Foreign Policy

The CIA At War

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It's a grim, ugly thing, reports Jeff Stein in Congressional Quarterly:

According to several well informed intelligence sources, hundreds of CIA operatives have become virtual prisoners in the Green Zone, the sprawling American enclave whose high walls and guards separate the U.S. embassy, military command and related civilian agencies from the raging sectarian violence in Baghdad's streets.

The CIA operatives cannot safely roam the city to meet their few agents, much less recruit new ones.

It's just too dangerous. CIA chiefs don't want to risk one getting kidnapped, tortured on camera and beheaded.

That would certainly dampen the allure of a career in the CIA.

So "they spend their days playing cards and watching DVDs," said a former senior CIA operations official who maintains close ties in the agency.

There's a lot more about intelligence fecklessness amidst Iraqi chaos in the long article, and none of it is any more encouraging that we'll eventually figure out what's going on over there, much less how to turn the situation in a direction we'd prefer.

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  1. CIA officers in Iraq who want to avoid certain death are “feckless”, writes Doherty from his safe office in the US.

    Classy.

  2. Wow! I always thought the Jame Bond movies offered an acurate depiction of real-life espionage. I guess not. Once again, Reason unovers the hard truth. I can’t wait to read all the insightful posts that will come in on this one.

  3. …CIA officers in Iraq who want to avoid certain death are “feckless”, writes Doherty from his safe office in the US.

    Yeah, when I applied at the CIA I told them I would only come to work if I could do it safely from the blogging machine in my uniform……apparently they weren’t impressed with my tolerance for risk!

    Shit ajay, they aren’t Wal-Mart greeters.

  4. Maybe this says something about how broke the CIA is and how they are hiring people. Go to the CIA website and look at who they are hiring. They want people with area studies degrees. I am sorry but going Georgetown and getting a middle eastern studies degree isn’t going to help you blend in much in Bahgdad, especially if you are a blong blue eyed coed. The fact that they can’t pass themselves off as something besides Americans or locals doesn’t say very good things about the CIA. A few years ago I read the book “Blowing My Cover” by Lindsey Moran. It is actually a pretty good book but you can’t help but wonder at the end, “why the hell did they ever hire her?” She really didn’t have much of any qualification other than being smart and going to Harvard. You would think you would look to hire someone whose family is perhaps from the middle east and can look the part and speak Arabic without an accent and understands the culture. Not so. I am guessing there are a few Lindsey Morans running around the Green Zone wondering why all the local men stare at them when they wear shorts.

  5. It is actually a pretty good book but you can’t help but wonder at the end, “why the hell did they ever hire her?” She really didn’t have much of any qualification other than being smart and going to Harvard. You would think you would look to hire someone whose family is perhaps from the middle east and can look the part and speak Arabic without an accent and understands the culture.

    Maybe the CIA knows something you don’t.

    Maybe they get double crossed a bunch in August 2001, fr’instance by agents who were chosen for the ability to fit in.

    Because us in our safe offices will never know one way or the other on this, it makes critical thinking on these issues basically impossible for us.

  6. “Because us in our safe offices will never know one way or the other on this, it makes critical thinking on these issues basically impossible for us.”

    I don’t think that is true. Yes, they have a tough job. That doesn’t excuse them from doing it. Clearly, the people their current approach is not working. You can certainly judge their record and it is pretty bad. The CIA has been wrong on about a million things over the last 20 years and most of it has to do with their complete inability to have reliable human sources. Go read the book, if Lindsey Moran is the best they can hire, they have some real problems. The fact that in the middle of a war they can’t get their agents out into the field is disgracful. The OSS managed to send people out into Europe in World War II. I don’t why the CIA can’t get their people out of the green zone.

  7. So, the next time we’re told the intelligence is a “slam dunk” prior to invading another country…we gonna believe ’em?

    Just saying.

  8. The CIA did a bang-up job when they were running the Arghan War. It was only when Rumsfeld pulled rank that we lost the momentum.

  9. John,

    I did not read the book, but I saw here touting it on Good Morning America, or a similar show, and I thought at the time that she is pretty, and perky and she went to an Ivy league school so she fits the good ole boy network, but she seems to be a typical, clueless rich kid to me.

  10. “Feckless” is not accurate in this instance, unless you are talking about the brass in Langley. Stupid and suicidal is not the same as courageous and effective.

    If your ‘covert’ operatives can’t blend in, why do you even send them?

