I Spy with My Little Eye...

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Lefty Wilbury, Nov 9, 2005.

  1. Lefty Wilbury

    Lefty Wilbury Active Member

    Nov 4, 2003
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    I Spy with My Little Eye...
    By Reuel Marc Gerecht
    Posted: Wednesday, November 9, 2005

    Wall Street Journal
    Publication Date: November 9, 2005

    "And they [CIA employees] have to expect that when they do their jobs, that information about whether or not they are affiliated with the CIA will be protected… And they run a risk when they work for the CIA that something bad could happen to them, but they have to make sure that they don't run the risk that something bad is going to happen to them from something done by their own fellow government employees."

    So spoke Patrick Fitzgerald, special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame investigation, about the need to preserve the cover of CIA case officers. His sincere concern for the woman's lost camouflage can also be heard among commentators on both left and right, even among those who recognize that Ms. Plame's publicity-loving husband, Joseph "Yellowcake" Wilson, often doesn't have a firm grip on the truth. In particular, left-leaning liberals, not well known for their defense of the CIA, have charged forward to equate the maintenance of cover for Langley's operatives (who are, let us be frank, probably overwhelmingly antiwar and anti-Bush) with the country's national security. In their eyes, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for the vice president, is thus guilty, at a minimum, of a politically motivated disregard for a clandestine public servant on the front lines of freedom.

    Needless to say, Langley, which started this whole affair with its referral of Ms. Plame's "outing" to the Justice Department, couldn't agree more about the critical role of its secret operatives in the nation's defense. (If it weren't for the CIA's use of rendition and secret prison facilities, a return of 1950s-era liberal love for the clandestine service might be in the works.)

    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.

    Fact: The vast majority of CIA officers overseas operate with little to no cover and have done so since the foundation of the post-World War II clandestine service in 1947. Most case officers posted abroad carry official cover, which usually means they serve as fake diplomats. The use of official cover allowed the agency to grow rapidly in the 1940s, when panic about Soviet expansionism was real and America's experience with espionage and global secret services was small. Developing an agency weighted in favor of nonofficial-cover officers would have been vastly more difficult, time-consuming, and not necessarily useful for a CIA aimed overwhelmingly at massive covert-action programs that did not require officers to be particularly stealthy in their daily routines.

    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.) And the agency often gives nonofficial case officers atrociously bad cover that makes no sense, especially given today's targeting priorities. A temporary "NOC of convenience," which is what Ms. Plame might have at times been while serving at headquarters in the Counter-Proliferation Division, is a much less secure cover, workable on very short-term assignments overseas, but paper-thin when confronted by knowledgeable folks in the cover profession. Given the low standards the agency often uses with its HQ-based nonofficial cover, Ms. Plame probably could still, if she dyed and shortened her hair, fly overseas and do whatever she might have been doing before she recommended her husband for his Africa sojourn.

    Fact: The CIA knows that most of its officers overseas are "blown" to the local security and intelligence services, and not infrequently to the more astute members of the native press in countries where a real press exists, and to knowledgeable members of the foreign diplomatic community who have firsthand contact with the country's foreign and defense ministries (where real diplomats always spend more quality time and have greater access than do spooks). But our clandestine service chooses not to dwell on the obvious. Compromised officers continue to run agents, and to try to develop foreigners for recruitments, knowing full well that the host security services know who they are. Now, this may not be an enormous counterintelligence problem if case officers are working "compatible" targets, that is, working on foreigners whom the host country's security and intelligence services don't really care about (for example, the French internal security service probably would not express its displeasure at regular meetings of a Nigerian official with a known CIA officer in the cafés of Paris). However, it is more of an issue when the local security and intelligence service might object, and since the end of the Cold War, foreign security and intelligence services have become noticeably less generous in viewing CIA activity on their soil as being harmless or complementary to their own actions.

    Fact: Probably the vast majority of all sensitive assets--foreign agents whom the agency considers highly valuable and who might be in some trouble if exposed--have been handled by compromised officers. The agency attempts to compensate for the blown state of its officers by having case officers use "surveillance detection runs" (SDRs). In the Soviet Union, where the agency and the State Department actually tried hard to hide CIA identities, but where CIA officers inevitably became known, American operatives deployed long and challenging SDRs. In most other countries, where the internal security has been less daunting, case officers have often been much more lax in scrupulously designing runs, sometimes with very adverse consequences. "Inside" officers--those who serve inside official U.S. facilities--have too often damned their agents to jail or death because they did not, or could not, insulate themselves sufficiently from the prying eyes of a hostile service. But the CIA quite happily has lived with this state of affairs since any attempt to get serious about cover would destroy the clandestine service as we have known it for 58 years.

    If we were to use the standards suggested by Mr. Fitzgerald--"It's a lot more serious than baseball… The damage wasn't to one person. It wasn't just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us"--we would fire the operations management, which in practice has become a barely clandestine version of the State Department. The revealing of Valerie Plame's true employer has in all probability hurt no one overseas. You can rest assured that if her (most recent) outing had actually hurt an agent from her past, we would've heard about it through a CIA leak.

    Langley's systemic sloppiness--the flimsiness of cover is but the tip of the iceberg of incompetence--has repeatedly destroyed agent networks and provoked "flaps" with some of our closest allies. A serious CIA would never have allowed Mr. Wilson to go on such an odd, short "fact finding" mission. It never would have allowed Ms. Plame potentially to expose herself by recommending such an overt mission for her mate, not known for his subtlety and discretion. With a CIA where cover really mattered, Mr. Libby would not now be indicted. But that's not what we have in the real world. We have an American left that hates George W. Bush and his vice president so much that they have become willing dupes in a surreal operational stage-play. You have to give credit to Langley: Overseas it may be incompetent; but in Washington, it can still con many into giving it the respect and consideration it doesn't deserve.
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