Review: The Human Factor–Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)

Human FactorA few false notes, but on balance, final nail in CIA’s coffin,  August 12, 2008

Ishmael Jones

This is a clean-sheet final review. I considered dropping it to a four because of false notes. However, after adding up all the substantial “bombs” in this book, bombs I will itemize below, I believe the book not only merits five stars, but should–if Congress were honest, which it is not–warrant a full Congressional investigation, and a wholesale purging of the light-weight risk-averse clowns now managing CIA’s directorates.

The author was a Non-Official Cover (NOC) Officer, something he is not allowed to say, but he no doubt has infuriated the pretentious at CIA by making it clear that virtually all of CIA’s case officers are under Department of State cover.

I will list the false notes first. While I have not been active in clandestine operations since 1988, the following troubled me:

1) Ability to work on own funds with pay and expense gaps of up to $200,000 at a time.

2) Excessive travel to HQS and entry into HQS. In my day NOCs did not come inside at all.

3) Implied knowledge of inside operations and actual sighting of final cables–in my day, NOCs were handled as prize agents, and never saw any official traffic.

4) Agents (the ones committing treason) complaining to HQS to get their NOC fired? This is way over the edge.

5) Uninformed view on JAWBREAKER and First In with respect to public story–however, it is now it is coming out that Bin Laden was believed killed by multiple air bursts over Tora Bora, and the “flight” to Jalabad might have been a CIA deception ordered by the White House, and the only good explanation for why General Franks refused to drop a Ranger battalion, knowing it was merely in support of a CIA fabrication.

6) Inconsistency between one claim that Plame had four years of training followed by a short tour followed by five more years of training, and footnote 46, which is much more credible.

I hope other case officers, and NOCs, will read and review this book and contribute reviews that extend my own notes in the public interest. The time has come to shut CIA down and start over (the same is true of the rest of the secret world, but this book focuses on CIA).

Management crimes itemized in this book:

1) Waste of billions of dollars in post 9-11 money, to include paying rent for domestic assignments and creating hundreds of new CIA offices all over the USA, while failing to create new NOC capabilities overseas. [Note: open sources tell us that rather than fielding hundreds of NOCs, CIA created extremely expensive cover companies, all but one of which has since had to shut down–just as the Joint Fusion Centers across the USA are shutting down: CIA management is disconnected from reality in a big big way).

2) Risk aversion, multiple layers of inept and egotistical management, most of whom have made a career out of being in HQS rather than serving in the field (I myself did three back to back tours overseas and quit CIA when I was told to go down the hall and lie to another case officer–which was coincident with Ted Price deciding I was unfit for duty because I consider the DO a joke).

3) US academic access agents being sent to destroy NOC access and existing cases, management seeking to triple-up coverage on cases best handled by singleton NOCs. Combined with the risk aversion, with HQS officers being clueless on how easy a commercial approach can be, anywhere including in “rogue” or “threat” states, this book for all of its flaws, is a death blow to the Potemkin village called the National Clandestine Service.

4) HQS, and Agency personnel, have blown virtually every clandestine identity in history–very very few have been brought down by hostile counterintelligence. I was one of five case officers NOT blown by Phil Agee’s Cuban-sponsored list as published in Mexico, this resonates with me. CIA lives “immunity from accountability,” NOT “cover.”

5) Many credible examples of CIA waste of new money on NOC “trainees” that are stationed in USA and “counted” in testimony to Congress. Riveting story on how CIA fabricated NOC overseas presence by sending NOCs on non-operational sight-seeing tours, called “Axis of Evil Tourism” by the NOCs.

6) Lends additional support to the long-known unwillingness and inability of CIA to operate in Syria or any other Middle Eastern country, in anything other than a declared liaison capability.

7) Destroys CIA claims on Europe, pointing out that more often than not CIA is “shut down” across Europe and refuses to do operational actions not being done jointly by liaison. Points out that Europe is important as a transit point, not as a target, but this nuance is evidently lost on risk-averse “managers.”

8) Recurring theme is the micro-management, the multiple layers of approval and editing (including the morphing of Reports Officers into “Collection Management Officers” who no longer add value)

9) Exposes the ease with which an ally, perhaps Germany, has dangled double-agents and consistently embarrassed CIA case officers. This probably applies to Russia and France, and more subtly, to China and Cuba, but then CIA is not admitting any of this.

10) Page 118: in the Middle East, the author’s primary area of operations, 15% of the NOCs working as they should; 70% quiet failures; 15% spectacular failures. The real question is: what number. My guess is 30, of whom only 4 are real, and half are light-weight contractors.

I am coming up on my 1000 word limit, so here are some teasers: NOC laptops used to fire one out of ten NOCs for access to pornography; polygraph given for “disgruntlement”; CIA stationary accidentally sent to all NOCs overseas; contract firms taking the money and destroying clandestine service….

The appendix, specific recommendations for reform, merits serious consideration. On balance, this book is now on my short list of essential references on the deception and death of our spy service.

See also:
On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Lost Promise
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the Cia’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam
The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA
Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism
Still Broken: A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon
Blond Ghost