    Sounds like the brass is trying to fill a requirement from the politicos that they have ‘x’ many operatives in the field and either haven’t got the smarts to go for quality over quantity or haven’t carefully thought the matter through and realized it takes a long time to develop covert field operatives.
    [Alternatively, maybe the CIA brass haven’t got the guts to tell the politicos that it will be 5 to 15 years before they have a cadre of working field operatives.]

  11. “The OSS managed to send people out into Europe in World War II. I don’t why the CIA can’t get their people out of the green zone.”

    We don’t hire brown people.

  12. One more piece of evidence that the GWB policy in Iraq is an abysmal failure. Hey, I’ve got a great idea, let’s bring democracy to Somalia! Just as soon as we finish bringing it to the Iraqis, of course.

  13. The CIA traditionally hired kids from “good families” (read: rich WASPs) out of the Ivies, while the FBI hired Irish klds out of the “Catholic Ivies” (BC, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and the like). Odd history there.

  14. “The CIA did a bang-up job when they were running the Arghan War. It was only when Rumsfeld pulled rank that we lost the momentum.”

    The CIA never ran the Afghan War CENTCOM did. There were CIA agents in Afghanistan but the majority of the people there were Special Forces and the plan and the execution of the plan that took down the Taliban was the product of CENTCOM and General Franks, not the CIA. Where do you get this stuff Joe? Really? Some of the things you come up with are just bizarre.

  15. That would certainly dampen the allure of a career in the CIA.

    The hell? The “allure” of a career in the CIA is becoming a James Bondesque super secret agent with a pen that is secretly a gun and a gun that is secretly a pen. Getting captured by terrorists is part of that! The best thing that could happen to the CIA would be to have one of their agents captured and get beheaded live, just so we can see him cut his ropes with a laser key chain, karate chop all the terrorists and then go have sex with some girl with a ridiculous name like Shagg Nastee or Pussy O’Plenty.

  16. “I did not read the book, but I saw here touting it on Good Morning America, or a similar show, and I thought at the time that she is pretty, and perky and she went to an Ivy league school so she fits the good ole boy network, but she seems to be a typical, clueless rich kid to me.”

    That is the exact impression I got from reading the book. Like I said you finish the book wondering why the hell they ever hired her.

  17. If this war of “liberation” and “democracy” had actually included a role for the Iraqis themselves, beyond hiring themselves out as our cannon fodder, we’d have local intel sources, and a community of allies among the populace willing and able to help our agents.

    Yet more evidence that efforts to impose democracy from outside, rather than in support of a local popular movement, are doomed to failure.

  18. “If this war of “liberation” and “democracy” had actually included a role for the Iraqis themselves, beyond hiring themselves out as our cannon fodder, we’d have local intel sources, and a community of allies among the populace willing and able to help our agents.”

    True enough, but go talk to the State Department who didn’t want to set up an Iraqi government in exile and mistrusted the exile community. Had they set up an Iraqi government in exile before going in and put them in charge rather thant Bremmer and the CIA, things would have been a lot different.

  19. Sorry that is Bremmer and the CPA not CIA.

  20. You don’t need case officers with local knowledge when you’ve got satellites and spy planes. Don’t you guys know anything?

  21. CENTCOM had formal command of the theater, but operations, including those by Special Forces, were being run by the CIA for the first couple of months after 9/11.

    I “got” this particular bit of information from one of the numerous excellent documentaries that Frontline has produced about the Afghan War. For this one, they interviewed the people who were running the Afghan War.

    You have an amazing capacity to not know easily available facts that don’t fit your preconceptions, John.

  22. “True enough, but go talk to the State Department who didn’t want to set up an Iraqi government in exile and mistrusted the exile community. Had they set up an Iraqi government in exile before going in and put them in charge rather thant Bremmer and the CIA, things would have been a lot different.”

    The “exile government” in question was Chalabi and his gang. In fact, the adminstration did attempt to set him up as the government, flying him in with 500 mercenaries to try to stage a “DeGaulle in Paris” moment, because of their certainty that the Iraqis would flock to the leadership of the Geroge Washington of Iraq.

    State 1, Rummy Pentagon 0

  23. “Had they set up an Iraqi government in exile before going in and put them in charge rather thant Bremmer and the CIA, things would have been a lot different.”

    Ahmad Chalabi? You’re kidding, right?

  24. I’m not qualified to comment.

  25. “CENTCOM had formal command of the theater, but operations, including those by Special Forces, were being run by the CIA for the first couple of months after 9/11.”

