Ancient History: When the CIA was Serious…

Corruption, Cultural Intelligence, Government, Intelligence (government)
Richard Wright

CIA Decides Not to Get Serious: Memories of a Lost Time and Place

“These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them,” CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said. “When historical information is no longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the American people.”  The Director released this statement on the occasion of CIA’s declassification of a handful of WWI documents describing the use of invisible ink for secret messages. CIA originally claimed that these documents had to be classified because they contained information that could be used to identify sources and methods used today (2011)!  This whole affair demonstrates to me that CIA has ceased to be a serious intelligence organization.

There was a time when this was not the case. In the mid 1960’s when Richard Helms was CIA Director, I was approached by CIA about joining their clandestine service then under the Deputy Director of Plans (DDP). I first spent a month or so of taking several batteries of tests, including elementary language tests in the two languages that I claimed proficiency in and being interviewed by nameless folks in various buildings in Northern Virginia. When this was completed I waited a few weeks and eventually received a registered letter telling me to report to CIA HQ at a specific time and date. This I did.

At CIA HQ I under went three very intense interviews that were definitely serious and very pointed. But first I sat down with a pleasant woman (probably DDP Human Resources) who explained to me CIA health and benefits programs and then informed me that I could expect to spend two to three years abroad with two year breaks back at HQ.

I then was escorted by a nice young woman to be interviewed by the division chief of the region that contained country A. I had passed the basic language test for this country. I was introduced to a middle aged fit looking man who astonished me by beginning to chat with me in the language of country A. He was very good at it. After about ten minutes of this he told me bluntly, but in a kindly way that my language wasn’t any where near good enough for the job. He said that if hired I would be sent to an intensive language training program to bring me up to speed.  He then went on to explain that only by being really proficient in Country A’s language, could I gain the confidence of potential agents. He also pointed out that often an agent will have fits of conscious and only  let you look at a document, but refuse to give it to you. As his case officer you would have to be able to read and memorize the document or as much of it as you could so you could reconstruct it accurately from memory. Clearly I would have to be a near fluent linguist.

I then was escorted to the office of the division chief who was responsible for country B as I had also passed the language test for this country. I was somewhat less surprised when this gentleman also began chatting in the language of country B.  After a short time, he broke off the conversation to say he thought I would do fine after a few months in country. He went on to explain that I would be expected to divide my time between country A and country B both overseas and back at HQ.

Over lunch I asked my escort that besides language training what sort of training could I expect. She rather dryly said that it would include things like surveillance and counter surveillance, escape and evasion, and that sort of thing.

Late that afternoon I was escorted to a darkened room that contained all the division chiefs or their deputies of the DDP. It was explained that should I blown in either of my two primary countries, I would be expected to retrain in another language for some other DDP country. Therefore the division chiefs all had a vote on my acceptance or rejection as a case officer since I could end up working for them. They asked generally good questions and were friendly, but professional.

After a wait of about a month I received a letter saying that I had been tentatively accepted by DDP pending my final clearance. In the end for one reason or another in the end  I was turned down by CIA. At the time I felt that it was probably because they really did only want the very best.

My point of this trip down memory lane was to make it clear that at one time CIA contained serious people who considered the recruitment and running of agents a serious business. The DDP was a highly professional organization run by dedicated managers who were also leaders.

So what has happened to CIA? The answer to this question will probably explain why the U.S. Intelligence System (CIA, DIA, NGA, NRO, and NSA)  has become an expensive, largely irrelevant joke.

Phi Beta Iota: There was a time when the Operations cafeteria looked like the United Nations with a racial and cultural diversity most in Washington DC are utterly incapable of conceptualizing.  Then it became a bureaucracy.  In 1979 and 1982 the psychological profile was changed from the current “go along to get along” profile to what the chief shrink defined as “imaginative self-starters.”  Half of both of those classes quit within five years of Entering on Duty (EOD).  A lack of accountability has nurtured a lack of integrity across the board.

Also by Richard Wright