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The CIA

If you are in the mood for a thought-provoking read, check out this article from the American Spectator (text copied in “more” text below, in case of link rot).

My take on it is that the CIA is just like every other government bureaucracy. By this I mean that its underlying motivation is not to do its job – ie, gather intelligence – rather, its primary motivation – as a whole – is to keep itself alive. The most effective way to do this, for any bureaucracy, is to grow itself so large and integrate itself into the system so well that removing it would be unthinkable.

The CIA, just like countless other government bureaucracies, is well suited to this task, and as a byproduct is not very well suited to any other task. In fact, the CIA carries out “intelligence” only so far as is necessary to accomplish its real goal. And the sad fact is, the worse the CIA does its job, the better their real agenda is served. After all, intelligence failures lead to commissions that suggest even more government and even more bureaucracy. As I said before, the CIA is not alone in this regard. The worse social programs do at actually alleviating social problems, the more money will be put into those social programs. The worse public schools do, the more money will be put into public schools. These and other institutions become excellent at doing just well enough to appear to be useful, while ensuring that they do poorly enough to require more money to expand their bureaucracy, further entrenching their ultimate goal.

This “ultimate goal” I am speaking of is rarely, if ever, the goal of any person in the organization. But it becomes the focus of the group’s efforts, because it is the only goal that serves everyone’s purposes in the organization – namely, job security, social advancement, political influence, or other wealth, power, or personal goals. Everyone’s agenda in the bureaucracy is promoted by the expansion of the bureaucracy, so the bureaucracy, if it is successful, ends up expanding. It is economics at is best and worst.

These programs – created usually by high-minded ideals that put the group above the individual – end up having the most perverse effect of all – namely, the exact opposite of the intended effect. That is, the group is hurt more than before, and the individual is demeaned instead of uplifted, as the idealists imagined would happen. Such is the way of all socialist programs, and that is what all of these programs are. They are an insidious cancer that eats away at society until it crumbles, just as every civilization before has, and just as every civilization to follow likely will.

In short, when freedom is hedged in favor or equality, social justice, or some ethereal greater good:

  1. The good rarely is seen, or if seen it is fleeting.
  2. The freedom is forever lost
  3. A new bureaucracy is born or an existing bureaucracy is expanded

I believe that people have proven time and again that they will come together to serve the greater good, when it is necessary to do so. No coercion is needed for this to happen. And if a people is unwilling to come together for the greater good, then it is time for that people to waste away. I believe that government expansion only dulls this sense of duty to fellow mankind – after all, its not my war to fight. Its the government’s. What attitude could be worse?


U.S. Intelligence: A Losing Proposition
By Angelo M. Codevilla
Published 9/24/2004 12:03:40 AM

Conventional wisdom used to be that U.S. intelligence was the lifeblood of the War on Terror. By 2004 no one contested that intelligence, especially the CIA, was at the heart of policies that had failed to stem terrorism and had turned military victory in Iraq into embarrassment. The high level commissions that examined current failures began to suspect that these reflected long-standing, basic faults. They only scratched the surface. In fact, U.S. intelligence in all its functions — collection, quality control (otherwise known as counterintelligence), analysis, and covert action — is hindering America’s war.

The public, accustomed in recent years to stories of botched anti-Saddam coups, had learned that CIA covert action works only in the movies. But in the summer of 2004 newspaper readers were shocked by the CIA’s admission to Senate investigators that it had precisely zero agents in Iraq in the years prior to the invasion, because getting and keeping agents in such places is tough. Was it not the CIA’s job to have agents in tough places?

The attentive public also remembered that the president had struck specific bunkers at the start of the Iraq war because the CIA’s most valued sources assured us Saddam was staying there. But U.S. troops inspecting the wreckage had found neither Saddam nor bunkers. Wasn’t the CIA supposed to know enough not to help play America for a sucker? The commissions seemed most impressed that the CIA had translated scarce and bad information into misleading analyses without dissent. Groupthink, they called it. Voters and taxpayers wonder how an institution in which so many had placed so much trust could suddenly have been found to be such a loser.

TO THOSE CLOSE TO the intelligence business, however, such things are an old story. There never was a golden age of the CIA. Its performance against terrorism is not so different from what it was during the Cold War.

