CIAwful: On the Lack of Intelligence in Central Intelligence


Philip Giraldi, the American Conservative's man from the CIA, is excited about Leon Panetta for chief of the beleagued intelligence agency, but thinks it's got some deep down problems that even a skilled Clinton fixer isn't going to be able to keep under cover.

Some colorful analysis of how our would-be American James Bonds are really more Maxwell Smarts:

The Agency has undeniably had successes, but weighed against the cost and measured against the national interest they have been few and far between….. It failed to realize that even its supposed victories would bear bitter fruit—Afghanistan is a case in point. And the Agency's ability to predict and counter threats against the United States, the purpose for which it was created by the National Security Act of 1947, has been almost nonexistent. Double agents from Russia, Cuba, China, and MI-6 all penetrated the Agency, and its old-boy culture led to the failure to identify Aldrich Ames, a traitor within its own ranks who betrayed our few agents in Moscow. Despite years of effort and billions of dollars, the CIA has never obtained policy-level information on key international adversaries. The development of nuclear weapons by the USSR and China, the Korean War, and India's test of an atomic bomb all took the Agency by surprise. From 1969 onward, it bowed to political pressure to overestimate the size of the Russian economy.

More recently, the Agency failed to predict and stop the 9/11 attacks, and its preparation of the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002 was wrong in every particular, leading to the disastrous war with Iraq. Currently, the Agency is unable to penetrate terrorist groups. Nearly every top-level agent employed over the course of 60 years has been a volunteer, a "walk-in," not the product of intensive efforts to find and recruit spies. 

Among the other specific problems Giraldi fingers for the CIA are a consistent rising to the level of their incompetence of agency lifers; a continued absurd lack of emphasis on actually being able to read or speak the languages of the nation's we are trying to infiltrate and understand; and the expensive and morale-sapping hiring of superannuated old officers as highly paid contractors (better paid than actual employees) after leaving the agency. Overall, Giraldi paints a picture of the sort of useless bureaucracy that a real savvy budget-cutter might think about eliminating entirely.