Brian P. Fairchild
Joint Economic Committee
United States Congress
Wednesday, May 20, 1998
There are myriad dangers and forces arrayed against the United States, which require and justify the existence of the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Operations (DO), also known as the Clandestine Service (CS). As the world's only superpower, leading the world economically, militarily, and technologically, the United States is the natural target of our enemies and our competitors. We face the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, such as, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and their delivery systems. The threat from these weapons systems is exacerbated by the availability of former Soviet military and scientific personnel, who, in some cases, are currently shopping for jobs among our enemies in the Middle East. In addition, our government is confronted and challenged by the lack of stability in the countries which formerly comprised the Soviet Union, as well as by the potential for a military conflagration in the Middle East, and by the threats from international organized crime and terrorism.
Moreover, in early February 1996, FBI Director Freeh, in a request to Congress for increased legal authority to counter fast growing industrial espionage by friendly and adversarial nations against the U.S., warned that at least 23 nations now make U.S. Industry the prime target of their economic espionage activities.
These threats represent potential economic disaster if they should befall us. The economic loss of an enemy attack on our country, or on our allies, would be in the billions of dollars. The cost from international crime cartels is already estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and the damage to our industries by economic espionage has an enormous impact on us, and could be fatal to some of our key, strategic industries.
Unlike the United States, the leaders in many of these nations do not answer to an empowered citizenry, nor are they encumbered by a governmental system of checks and balances. In many of these countries, the will of a single authoritarian ruler, or, at most, a few senior officials, is all that is needed to initiate wide-ranging policies and programs against our country. Often, massive budgets and manpower allocations support these programs.
The CIA, and more specifically, the DO, as our government's first line of defense, can be invaluable in discovering, understanding, and countering these threats. The DO, however, must be provided with the resources to ensure that its officers are well trained and equipped to perform this vital mission. Intelligence collection, however, is not cost effective. To use a medical analogy, intelligence collection is much like health insurance. One pays and pays in the hope that it will never be used, but when one's health is threatened, this investment of resources pays dividends.
The Value of Human Intelligence:
When the DO is criticized, the criticism often centers on the value of technical collection over human collection. Many argue that technical intelligence is easier to collect, more accurate, and much more straightforward than human intelligence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is, because of emerging encryption technologies, technical intelligence has become very difficult, and sometimes, impossible to collect. It is also subject to countermeasures, it is easily used to channel misinformation, and its distance from human foibles, does not recommend it as a superior collection mechanism.
One must always remember that technology is an enabling mechanism - that is, it enables one to perform one's job more expeditiously than one would be able to without it. In other words, it assists one in performing a given function, but it is not the function itself. For example, communication technology allows national leaders to direct their military forces in support of a given policy, but the communication is not the policy itself. It is only data, and that data cannot tell an analyst if information intercepted from a communications network is a major part of the policy, a small portion of the policy, or simply misinformation. Moreover, the data cannot be challenged, queried, or augmented. It simply is what it is. And, of course, some information is not susceptible to technical collection at all. The current unrest in Indonesia is a good example. If policymakers need to know what plans the demonstrators are making, or who among the demonstrators are attempting to organize the masses into a credible organization, only a human source can obtain this information. Such developments are not broadcast over communications networks, nor are they vulnerable to satellite photography.
A well-placed human source, on the other hand, can tell a case officer, not only if the information gathered via technology is misinformation, but he or she can also describe a given policy, and tell how it will unfold. Moreover, a human source can be challenged, queried, and one can task the source to go back and get more detail. In addition, a human source can augment the intelligence by placing it in perspective, providing an assessment of the leadership, and by describing factional in fighting.
Technical collection can, and does, make a valuable contribution to a particular intelligence requirement, but it can never take the place of a human source. Moreover, the immense amount of money invested in technical collection cannot be maximized if human intelligence is not fully operational. Imagine a situation where signals intelligence and satellite photography indicate that a military action by a hostile power is imminent, but it is unclear if this action is simply a scheduled exercise, or the beginning of a military campaign against a neighboring country. A well-placed human source can often provide critical information which helps answer such questions, thereby placing the technical intelligence in context, and enhancing its value.