Not least of the CIA’s problems, then as now, has been its preference for influencing U.S. policy over striving for clarity about the outside world. It has done so by substituting its many judgments for the few hard facts it has. Phrases like “we believe…” and “we have no conclusive evidence that…” (longhand for yes and no) conveyed its prejudices to policymakers and favored media alike, feeding strife in American politics. Because the CIA vouched for the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, the Bush team chose “disarmament” as the official justification for invading that country. The Democrats campaign against the Bush team for believing the CIA on WMDs (as they themselves believed it), but also for disbelieving its judgment that Iraqi intelligence was not connected with 9/11 — because the Democrats themselves want to disbelieve. Such quarrels becloud the essential question: Who are the people whose death will free us from terror?

Now all agree that the CIA fouled up, and all are foursquare for reform. But the main proposals embraced by Democrats and Republicans with equal mindlessness, consist of rearranging bureaucratic wiring diagrams. It is anyone’s guess how such “reform” would increase knowledge of the outside world, instill the self-criticism necessary for quality control, produce intellectual rigor out of wanton analytical sloppiness, or turn U.S. covert action from bloody opera buffa to a serious instrument of policy. Just as important, no one seems to have asked whether any intelligence system imaginable could bring success to the current policy of trying to discover individual terrorists before they strike.

To consider what it would take to turn U.S. intelligence into an asset in the war on terror, we must first look at its basic problems.

Collection

U.S. intelligence has never had more than a few sources of human reporting of which it could be certain, and the capabilities of U.S. technical collection devices, both imaging and electronic, are too well known.

Money has never been the problem with the CIA’s espionage. Its clandestine service has some 2,500 “case officers” abroad. But this “clandestine” service is clandestine in name only. Ninety-eight percent of its officers are spooks only to the point of claiming they report to some part of the U.S. government other than the CIA. The 2 percent super spooks hide their connection to the U.S. government but make no attempt to hide the fact that they are Americans. Rather than prowling the back alleys pretending to be Ruritanian arms dealers, or using identities of convenience to worm information out of unwitting sources, CIA officers are limited to the kinds of contacts that U.S. embassy personnel have. Because personnel standards at the CIA are lower than for the Foreign Service, the quality of CIA reporting seldom has equaled that of the State Department.

In Iraq they live and work behind a screen of American soldiers. Everywhere they deal either through translators or with English-speaking foreigners. They know languages even less than diplomats, or the substance of any subject matter that would lead to natural contact with sources. As for work that requires the use of weapons, CIA policy has always been to hire contractors. In sum, the CIA’s concept of its case officers as gentleman spies is the wrong concept, resulting in a service full of the wrong people.

Their relationship with spies typically consists of managing relations with foreigners who seek them out — so-called walk-ins. The chief problem here is figuring out whether self-proposed agents are really working for a hostile intelligence service. That problem is most serious when foreign intelligence services themselves are providing information. This is especially so regarding terrorism, since Arab governments — whose agendas run counter to America’s — supply a substantial portion of the CIA’s information on it. The smelliest information comes from “interrogations” conducted by ignoramus officers, of prisoners who may or may not know anything but who are constrained to say something.

Collection by various kinds of cameras and electronic intercepts suffers from problems not entirely dissimilar. The CIA wallpapered its lobby with a drawing of downtown Moscow copied from satellite photos, showing every building. Its implication, added to the well-advertised fact that the best resolution of satellite photography could theoretically read license plates, gives the impression of omniscience. The equally well-advertised fact that U.S. antennas on satellites, on land, sea, and air, intercept billions of communications strengthens that impression. Theoretically, these antennas can also tell when a truck’s engine is on, among other things. Yet cameras and antennas are much less useful than they seem, especially with regard to terrorism.

Satellites travel paths and cover areas at times that are predictable years in advance. They neither see beneath roofs nor into the hearts of men. Hiding from high altitude photography is child’s play, as is spoofing it. The U.S. and Britain misrepresented D-Day preparations to confuse German aircraft, the Soviets prevented U.S. satellites from seeing anything of its fourth generation missiles except holes in the ground that may or not have been filled, and during the Gulf War Saddam Hussein managed to hide from satellites and aircraft every last one of the mobile Scud launchers that hit Israel and U.S. troops. When the U.S. government has struck terrorism on the basis of satellite reconnaissance, its bombs and missiles have destroyed empty mud huts. “Pounding sand” is what the Pentagon calls it. When the Pentagon used satellites to pick targets for its “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003, it ended up destroying empty buildings.

