November 10, 2005

Achilles' heel...

You should not miss Reuel Marc Gerecht's piece in OpinionJurnal. It explodes a lot of CIA myths.

...Truth be told, however, the agency doesn't care much at all about cover. Inside the CIA, serious case officers have often looked with horror and mirth upon the pathetic operational camouflage that is usually given to both "inside" officers (operatives who carry official, usually diplomatic, cover) and nonofficial-cover officers (the "NOC" cadre), who most often masquerade as businessmen. Yet Langley tenaciously guards the cover myth--that camouflage for case officers is of paramount importance to its operations and the health of its operatives.

Know the truth about cover--that it is the Achilles' heel of the clandestine service--and you will begin to appreciate how deeply dysfunctional the operations directorate has been for years. Only a profoundly unserious Counter-Proliferation Division would have sent Mr. Wilson on an eight-day walkabout in Niger to uncover the truth about uranium sales to Saddam Hussein and then allowed him to give an oral report....

....Today, operational camouflage is usually shredded within weeks of a case officer's arrival at his station, since the manner, method and paperwork of operatives is just too different from real foreign-service officers. (Even if the CIA really wanted to fix this inadequate verisimilitude--and it does not--it probably couldn't reconcile the differing demands and bureaucracies of the two institutions.) Minimally competent foreign security services know a great deal of what occurs inside U.S. embassies and consulates since these institutions are completely dependent upon local employees--the State Department calls them "foreign-service nationals"--who, through patriotism or coercion, often report on the activities of their employers.

The situation is better with nonofficial-cover officers who live overseas, most often in rather civilized places where hunting for American NOCs hasn't been a major pursuit of the local security services and where the "outing" of an NOC wouldn't likely lead to the officer's physical harm or long-term imprisonment. As a general rule, the more dangerous the country, the less likely that NOCs, who don't benefit from diplomatic immunity, will be stationed or visit there. (Imagining CIA nonofficial operatives penetrating Islamic radical groups even after 9/11 isn't possible.)....

It is SO high-time to shine some light on the CIA fraud. Or, even better, just abolish it and move to an open-source model of intelligence gathering. Openness would benefit us much more than it would our enemies. (And 10,000 Democrats would be faced with the prospect of finding real jobs and doing real work. An extra plus!)

Posted by John Weidner at November 10, 2005 8:27 AM
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