While human intelligence is crucial, it is not infallible. The CIA is often criticized for not being able to predict a specific event such as the fall of the Soviet Union, or, most recently, the nuclear test in India. For some reason, some people insist on thinking that an intelligence agency, by the mere virtue of its existence, should be able to answer any question put to it, and if it can't, they accuse it of failure.
This misses the point. It should be obvious that no intelligence agency has a direct line to truth. Intelligence agencies are not omniscient, and no other organizations are held to this standard. People, for example, don't accuse the FBI of failure every time it fails to predict a major move by organized crime, nor do they give up on medical research because a cure for cancer has not been discovered.
While the CIA should be held to a high standard, it should not be held to an irresponsible standard. In a perfect world, the DO would have highly placed sources in every office of every hostile world leader. In reality, however, this is seldom the case. Accurate and timely intelligence on key topics is hard to acquire. Moreover, it takes a great deal of skill and commitment by the DO's men and women, who are frequently in harms way, to recruit and handle sources who can provide such intelligence. We must remember that intelligence is not a panacea, one cannot just snap one's fingers and expect that an intelligence agency can answer any question no matter how difficult. Rather, intelligence is just one piece of the puzzle, often times a critical piece, which enables policymakers to make a better assessment of a policy problem.
The question that needs to be raised is - how much of a contribution does intelligence make, and are the policymakers better off having this information? In the majority of cases, I believe any capable analyst would rather have the input of intelligence than to attempt an assessment of a critical policy problem without it. Sometimes intelligence can provide the one piece of critical information needed, and sometimes it makes little contribution. The majority of the time, however, intelligence provides critical insights into a problem that, while not absolutely definitive, enables a policymaker to come to a reasonable decision.
In the above examples of the fall of the Soviet Union, and the recent nuclear test in India, the fact that the DO did not provide the exact date and time of these events is not the point. These events did not take place in a vacuum. Rather, the question that should be raised is - did the DO provide enough intelligence prior to these events to indicate to policymakers that these events would most likely take place in the not too distant future. Certainly the DO had been reporting on India's nuclear program for years. I know this to be true, because I personally had some experience with this operation. And the DO certainly reported on the state of the Soviet economy, which indicated that the fabric of the former Soviet Empire was unraveling. If however, policymakers had insufficient intelligence to reasonably assess that these important events would occur in the near future, this would be an intelligence failure.
All of the above does not mean, however, that there are no problems within the DO. There are serious problems, and these problems can and must be dealt with. For example, the DO has been criticized for having a culture obsessed with the recruitment of sources, to the detriment of other disciplines such as counterintelligence and operational security. This accusation is true, but it is not hard to understand. The DO is in the espionage business - the recruitment of sources is what the DO does - its raison d'κtre. This emphasis on recruitment, however, must change in order for the DO to successfully perform its mission.
Unfortunately, discussion of the problems in the CIA and the DO often become sensationalized and used for political purposes. The CIA's problems should be dealt with straight on, with the goal of making this vital organization stronger and better able to meet its mission. The explosion of impassioned and politically motivated criticism every time the CIA makes a real or perceived misstep is a non-starter, and counter productive. The nation needs the CIA, and the CIA needs leadership and support. If its problems are viewed honestly and constructively, our country will be better off, and the national interest will be well served.
Below, I will attempt to explain the problems the DO currently faces, and then offer possible solutions to these problems. It should be noted, however, that the following addresses only the DO's primary mission - to obtain intelligence information, from human sources, through espionage. While the DO's Paramilitary and Covert Action operations are often highlighted in the press, the DO's main mission, and the one in which almost all of its case officers are engaged, is the acquisition of foreign intelligence sources through espionage.