    Joe, it was franks who thought up the plan after talking to Gen (RET) Schoomacher. His original plan was to send an entire Corps into the area and Rumsfeld vetoed it. It was Franks with Schoomaker’s help who thought up the idea of doing it with special forces and air power. The CIA doesn’t run air power and they don’t order four star theater commanders around. It just doens’t work that way. Every DOD asset in CENTCOM belongs to CENTCOM. I have will to tell the people next door to me over at 3rd Army (CENTCOM’s Army component command) that they never ran the AFGHAN war the CIA did. I don’t know what you say on Frontline Joe, but you didn’t understand what you saw if you think the CIA and not CENTCOM ran the Afghan war from the early October authorization to use force.

  26. the CIA was really good at playing disinfo games with the old CCCP, but those days are done

    these days, I see the CIA as a vestigial/degenerate structure left over from the cold war that is about as useful to the current US body politic as the appendix or coccyx is to the human body

  27. John, you need to watch Frontline. They put their documentaries into rotation. That’s all I can tell you.

  28. Show of hands:

    Who here ever thought they would see joe defending the CIA for running a war?

  29. “The CIA doesn’t run air power and they don’t order four star theater commanders around. It just doens’t work that way. Every DOD asset in CENTCOM belongs to CENTCOM. I have will to tell the people next door to me over at 3rd Army (CENTCOM’s Army component command) that they never ran the AFGHAN war the CIA did.”

    None of which changes the fact that the operations on the ground were run, in the first few weeks, by the CIA, and the facilators at CENTCOM were put on the task of providing what the CIA wanted.

  30. I don’t think that is true. Yes, they have a tough job. That doesn’t excuse them from doing it.

    let me ask a slightly different and hypothetical question(s) then, John:

    let’s say a hypothetical CIA agent could have prevented 9/11 (or the Oklahoma City bombing or the crash of TWA 800 or the Tube bombing), but the hypothetical agent double crossed the CIA and let the attack happen.

    Should this information be kept as a secret by the CIA or should they be forced to disclose it?

    If they should be forced to disclose it, who should be forcing them?

  31. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A14464-2001Dec8?language=printer

    Joe,

    This is a good account of the early days of the Afghan war from the Washington Post. Yes, the CIA had preditor drones and some paramilitary there, but they never ran the air force and the overall plan was Franks and CENTCOM’s and Rumsfeld’s really. The CIA never ran the war in any meaningful way. And certainly were not running the war in November and December when the bulk of the work to take down the Taliban was done.

  32. let’s say a hypothetical CIA agent could have prevented 9/11 (or the Oklahoma City bombing or the crash of TWA 800 or the Tube bombing), but the hypothetical agent double crossed the CIA and let the attack happen.

    No they shouldn’ have to disclose that, but I am operating from the assumption that the report is true. Maybe it is not. Maybe it is disinformation and things are going smashingly for the CIA in Bahgdad, in which case I take it all back. I am just saying that if the CIA can’t get their agents out into the field and blend in in Iraq, what the hell good are they and why are they not taking a different approach?

  33. Is there really much point in speculating about the inner workings of a secret group?

    I read the Lindsey Moran book, and while it was an interesting time-killer there’s no way the CIA would have allowed it published if it were in any way an accurate look at the agency.

  34. as useful to the current US body politic as the … coccyx is to the human body

    Hey! I need my coccyx. Hands off!

  35. John,

    You’re talking about Langley. I’m talking about Kabul.

  36. “The OSS managed to send people out into Europe in World War II. I don’t why the CIA can’t get their people out of the green zone.”

    We don’t hire brown people.

    Quite. How many field officers did OSS have in wartime Japan?

  37. Playing cards and watching DVDs? That sounds exactly like MY (national-security-related) government job. Am I seeing a pattern here?

  38. Actually, the US military does have pretty good intel sources in Iraq. They have the standard high tech stuff (satellites, and drones, etc), but they also have decent human intel as well.

  39. “decent human intel”???

    in Iraq?

    guffaw

    we must not be watching the same war

    or maybe I’m just deficient in the “blind faith” dept

  40. In 1988 I spent a weekend at Langley interviewing for a job with the “Company”. I appeared to be exactly what they were looking for: Blond/Blue, Soviet Studies major from George Washington U., Decent Russian skills that they could have perfected in no time. Scored well on all my tests, including, apparently, the bizarre psychological ones they were still giving at the time. (Would you rather be a) Lumberjack b) Bee-keeper c) Ballerina d) Fireman?)