Electronic intercepts are even more problematic. Theoretically, if the enemy does not know that his electronic messages are intercepted, we can read them. And if the enemy does know, he must choose between having them intercepted and not sending them. In fact, just as in the case of satellites, the enemy can use his knowledge to give us the impressions he wishes, while sending messages either non-electronically or through means he knows are safe. The Soviets long ago developed unbreakable codes. Most governments and serious criminals nowadays have them. Mere individuals as well as governments use multiple cell phone numbers or calling cards from public phones for real communications, while our enemies call between phones they know are monitored to watch in glee as we scramble with security measures.

Quality Control

If the flow of intelligence on terrorism were subjected to the discipline of counterintelligence and the CIA were to reject all that was not secure, its analysts would have to come to terms with poverty. This would force policymakers to take responsibility for doing what they can on the basis of what they know. But in this field as in others, scarcity presses the CIA to take what garbage comes its way and call it good.

It has always been so. From the 1950s to the 1970s the CIA treated James Angleton’s small, independent counterintelligence office as a pest, and spread accusations that Angleton’s concerns for the integrity of sources amounted to aspersions on the loyalty of CIA case officers, or reflected his own paranoia. In fact the CIA resented the obstacles that Angleton placed in the way of self-congratulation — and self-promotion — for passing on insecure information. And so in 1975 the CIA got rid of Angleton and independent quality control. Since then each geographic division has judged its own integrity — which is more corrupting than having Arthur Andersen audit Enron.

As it turned out, Angleton was more correct than he feared. Every last CIA agent in or on Cuba was working for Castro’s intelligence. All but three in or on East Germany were working for the Stasi. This and much more was due to mere incompetence. The Soviet KGB’s total control of the human intelligence that reached the U.S. government resulted from the treason of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, in charge of quality control respectively for the CIA’s and the FBI’s anti-Soviet espionage. None of these discoveries led to any serious efforts at quality control.

Nor did the discovery that Geoffrey Prime had told the Soviets U.S. satellites were intercepting their communications affect the way in which those satellites were funded, nor how their information factored into the rest of our intelligence. Finally, neither the revelation that, because of one John Walker, the Soviets were privy to all U.S. naval communications, nor the fact that U.S. intelligence had overlooked countless indications that this was so, make those in charge of U.S. intelligence any more skeptical about what they were seeing and hearing.

The CIA’s uncritical acceptance of “low hanging fruit” regarding terrorism is part of the same phenomenon. Paranoia would not have been necessary to ask why, if the Arab intelligence services that told us that al Qaeda was responsible for terrorism knew so much about it, they were powerless to prevent it from operating in their police states. After the 1998 U.S. cruise missile attack on an innocent Sudanese pharmaceutical factory that Arab intelligence had designated and U.S. technical sources had confirmed as an al Qaeda chemical warfare facility, common sense would have counseled skepticism about those sources. No way. In 1993 the CIA decided that Arab regimes were innocent, that “loose networks” of renegades and Islamic extremists were responsible for terrorism, and that to confirm the validity of a source one need only confirm the truth of some of its details.

Since then, the CIA has held to its paradigm of terrorism with acts of denial and definition that shock common sense. Foremost is its squaring of the facts with the dogma that no Arab regime, especially that of Iraq, was responsible for the 1993 or (and) the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

Here is a thumbnail sketch. One of the 1993 bombing’s masterminds is a secular person who entered the U.S. on an Iraqi passport as Ramzi Yousef (the name under which he was convicted and sent to federal prison). He left the U.S. for Baghdad as Abdul Basit Karim, on a Pakistani passport obtained on the basis of Kuwaiti documents that had been doctored during Iraq’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait. The real Kasim, who disappeared during that occupation, was physically different from Yousef. Only Iraqi intelligence could have merged the two identities.