Directorate of Operations (DO):
Before launching into a detailed explanation of the current problems of the DO, it is important to take a minute to understand what the DO was created and designed to be. The DO was created and designed to be a highly specialized organization, tasked with the mission to obtain select strategic intelligence information, through espionage, for the President and the National Security Council. Because of the adverse impact exposure of our espionage operations would have on our relations with the countries against whom we spy, the scope of the DO was intentionally limited. That is, the DO was chartered to obtain only that strategic information which can not be obtained by any other means, and only that information which is worth the risk of such a potential exposure. To minimize the risk of exposure, the DO was also tasked to protect its operations by initiating a vigorous counterintelligence program, and by using good operational security, known as "tradecraft" within the DO.
The description above makes perfect sense. If one plans to engage in risky ventures, one must ensure that only those ventures worth the risk are undertaken, and that these ventures are protected by all means.
As I will explain below, the mission of the DO is no longer limited to obtaining key strategic intelligence. Rather, the scope of its intelligence collection has been vastly expanded, and this has limited its ability to obtain quality intelligence. In addition, the DO has not maintained a vigorous counterintelligence capability, and its operational security is in disrepair. This, in turn, has affected the morale of the DO's officer corps, which has resulted in a large number of resignations by both junior and veteran case officers. These problems are serious, but they can be fixed.
Operations: The DO's Worldview
Before one can understand how the DO conducts operations overseas, one must understand the DO's world vision. The DO divides the world into two operational environments a benign environment, and a hostile environment. The DO places all "hard target" countries into the hostile environment. The rest of the world is considered to be a benign operational environment. There is no doubt that the countries included in the hostile group are correct. The rest of the world, however, is no longer benign, but the DO continues to operate as though it is. The DO's division of the world into hostile and benign environments is rooted in the history of the Cold War. When CIA was created in 1947, Western Europe was in a shambles, and the rest of the world was made up of developing nations. The cold war was underway, and the world quickly became bi-polar; on one side was the communist monolith comprised of the Soviet Union, China, and its few supporters around the world, and on the other side, was the U.S. and all other countries. If a nation was not in the "Soviet Camp", it was believed to be on our side. To counter the Soviets, the DO moved quickly to establish stations in most countries not siding with the Soviets, and it began a campaign to train, equip, and supply counterintelligence forces around the world in an effort to motivate them to work with the DO against local Soviet targets.
The DO's emphasis on countering the Soviets worldwide is very important to understand. Originally, DO stations were placed in almost every country, not because of U.S. policy interest in those countries per se, but to enable DO officers to target Soviet officials wherever they were assigned. The DO especially sought to obtain the assistance of the host counterintelligence services against the Soviet target, and because it worked so closely with these services for so long, it refused to believe that these services would ever launch offensive operations against it. Many senior DO officers still believe this to be true, and conduct their operations accordingly. In fact, as many of these countries became more independent, they began to differ with U.S. diplomatic, military, and economic positions. In some cases, differences between the U.S. and these countries became hostile, causing the local leadership to order offensive counterintelligence operations against local DO officers and operations.
The DO, however, did not change with the times, and rather than developing new ways of working in these countries, it stood its ground. Even to this day, unless it is operating in an obviously hostile country, the DO conducts its operations as though they face little or no threat of compromise.
This is an area in which the DO requires fixing. To securely recruit and handle sources abroad, an intelligence agency must have intelligence officers, in-country, who are hidden under the mantle of viable cover, and it must know the capabilities of its opponents the local counterintelligence service (hereafter referred to as the local service) and police force. The intelligence disciplines concerned with obtaining and exploiting a detailed knowledge of these local services are counterintelligence, and operational security. Unfortunately, the DO has paid little attention to these disciplines, preferring to concentrate its efforts on the recruitment of sources.
In the late 1940's and early 1950's, when the DO was establishing stations around the world to counter the threat of communism, much of the world was quite undeveloped, with little or no commercial representation. The DO, therefore, naturally placed its stations in U.S. Embassies located in the capital of each country, and sent its officers to these stations under the cover of other government departments. The DO failed to move its stations to other platforms, however, when the political and economic policies in these countries became more independent of, and competitive with, U.S. positions. This fact has had a profound impact on the security of DO operations.