    And I seemed to fit in well with all the other wasps that were there at the time with me… mostly a bunch of conservative white guys.

    But then came the aweful truth: I had smoked, I had inhaled, I swore I would never do it again but I also stated that I had no regrets. I even defended past drug use as a useful complement for an agent…..

    I was taken in to a wee room and was told to go home…..

  41. Oh, yeah… Just pointing out that they used to not hire people for skills as much as for being they version of “good americans”

  42. A fair amount of information flows from ordinary Iraqis to coalition forces because they (the Iraqis) want the insurgents out of their neighborhoods.

    There was a news story just a couple of days ago about the Iraqi leader Maliki changing his stance on protecting Muqtadr Al Sadr because he was presented with proof of the Shiites participating in murder and mayhem. That proof came from Intel sources.

  43. “But then came the aweful truth: I had smoked, I had inhaled, I swore I would never do it again but I also stated that I had no regrets. I even defended past drug use as a useful complement for an agent…..”

    There is a lesson there: don’t tell the truth. It is nobody’s business but your own.

  44. CIA officers in Iraq who want to avoid certain death are “feckless”, writes Doherty from his safe office in the US.

    What does safety have to do with effectiveness?

  45. Actually, it is not just CIA officers who face certain death, it is anybody who look European; sounds kind of racist, huh?

  46. if we were asshole deep in red chinese soldiers engaged in a belligerent occupation of our country (plunged into anarchy ever since the invading chinese gov’t declared our existing government illegal and provided us with an inept replacement)

    would we label our insurgents “racists” for targeting foreigners of asian extraction?

    “anti-american” for targeting quislings helping the invaders?

    would we cast the insurgency as “foreign fighters”, because real americans are happy with being occupied by foreign troops who killed our government off from top to bottom?

    it’s easy to sit here in the belly of the beast and make excuses and rationales for our treatment of those at the business end of our nation’s ham handed and irrational foreign policy

    but reverse the polarity, and it’s a different ballgame

    it appears that we expect Iraqis to react differently than we ourselves would to a given stimulus (belligerent occupation by foreign troops)

    sounds kinda racist, huh?

  47. [Sammy:] let’s say a hypothetical CIA agent could have prevented 9/11 (or the Oklahoma City bombing or the crash of TWA 800 or the Tube bombing), but the hypothetical agent double crossed the CIA and let the attack happen.

    [John:] No they shouldn’ have to disclose that, but I am operating from the assumption that the report is true. Maybe it is not. Maybe it is disinformation and things are going smashingly for the CIA in Bahgdad, in which case I take it all back. I am just saying that if the CIA can’t get their agents out into the field and blend in in Iraq, what the hell good are they and why are they not taking a different approach?

    and I am saying maybe they are doing smashingly — it depends on what you compare the present situation to.

    If there was a CIA agent we don’t know about, involved in the McVeigh plot, who was supposed to pull the plug, but didn’t, well, we are doing smashingly compared to that.

    If there was a CIA agent who could have reported that Mohammad Atta and a sleeper cel were going to used jets as bombs on 9/11, but decided not to report this info for whatever reason, then we are doing smashingly compared to that.

    Having a do-nothing CIA agent only seems bad until you consider that you may have one who is helping the terrorists bring about Pearl Harbor events.

    so, the issue becaomes: “how common is it for CIA agents to help terrorists?” Since we don’t know the answer, it becomes effectively impossible to judge performance of the CIA rationally as laypersons.

  48. Kowt,

    Struck a nerve, huh :-)?

    As far as I can tell, weepy liberals are never far from race baiting, so I have adopted calling people racist as a fun past time. Which is not to say that you are a weepy liberal. I have no way of knowing.

    Your analogy of “Red Chinese Soldiers” invading America and declaring our government illegal is not applicable or appropriate. We went in to Iraq for completely different reasons, but Saddam was not a legal ruler of Iraq. He was a dictator who seized power and murdered his detractors. No matter what you think of the filthy Republicans or even the despicable Democrats, they have stooped that low yet.

  49. Your analogy of “Red Chinese Soldiers” invading America and declaring our government illegal is not applicable or appropriate. We went in to Iraq for completely different reasons, but Saddam was not a legal ruler of Iraq. He was a dictator who seized power and murdered his detractors. No matter what you think of the filthy Republicans or even the despicable Democrats, they have stooped that low yet.

