My old friend, the late James Jesus Angleton (once upon a time the head of CIA’s counterintelligence forces) was in a somewhat milder mood than the last few times we’d “talked,” thanks to my unreliable ouija board and the relentless static that seems to accompany my efforts to communicate with spirits in The Beyond. We’d agreed to suspend judgment on the Able Danger matter, awaiting the second round of hearings by Senator Arlen Specter’s Judiciary Committee. So I asked him what he thought about the latest leaks on and from his former employers.
ML: It seems the al-Reuters Agency and others in the deadwood media are painting a fairly depressing picture of your old organization. “CIA Director Porter Goss…faces a shortage of experienced spies created by a post-September 11 stampede to the private sector, current and former intelligence officials say…”
JJA: Haha. Very droll. The usual divertissement from the Reuters crowd.
ML: Why so?
JJA: Well, first of all, there are no “spies,” experienced or otherwise, at CIA. There are “officers,” and some of them, the “case officers,” try to “recruit” people, and those recruits are the ones it’s proper to call “spies.” So we know right off the bat that the Reuters reporter doesn’t know the basic facts about intelligence, and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously.
ML: Okay, score one for the red pencils. But still, don’t you think it’s legitimate to worry about hundreds or thousands of people leaving the clandestine service?
JJA: More like a blessing.
ML: How’s that?
JJA: How do they say it nowadays? Duh? We’re talking about the masterminds who were wrong about just about every major question of the past 20 years. The folks who told us all through the 80s that the Soviet Union was not only stable, but getting stronger every day. Who told us that East Germany–a textbook basket case if ever there was one–was the world’s seventh greatest industrial power. Who told us they had recruited agents all over Cuba and East Germany, except that every last one of them turned out to be a double, working for our enemies. Who heard, saw, and spoke no evil about the impending 9/11 attacks, even though–as every investigator has found–there was lots of information out there, if only they could read. So if it’s true that thousands of them are leaving, you’d think the country should have at least a moderate celebration.
ML: Actually, if you read down a bit further, it seems they’re still working at Langley, at higher salaries and with a different color ID. They’re training the new guys.
JJA: Bad. That way, the failed culture gets transmitted to the next generation, and we’re left with the same situation. It’s the usual problem with the Bush administrations; nobody ever gets really fired, and nobody really gets held accountable. The president finally steeled himself and fired poor Brownie, from FEMA, but then, just like these losers from CIA, he got a consulting contract.
ML: It’s actually worse than that, because according to al-Reuters, the consulting contracts at Langley are worth more than the top in-house salaries. By a lot. They max out at about $135,000 if they’re full-time employees, but they can get $200,000 on contract.
JJA: Something wrong with that picture, wouldn’t you say? A guy screws up at CIA for years and years, decides he doesn’t want to stay in a place where the new director is actually trying to establish some sensible standards, walks out one door in pious “protest” before the axe falls on him, and walks back in through another door with more money than before. I mean, if you designed a method to corrupt the Intelligence Community, you could hardly do better.
ML: You left out one thing: These guys leak like crazy so that the journalists owe them, and then the journalists oblige by writing that the departure of the old guard is bad for the country.
JJA: Yes, and at the same time the Justice Department goes wild with “leak” investigations.
ML: You’re talking about the Plame thing?
JJA: That, and other cases, like the AIPAC “espionage” story. I’ve never seen anything like those two cases. In the Plame investigation you’ve got a special prosecutor nominally trying to ascertain if anyone in the White House “outed” a CIA case officer, when the lady’s name was in “Who’s Who” at least four years before the alleged leak. In the AIPAC case, you’ve got this mid-level Pentagon employee being thrown against the wall because he took home some documents–something for which no one has ever been prosecuted, it’s a common sin for which the traditional remedies were always administrative, never criminal–and because he talked about some classified information having to do with Iranian-sponsored terrorism and with potential U.S. policies to deal with it. He talked to some people from AIPAC, who then passed it on, in the usual Washington way, to journalists, government officials, and Israeli diplomats–as the DoD guy also did–who undoubtedly knew more about the subject than they did.
ML: And your complaint is?
JJA: That the prosecutors are oddly selective. If you can prosecute lobbyists for receiving and discussing classified information, why not journalists? And if you want to prosecute Pentagon employees for talking about things they shouldn’t, why hasn’t there been a massive investigation of the Intelligence Community for their policy leaks? Didn’t the administration throw a tantrum when the “war plans” for Iraq were published in the New York Times? I haven’t really heard anything about that investigation, have you?
ML: No, not a word. But surely you, of all people, want to shut down leaks, especially one that unmasked a case officer operating without the usual diplomatic cover. That’s dangerous, isn’t it?
JJA: Sure, I’m against it. But let’s get serious. Plame wasn’t working as a case officer, so far as I can tell. She’d done it in the past, but she was at a desk job, and she was playing politics. She pushed to get her husband a mission to Niger, since CIA got to pick the envoy. And then he lied, repeatedly. He reported that the Nigeriens thought there was reason to believe the Iraqis were, indeed, looking around for some uranium. But then he went public with an entirely different story. Just read the 9/11 Commission report. It’s all there.
ML: So you don’t think it was right to investigate the leak?
JJA: As I remember it, the request to investigate the leak-and investigate the White House for leaking it–came from CIA, right?
ML: Yes, I think that’s right.
JJA: Well, the CIA–Tenet, that is–surely knew that Ms. Plame had already been outed, that’s why she was sitting at a desk in greater Washington instead of running agents overseas. So the request for the investigation was political, not professional. Just like the AIPAC investigation, in which there doesn’t seem to be any secret worth talking about.
ML: Which means what, exactly?
The sputtering and crackling was getting pretty intense, as the ouija board put out sparks and foul-smelling smoke.
JJA: Well, the FBI leaked the AIPAC story to CBS, and said it was a “major espionage case,” which it certainly wasn’t, and the CIA broadcast the Plame case, which is a big nothingburger…
ML: Nothingburger? What kind of talk is that from a distinguished Yale literary editor?
At which point I lost him. But I think he made his point.