The reason for this impact, is that each U.S. Embassy overseas hires local citizens - Foreign Service Nationals - who staff many of the embassy's most important offices. This ready-made pool of local citizens provides the counterintelligence service with an opportunity to have its staff officers obtain employment, undercover, at the Embassy. It also provides an excellent pool of potential sources, which can be recruited by the local service, or any other intelligence service, to report on the American officers with whom they have contact.
This fact, in tandem with the DO's lack of knowledge of the capabilities of the local counterintelligence services, and its poor operational security (which will be explained below), enables enemy forces to discover which officers within the embassy are undercover DO officers. This situation is commonly accepted by DO case officers and managers overseas, who often say, "cover is a state of mind". This often-used phrase underscores two specific problems DO officers have little or no viable cover, and the DO continues to operate as though this does not matter.
The lack of attention paid to cover, counterintelligence, and operational security within the DO is highlighted in the following examples:
In two large, important stations to which I was assigned, one in Asia and the other in Europe, the local counterintelligence service made it known to the station that it was aware, almost to a man, of the number of DO undercover officers in the embassy. This fact, notwithstanding, operations continued unchanged.
In the station in Europe, the security of the station, and the identity of its undercover officers, was put at risk by the fact that the station's windows were kept wide open. On a daily basis, my colleagues and I walked in front of these windows, in full view of the local police officers assigned to protect the embassy, as well as the residents of an apartment house located a short distance away. When I asked station managers how they could allow such a security breach, they responded by stating that the station had such a close relationship to the local service, that the local service would never launch offensive operations against it. And, if it did, they said, they were personally so close to their counterparts in the local service, that these officers would warn them of the threat. It was later revealed that, at precisely that time, the local service was, in fact, running an offensive operation against the station.
In the station in Asia, the Chief of Station held staff meetings for all officers once a week in his office. The problem was that the chief's office was constructed with clear windows along its entire length, and these windows faced a number of high-rise buildings. Anyone located in any of those buildings, using a simple pair of low power binoculars, could, at least once a week, observe virtually every DO undercover officer in the embassy.
In the station in Asia, my cover was ostensibly as an officer assigned to the office of another government department. I actually performed work for that office, and for all intents and purposes, I was supposed to be indistinguishable from the real officers. The senior officer of my cover office was even required to submit a fitness report for me each year to maintain my cover. On one occasion, the senior officer was speaking to the Foreign Service National responsible for the embassy's personnel section. The senior officer asked this woman by what date he had to submit my fitness report to her so that it would get back to Washington D.C. by the due date. She appeared a little embarrassed at first, but then regained her composure and said that there was no need for him to submit a fitness report for me, as "Mr. Fairchild is (pause) ahh, complimentary to your office".
Counterintelligence is the discipline by which an intelligence agency attempts to thwart the efforts of enemy intelligence agents to commit espionage
One of the most important duties of counterintelligence officers is to recruit spies in the opposition intelligence services. Historically, the DO has done poorly against this target, and as a result, most DO stations and officers do not know what the local services are doing to discover and counter station operations.
Another crucial responsibility of counterintelligence officers is to root out the spies in its own organization. The recruitment of former DO officer Aldrich Ames, by the Soviet Union, is a perfect example of the value of a counterintelligence operation. In addition to providing the Soviets with the identities of U.S. spies in the Soviet Union, Ames also provided: information on CIA officers and operations (which could be used by the Soviets and later the Russians) in future recruitment operations, detailed information on the DO's method of operation, and reams of intelligence and operational reporting.
A fact that is rarely mentioned, however, is that this case also illuminates one of the DO's great successes - the fact that it had successfully recruited and handled, right under the nose of the KGB, a number of sources in the Soviet Union, all of whom were providing valuable information. Had it not been for the traitor Ames, most of these sources would still be operating on our behalf.
Counterintelligence officers are also crucial in helping to determine if a station's operations have been compromised. They do this by comparing developments in the operation to the known modus operandi of the local services, and by establishing links, via investigation, between the recruited source, and the personnel and associates of the local service. Few resources are expended on developing an investigative capability overseas, therefore, most field stations have little investigative capability.