The man who the CIA says is Yousef’s superior and uncle, and who it calls the mastermind of the 2001 attack, who also took part in the 1993 one, and joined Yousef in the 1995 Philippines plot to bomb U.S. airliners over the Pacific, is a secularist Baluch who goes by the name Shaik Khalid Mohammed. A third secularist by the name of Ali, otherwise known as Ammar al Baluchi, provided funds for all three attacks. Only Mohammed had anything to do with al Qaeda, and that only after 1996, long after his own network had performed operations like that of 9/11. Where did the money and motivation for that network come? Could it be that this network thinly disguised as a family worked for Iraqi intelligence, which had long recruited Baluchs for a variety of tasks?

The CIA, however, absolved Iraq of responsibility for any of the attacks by this fictitious Baluchi family, while pinning all of them on Islamic extremism and just the 2001 attack on Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Go figure. Worse, it refuses to question the sources or the line of reasoning that led to this conclusion.

Analysis and Groupthink

During the Cold War, scarcity of hard information combined with political prejudice to produce Groupthink at CIA. In the 1960s and 1970s the CIA analysts distorted reality concerning Soviet missiles even more radically than they did regarding Iraq in 1993-2003. Just as in Iraq, CIA’s human collectors did not know what characteristics the other side intended to endow its weapons. And our technical devices were able to discern only indirect indications of what these might be. Nevertheless to maintain their prejudices CIA analysts had to ignore the plainest facts — just as in Iraq.

In the mid-1960s the Soviet Union began a massive buildup of its missile force, and of warheads with the combination of power and accuracy for disarming “first strikes.” But the CIA’s dogma had it that the Soviets would not try to match the number of U.S. missiles or seek that capacity. When the Soviets’ numbers did, CIA analysts judged that they would not exceed them. When their missiles exceeded ours in number, the CIA judged that the Soviets would not endow them with accuracy. When they did that, the CIA judged that this would not matter because the Soviets just had to know that it would be unreasonable to use the force they had built. This line of reasoning developed over a decade, and involved countless redefinitions of what technical evidence was and was not acceptable. Each redefinition prejudiced conclusions in favor of the CIA’s dogma. Only in 1977, when an independent commission was given access to all data available to the CIA, did this intellectual house of cards fall.

Similarly, CIA dogma held that the Soviet Union was not spending a greater proportion of its GDP on military matters than was the U.S. — in those days, some 5 to 6 percent. To support this prejudice, the CIA built an elaborate econometric model, complete with its own valuation of the ruble. It turned out of course that the Soviets had been spending on the order of 40 percent of GDP on their military. A glance at the Statistical Abstract of the United States for the 1980s, compiled with CIA data, shows even more egregious prejudice. According to the CIA, you see, the per capita GDP of East Germany and West Germany were roughly equal. This was news to all but the CIA analysts who made up the econometric models.

There is no reason, then, to be surprised at CIA analysts’ judgment that Iraq was virtually uninvolved with terrorism and full of Weapons of Mass Destruction. To reach the first part of that judgment, they only had to term “inconclusive” the existence of the training camp for foreign terrorists at Salman Pak, the financing of terrorism in Israel (which the CIA does not admit is really terrorism ), the reported meeting of 9/11 captain Mohamed Atta with Iraqi case officer al Ani (al Ani’s denial of the meeting beats Czech intelligence’s affirmation of it, you see), the overlap of personnel between the first and second attack on the World Trade Center, Ramzi Yousef’s possession of identity documents doctored by Iraqi intelligence, and much more. To affirm Iraq’s possession of WMDs, CIA analysts only had to go with the flow of legalistic argument: The U.N. had required Iraq to submit to inspections. Iraq had not done so. It had to be hiding WMDs. Easy. Besides, focusing on WMDs averted America’s attention from the role that Arab regimes play in terrorism. The CIA wanted to make sure of that.

Action

Not only has the CIA’s covert action, full of half-measures and bloody betrayals, produced countless dead Kurds, H’Mong, and other would-be allies, it has also crippled America’s capacity to deal with terrorism. That is because much of the CIA’s interference in the affairs of the world has consisted of promoting precisely the regimes and ideas that are the matrices of terrorism.

