The CIA Is a Disaster and It Is Time to Start Over

Let me be very clear–we need a clandestine service that collects intelligence from foreign nationals who occupy key positions in their respective governments. That was supposed to be the mission of the CIA, but it is failing and the failures are killing people who thought we would protect them. It is time for the CIA to be dismantled and a new organization that knows how to properly protect foreign spies be created.

The New York Times broke the story on Tuesday, October 5:

Top American counterintelligence officials warned every C.I.A. station and base around the world last week about troubling numbers of informants recruited from other countries to spy for the United States being captured or killed, people familiar with the matter said.

The message, in an unusual top secret cable, said that the C.I.A.’s counterintelligence mission center had looked at dozens of cases in the last several years involving foreign informants who had been killed, arrested or most likely compromised. Although brief, the cable laid out the specific number of agents executed by rival intelligence agencies — a closely held detail that counterintelligence officials typically do not share in such cables.

The primary mission of the Central Intelligence Agency is to convince foreign government, military and intelligence officials to betray their country and give us their most sensitive intelligence. We want to know what the human beings who are in ruling other countries are really thinking. We want to know if they are trying to destroy us.

The individuals who are recruited by a CIA Case Officer to give us the inside dope are dubbed as assets of the CIA. If their relationship with the CIA is discovered by their own government they are traitors and are treated accordingly. This usually means the spy is executed.

The CIA is not doing a terrific job of protecting itself and hiding its failures. The NY Times article, which details many of the failings, is more prima facie evidence that the CIA cannot protect its supposed secrets:

The cable highlighted the struggle the spy agency is having as it works to recruit spies around the world in difficult operating environments. In recent years, adversarial intelligence services in countries such as Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have been hunting down the C.I.A.’s sources and in some cases turning them into double agents. . . .

While the memo identified specific numbers of informants that were arrested or killed, it said the number turned against the United States was not fully known. Sometimes, informants who are discovered by adversarial intelligence services are not arrested, but instead are turned into double agents who feed disinformation to the C.I.A., which can have devastating effects on intelligence collection and analysis. Pakistanis have been particularly effective in this sphere, former officials said. . . .

In Iran and China, some intelligence officials believe that Americans provided information to the adversarial agencies that could have helped expose informants. Monica Elfriede Witt, a former Air Force sergeant who defected to Iran, was indicted on a charge of providing information to Tehran in 2019. The Iranians leveraged her knowledge only after determining she could be trusted. Later that year, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former C.I.A. officer, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for providing secrets to the Chinese government.

The rot afflicting the CIA includes bureaucratic inertia, no accountability and built-in incentives to put notches on a belt without worrying about what happened to those notches.

The bureaucratic problem overlaps with the built-in incentives. If you are a Case Officer you get promoted if you rack up recruitments. That means you have persuaded a foreign official to betray their country. Once the spy is recruited the relationship enters a new phase–keeping the relationship secret. The Case Officer is supposed to set up a secure means for receiving and sending information to and from the source. In theory these methods should not be visible to the opposing intelligence services. You cannot just pick up your I-phone and text your source with a list of questions that need to be answered. The CIA cable described by the NY Times pinpoints this as a major failure in how Case Officers have managed or rather mismanaged their secret sources.

Here’s the rub. These problems are not new. I know a Case Officer, now retired, who fabricated sources in Costa Rica and was promoted because of his “success”. When his successor discovered the fabrications, that Case Officer was told to get new sources. No action was taken to punish the other Case Officer who lied about his recruitments. Instead, he was promoted subsequently and retired after more than 30 years with a healthy pension.

Then there was the case of Robert Ames (now deceased), who was CIA Chief of Middle East Division in the Directorate of Operations. He had recruited Ali Hassan Salameh, aka the “Red Prince”. Salameh was a senior PLO operative and part of Black September who participated in the planning of the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes and other terror attacks.

Ames turned the Red Prince over to Case Officer Sam Wyman to “manage” the relationship. You can hear and see Sam Wyman tell the story (go to 15:45):

Wyman admits that he met a top secret, highly sensitive source at his own apartment. That is a fundamental violation of CIA tradecraft. And he glosses over this. In fact, he recounts that the doorman of his apartment building approached him and asked Wyman not to keep meeting with Salameh in the apartment. If that is not a compromise of a sensitive source, I don’t know what is.

What Wyman does not recount is that Ames, according to a knowledgeable source, had a Lebanese mistress who was part of Hezbollah. Hezbollah used her to track Ames and gather intel. Mossad also was surveilling Wyman and knew about his “unofficial” liaisons with Lebanese persons.

We are talking almost forty years ago. CIA tradecraft was sloppy then. Hezbollah used Ames’ mistress to track his movements. That’s how they knew to hit Ames at the Beirut Embassy in April 1983, which killed 32 Lebanese, 17 Americans, and 14 visitors and passers-by.

Here is the problem. The CIA was knowingly using a man, Salameh, a senior PLO operative with blood on his hands who was continuing to carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis. As long as the PLO did not attack Americans, he was free to operate. His reign of terror came to an abrupt end on 22 January 1979 when the Mossad killed him with a car bomb ambush.

The CIA takes great pride in its “secret” accomplishments. And there have been some. But there are many failures–most are kept hidden from the American public. The recent spate of CIA assets being captured and murdered is not new. It is an old story. The Russians did it to us. Do you recall Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen? The CIA lost scores of Russian spies who agreed to work for us because of their treachery. Once again, poor tradecraft and no accountability. This is a longstanding problem with the CIA.




Thanks for sharing!