The reason the DO has done poorly in counterintelligence is because, in the DO, counterintelligence takes a back seat. There is no counterintelligence career track, and while a few officers have spent their careers in the Counterintelligence Staff, later changed to the Counterintelligence Center, the majority of case officers never have a counterintelligence assignment, and have little understanding of what counterintelligence officers do. Overseas, a case officers' counterintelligence duties merely amount to periodically submitting boilerplate reports, which require the officer to subjectively review his or her recruited source, rather than performing a vigorous investigation. Moreover, when officers overseas are posted specifically to a counterintelligence slot, they normally staff an office of one, and are little more than records custodians for the boilerplate reports filed by the case officers.
Operational Security, which overlaps with cover and counterintelligence, is the discipline by which an intelligence agency attempts to protect its specific operations. Central to this discipline is a detailed knowledge of the capabilities of the counterintelligence and police forces arrayed against it. Armed with this information, techniques can be developed to counter the local service's strengths, while taking advantage of its weaknesses.
For example, an intelligence agency needs to know what kind of physical surveillance capability the local service has, including: the size of its surveillance teams, the kind of vehicles and communications the teams use, whether aircraft, or street mounted cameras are used to augment ground teams, and how it uses its resources to cover the city. In addition, it is vital to know the extent to which the local service monitors telephone calls, as well as its capability to intercept electronic emissions, and to place electronic listening devices in offices and residences.
Because the recruitment of sources is emphasized over the defensive aspects of the job, the DO's "tradecraft", that is, the development and use of techniques to avoid detection by enemy forces, is poorly developed. The truth is, very few case officers have any real knowledge of tradecraft at all. This is because the DO rarely has detailed knowledge of the counterintelligence, and operational security threats arrayed against it. The exception to this rule, is the coverage the DO has of counterintelligence services in some of the "hard target" countries.
Moreover, because the DO considers most of the world to be a benign operational environment, there is not much interest or concern regarding these threats. Many officers wrongly believe that, because most countries in the world have a symbiotic relationship with the United States, they would not jeopardize their relationship with our country by launching offensive operations against station operations. Other officers say that as long as nothing adverse happens while they are in-country, they do not care if the local counterintelligence service has compromised their operations. Most officers, however, are apathetic, because thinking about these threats is just not part of their professional lives.
The one area of tradecraft which receives some DO attention, albeit slight, is the detection of surveillance. Case officers receive brief training in surveillance detection during their basic training. This training, however, is no more than an introduction to basic surveillance techniques, and in no way prepares officers for the real world.
When they are assigned overseas, however, case officers are expected to conduct surveillance detection routes prior to meetings with sources. In truth, the majority of case officers have insufficient knowledge to protect themselves from hostile surveillance, and because most DO stations have no detailed knowledge of the capabilities of the local counterintelligence service and police forces, case officers are not even aware of what they are up against. Certainly, a case officer facing a 20-man surveillance team, using multiple vehicles and an airplane would have to employ different tactics, than if he were facing a two-man team on a motorbike.
Scope of DO Intelligence Reporting:
When I entered on duty with the DO in 1976, the CIA was described as the "President's Agency". This meant, I was told, that the DO's only customer was the President of the United States and his National Security Council. Somewhere over the last twenty odd years, however, this exclusive status changed. Now, the DO has numerous customers, including almost all government departments and agencies, as well as numerous congressional committees, who tend to task the DO according to their own desires, rather than according to the national interest.
Of course, Congress is responsible for oversight of the DO's activities to ensure that past abuses do not reoccur, and that its resources are being utilized properly. Congress must strive, however, to voluntarily limit its tasking of the DO to only those requirements that are vital to meet its responsibilities.
Not only does the DO now have an inappropriately large customer base, but its customers are voracious. Every year, they task the DO with an increasing number of requirements, the majority of which could and should be serviced by other agencies. These ever-increasing requests for non-vital, non-strategic intelligence, dilutes the DO's capabilities, and ensures that the DO will be unsuccessful in its efforts to focus on the most important intelligence issues in the future.