From its earliest days, the CIA built a dysfunctional relationship with the “third world.” CIA Director Allen Dulles financed political revolutionaries such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, as well as intellectuals such as Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth, the ur text of anti-Westernism. Though the CIA did not invent the Ba’ath Party, no one who knows the region would suggest that such a party would have come to power without the CIA. To Iraq, the CIA sent a young thug named Saddam Hussein. The CIA’s assumption was that these movements would take its advice, and at least that the CIA would retain the loyalty of enough of their members to never lack for excellent sources of information about them.

Wrong on all counts. Third World movements turned against America. Meanwhile the CIA’s large emotional and organizational investment in these movements led it to be their advocate within the U.S. government. To ordinary Americans a Yassir Arafat is a disgusting thug. But to the CIA he is always full of hopeful signals. Sunni, Ba’athist domination of Iraq might be patently disastrous to any number of people, but to the CIA Saddamism, first with, later without Saddam, has been the way to go. The CIA’s political prejudices color whatever realities U.S. intelligence comes across.

Reform

No one has attempted to show how the main proposals for “reform” proposed by the 9/11 Commission and endorsed by both 2004 presidential candidates would remedy any fault of U.S. intelligence whatever. Creating the post of Director of National Intelligence with budgetary and programmatic authority (Kerry) or supervision (Bush) over all intelligence agencies, as well as a national counterterrorism center to direct all aspects of intelligence about as well as action against terrorism, sidesteps all substantive questions about what intelligence is to be sought, how its integrity is to be guarded, how controversies over its interpretation ought to be resolved, and what action ought to be taken. Much less could anyone show how either of these organizational changes would safeguard America.

The proposal for a Director of National Intelligence has been around since the 1970s. Its implementation would have few if any effects beyond somewhat complicating an already complex bureaucracy. But a national counterterrorism center that could order any agency to collect in certain ways, come to certain conclusions about who is a terrorist, and act on those conclusions without the adult supervision of, say, the Secretary of Defense or State, would likely spawn any number of embarrassing activities. All to naught. Since incentives for terrorism continue to increase, opportunities for attack are irreducible, and fundamental intelligence faults remain unaddressed, events will surely discredit such irrelevant “reforms.”

Putting resources into boxes with the proper label does not produce good outcomes. These depend on people knowing the right things to be done, and actually getting them done. Alas, intelligence officials whose work has been their own secret for two generations have defined excellence simply as whatever they happen to turn out.

There is no substitute for firing massive numbers of people who have performed badly or are just useless, and replacing them with persons picked for their capacity to do the job expected of them. But there is the rub. Someone at the top must define the job. Intelligence is an instrument of conflict. In any given conflict, intelligence is good insofar as it contributes to victory. Whoever is responsible for any operation must — as part of the exercise of his responsibility — define what information is needed for that operation’s success.

For that reason, the idea behind the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, namely to separate responsibility for knowing the world from responsibility for defense and foreign affairs, was a bad idea. Intelligence reform should proceed from the premise that intelligence is naturally the handmaiden of strategy.

Strategy and Policy

The faults of U.S. intelligence in anti-terrorism come as much from the outside as from the inside. In 1993 the Clinton administration decided that individuals, not regimes, were responsible for terrorism and demanded that U.S. intelligence comb through thousands of persons about whom we know nothing, while discounting the fact that terrorist activities breed in authoritarian regimes as expressions of those regimes. The Bush team has not reversed that judgment. And so, as wealthy Saudis spread the Wahabi movement through oil billions and Syrian dictators and Palestinian warlords rail on TV with impunity against America and all its works, U.S. intelligence interrogators are “going after” the small fry. No problem can be dealt with well if it is defined badly. No intelligence can save unintelligent policy or make up for lack of a strategy for victory.

Intelligence can light a path to victory if we make war on the basis of what we know for sure. Policymakers for whom the pursuit of victory is contingent on intelligence beyond their reach are making intelligence a scapegoat for their own incompetence.

Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, a fellow of the Claremont Institute, and a senior editor of TAS, was a Foreign Service officer and served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee between 1977 and 1985. He was the principal author of the 1980 presidential transition report on intelligence. This article appears in the September 2004 issue of The American Spectator.

One Response to “The CIA”

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