    Maybe the Chinese could show war crimes in Iraq and would invade for that reason. If so, how many war crimes would they have to demonstrate before we would have a duty to be nice to them when they invaded the US?

  50. They’ve taken to airing CIA recruitment commercials on the local AM sports station and every time I hear one I get Jello Biafra singing “if you can’t afford a slick attorney we might make you a spy” running through my head. Anyone else have this problem, or did I listen to too much Dead Kennedys in high school?

  51. A few dozen lily-white, self-righteous, steroid enhanced, arrogant assholes stuck over there?…sounds good to me, at least they aren’t breaking down doors looking for the killer weed in your neighborhood.

    And don’t tell me the CIA doesn’t engage in WOD operations. The entire federal law enforcement brigade is obsessed with what you put in your body.

    On another subject entirely: Tony Dungy and Bob Ersay…shove your Bible thumping bullshit up your asses.

  52. John said

    “””The OSS managed to send people out into Europe in World War II. I don’t why the CIA can’t get their people out of the green zone.”””

    John also said

    “”” I am sorry but going Georgetown and getting a middle eastern studies degree isn’t going to help you blend in much in Bahgdad, especially if you are a blong blue eyed coed. The fact that they can’t pass themselves off as something besides Americans or locals doesn’t say very good things about the CIA.””””

    So you do know why they can’t get out of the Green Zone. The blonde blue eyed coeds don’t blend in, in Iraq, but they did in Europe. It’s a very valid point, and has more importance that most people realize. But I have to point out that White people don’t do the spying in Mid-east countries. They are handlers, they recruit locals to do the spying for us. But if your white people can’t get off the base, those they handle become irrelelvent and the system breaks down.

    If a Muslim walks into CIA for a interview, the interview will not be about a job. Besides, many people in this country support treating Muslims differently, so why would any Muslim want to devote his life protecting yahoos that want to jail him or give him lesser rights because he’s a Muslim?

    The so called war on terror and our debacle in Iraq will prevent many quality Muslims from joining our intel operations. They don’t trust us, and why should they. We say we deny using torture at the same time we argue to allow the use as a tactic and have no problem using the unreliable information gained by torture in a trial against them. The Bush admin has brought our nation leadership that is willing to bullshit us and the world. If you don’t support torture you don’t support the use of information gained.

    We could come up with two dozen reason why Muslims should join us and why it would benefit the Muslim community. But without trust, they won’t listen.

    I don’t believe in the CIA failures. The CIA usually puts assessments in terms of probabilities unless they have fairly concise data, such as their fact book. The only CIA officals to say Iraqi intel was a “slam dunk” was the extreme upper echlon, and the rest of agents involved did not believe that to be the case.

    It is those who make policy from CIA intel that really let us down. Those who didn’t like what the CIA was saying so they expanded the role of the Defense Intelligence Agency and gave extraordinary weight to undeserving data. Rumsfield, et al wanted to hear certain things that the CIA wasn’t really saying. Top CIA operatives have gone on record saying such. Paul Pillar said the Bush admin “politicized” CIA assessments. It was obvious in the interview he was choosing his words carefully. There was much dissenting information in that famous NIE brief, but it was ignored, even when it was strong dissent against the primary points.

    Everybody’s got their own opinion about the CIA, but I’m not going to drag the organization through the mud because the director was playing politics and saying things unsupported by the analysts themselves.

  53. Juan, if I were President, I would so appoint you as CIA Director.

  54. We could come up with two dozen reason why Muslims should join us and why it would benefit the Muslim community.

    Hell, we Americans practically view being Muslim as a communicable disease. Just about everywhere else we have fought a war, our soldiers ended up intermarrying with the locals. Our military leadership is making damned sure nothing like that happens in our forays into the Middle East.

  55. Of course those agents are just decoys, and the real ones are out in the field saving us from what would otherwise be unmitigated disaster.

  56. TV, you are aware that “Muslim” is a religion, and not a race, right?

  57. ^^^ I mean, a Muslim is one who follows Islam. It’s not racial. You know what I meant.

  58. “There’s a lot more about intelligence fecklessness amidst Iraqi chaos in the long article, and none of it is any more encouraging that we’ll eventually figure out what’s going on over there, much less how to turn the situation in a direction we’d prefer.”

    What in the world does this sentence mean? Where do you people learn to write (and later edit yourself)?

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