all, according to a November 30 Washington Post report ó represent merely the first flakes of personnel fallout. Reports of a formal "hit list," compiled by Goss and his coterie of Hill hacks now ensconced in newly created "staff" positions at CIA headquarters, differ only on the number of people in the cross hairs. Certainly, thereís a rough consensus that some people do, in fact, deserve to be canned, for reasons that have nothing to do with politics. Jami Miscik, for example, who heads the agencyís analytic Directorate of Intelligence (DI) division, is not regarded by some as an exemplar of good analytic tradecraft ó earlier this year, she told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that she had asked analysts to "stretch to the maximum the evidence you had" in connecting Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden. However, concerns are rife that replacements for people like Miscik wouldnít be any better.

Considering that the CIA has practically bled institutional memory and expertise in recent years (almost all the old hands who made up the CIAís highest echelon, the Senior Intelligence Service, retired during the 1990s), many knowledgeable observers see Gossís first moves as a sign that things are going to get worse ó for both career agency personnel and for Goss, whose activities have not inspired public and, to a lesser extent, congressional confidence. Indeed, as currents of paranoia and dyspepsia swirled around Langley last week, it seemed as if President Bush were trying to mute criticism of Goss with a cosmetically bold, forward-looking move that struck those who know better as a fatuous attempt to boost morale and reassure a worried public.

The move came in the form of a memo to Goss, ordering the new DCI to increase manpower at the DO and DI by 50 percent each. At first blush, itís hard to argue that significantly expanding the ranks of spy-runners (officers who manage, or "run," the agents who do the actual spying) and analysts is a bad thing; just about everybody with an interest in intelligence reform acknowledges that personnel shortages have been a very real problem at the CIA. But in addition to concerns about whether the DCIís partisan bent would make for the most effective hiring practices, numerous intelligence-community sources say that simply hiring more analysts and spy-runners is far from a quick fix and neglects some key realities.

"Letís just start with the Ďhire more case officersí stuff," says a highly respected and decorated veteran intelligence officer who spoke with the Phoenix on condition of anonymity (necessitated by the turmoil at Langley) in mid and late November. "Letís first note that the presidentís memo doesnít say where the money to hire all these people is coming from, and that what it in fact orders Goss to do is draw up a plan with a budget and get it to the White House three months from now. So when youíre going to see the actual process begin to get this new 50 percent recruited is God knows when.

"Next, once you begin that process, for new DO officers youíre looking at the expenditure of at least half a million dollars and at least one year of training. And then you really need three to four years to figure out if someone is, in fact, good at being a DO officer. So they can talk all they want about increasing levels, but the devil is in the Ďas soon as is feasibleí part of the memo. ĎAs soon as feasible,í when it comes to training and fielding a new officer, is not the same as Ďimmediately.í "

Itís even more complicated for non-official cover officers, or NOCs ó CIA officers who, unlike most DO officers, operate under corporate or non-governmental cover without benefit of diplomatic immunity. Another seemingly bold move, this one by Goss, was revealed in the November 17 edition of USA Today, which reported that Goss had instructed his new deputy director for operations, Jose Rodriguez, to "launch a much more aggressive espionage campaign that would use undercover officers to penetrate terrorist groups and hostile governments." This "risky new strategy" would call for a radical increase in the number and use of NOCs, and would be a "sharp departure from the CIAís traditional style of human intelligence, in which field officers under flimsy cover as diplomats in US embassies try to recruit foreign spies and gather tips from allied intelligence services."

Innovative as this sounds, according to another veteran intelligence officer intimately familiar with the NOC program, itís going to take even longer for this new "aggressive" campaign to come to realization. Furthermore, if history is any indicator, it may not yield much except grief.

"Goss could very well be long gone before the first NOC hired under this new effort ever sets foot on the field," the veteran officer says. "First is the issue of actually resuscitating the NOC program ó there have never been that many NOCs, and the number is very, very low right now. Then thereís time and money. For your average case-officer trainee, itís an investment of about half a million dollars and a year of time. For a NOC, itís more like a million dollars and two years. While the training itself isnít that different, everything with a NOC has to be done away from the formal CIA environment, which means you have to set up a mobile training process, which is costly and takes more time."

And, he says, after all the costly training, NOCs generally donít last all that long. "A lot of them end up quitting the agency earlier than most for one of two reasons. The first is because itís really one of the most thankless, frustrating jobs there is. You canít keep all the salary youíre paid in your cover job ó you have to return anything beyond your GS salary, which makes it effectively impossible to maintain your cover if youíre supposed to be in a $200,000-a-year job and you have only $57,000. People have actually quit and gone to work for the companies that were providing their cover, and who can blame them? More money, less stress.

"The second reason," the officer continues, "is that the counterintelligence capabilities of most local intelligence services have gotten much better in recent years due to technology, and itís much easier to crack someoneís cover now. You canít just send people out there with the highest-quality forged identification when a CI officer in some other country can go online and oh, what does he find? Thereís nothing in public records you can pull off the Web that backs up the guyís identity. These days, it takes a lot more in time and other expenses to just adequately backstop a NOC."

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Issue Date: December 3 - 9, 2004
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