Over the past 15 or 20 years, I’d guess that about half the interns and research assistants I’ve employed have had a hankering to be James Bond, and they asked me what I thought about it. And could I help?
I couldn’t help, since most of that frolicsome crowd over at Langley think I’m not the sort of person they like (a bad relationship that dates back to my years in Italy as Rome correspondent for The New Republic, when I wrote many stories challenging the Agency’s views on Soviet and Italian Communism and European terrorism, and the relationships between them). But anyway, I’ve told the young people, life at CIA is unpleasant, very bureaucratic, and not at all the glamorous adventure you imagine it to be.
If only Ishmael Jones’s excellent book The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture
had been available, I could have simply told them to read it. Jones (the cover name the Agency gave him during his first training course), a Marine who joined the Agency’s clandestine service and became a case officer in the late ’80s, paints a devastating and alarming picture of a vast bureaucracy he calls “a corrupt, Soviet-style organization.” He warns that the CIA must “either be restructured as an American organization — which encourages achievement, creativity, and accountability — or it must be dismantled.”
I don’t know any other author who has told this devastating story so calmly and so convincingly. He thinks the Agency should be broken up into its component parts and integrated into other Agencies, from State to Defense.
Jones shows that the CIA is not doing its basic job, penetrating our enemies’ organizations and getting their people to work with us. One of The Human Factor’s most surprising revelations is that, despite all the hue and cry about the need for more and better human intelligence, despite the billions of dollars that have been poured into this project, we don’t have any more case officers today than we did back when. So where did all the money go? It went to create a domestic empire right here in the United States. Here are the key quotes:
As the years passed . . . and the numbers of trained case officers built up on the shores of the United States, HQs . . . couldn’t keep these people in training any longer, but didn’t want to send them overseas. The problem was “solved” by the creation of more offices within the US, always using funds meant for (secret) programs overseas . . .
Potemkin offices spread throughout the United States, used as holding tanks for newly trained officers. A common feature of such an office was an expensive big-screen television set. Tuned to various news channels, it gave an office the active feel of a newsroom.
And why didn’t the “mandarins” atop the pyramid at Langley want to send case officers overseas? Because, as generations of disillusioned spooks, from Bob Bair to Reuel Gerecht, have told us previously, that is something the Agency does very badly. Scores of our recruits have been rounded up and executed, and case officers have been captured, incarcerated for years or decades, and sometimes tortured to death. Concerns about “force protection” are not limited to the military services; the CIA hates exposing their people to risk, and the mandarins strive mightily to keep their employees out of harm’s way, even when national survival is at stake, as in the war in the Middle East. The whole feckless mindset is reinforced by personnel policy: “The majority of top Agency managers avoided service in war zones, which meant that they became the people at HQs responsible for awarding promotions.” They promoted people like themselves, not the sort of entrepreneurial risk-takers we so desperately need.