As an example, several years ago, the Director of CIA was visited by several leaders of a major U.S. industry. They convinced the Director that another country was perilously close to developing a new technology, which had both commercial and military applications, that would decimate their industry, and place the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage. After the meeting, Headquarters sent a cable to the field station in the country concerned, which was captioned "Urgent National Requirement". The cable explained the ostensible threat, and instructed the station to initiate operations against this new target, which the station did forthwith.
The station sent a consistent flow of cables to Headquarters describing the progress it was making in its target analysis, and in identifying potential sources. At first, Headquarters responded quickly to the station's cables, but as time went on, Headquarters strangely fell silent on the topic. The station, in the absence of any contrary instructions, continued with the operation. Several months later, however, a Headquarters officer, who was visiting the station on another matter, informed the station that the Urgent National Requirement had been dropped. He explained that the industry officials discovered, mostly through open sources, that the U.S. industry was actually ahead of the country in question in developing the new technology.
This anecdote highlights the fact that the DO is tasked by a wide spectrum of customers to obtain information which can be obtained by other means, in this case, overt sources.
The impact of the increased scope of the DO's mission cannot be overstated. Instead of being the small, highly specialized organization it was meant to be, able to focus its clandestine skills on a relatively few, but vital requirements, while protecting itself and its operations, the DO has become a standard institution of the government it has become "corporatized". By this, I mean the DO has become so concerned about pleasing and servicing its customers, that it tries to keep up with their continually growing appetite for information, rather than returning to its roots. The dilution of the DO's mission helped create and reinforce a philosophy, and a bureaucratic structure, within the DO that is no longer tenable. Rather than focusing its operations on only those targets known to have access to valuable intelligence, the DO's philosophy has dictated the recruitment of as many sources as possible, via an international shotgun approach. This has resulted in a source base that is widespread, but shallow, and which frequently fails to provide policymakers with quality intelligence. Moreover, this philosophy created a single career-track structure within the DO, which demands and rewards quantity over quality.
In the DO, the majority of all staff case officers are recruiters. This is the only career track available for most officers, and this system has drastically limited promotions, which in turn, has created internal tensions, resulting in a large number of resignations among junior officers. It may come as a surprise, but the DO has no career track for counterintelligence officers, agent handlers (officers who clandestinely meet and debrief recruited sources), or for specialists in operational security.
As recruiters, case officers are promoted by the number of sources they recruit, and overseas field stations are graded by the number of sources recruited by their case officers. This encourages and rewards case officers and stations alike to go after easier sources, rather than targets from the "hard target" countries, which include the remaining communist nations, Russia and the Balkan Republics, and the "rogue" states of the Middle East. Bureaucratically, the bottom line is that, at the end of the year, both case officers and stations will be graded and ranked, and if neither has anything to show for their annual efforts, no rewards will accrue.
Those who doubt the accuracy of the above statement need only look to recent history for proof. Senior policymakers have stated their displeasure with the DO's efforts, and have questioned why the DO lacks sources in many of the "hard target" nations. On one occasion, one senior policymaker went so far as to pointedly ask senior DO managers if the information provided by DO sources was qualitatively better than the information found in newspapers. There can be no greater indictment of a clandestine espionage service! Simply stated, if the DO is doing journalism, it isn't conducting espionage.
Moreover, because of recent budget and downsizing constraints on CIA, the DO was forced to find ways to cut its budget. It did so, in large measure, by terminating hundreds of sources that, heretofore, it had claimed to be its life's blood. This reveals not only that DO officers are forced to be prolific recruiters, it also emphasizes the fact that these sources were not the kind of high quality assets the DO was created to recruit.
The operational problems of the DO are serious, and must be addressed if the DO is to enter the next century as a viable and dynamic organization. Change within the DO alone, however, will not enable it to become the successful organization it must be. To optimize the DO's value, its customer base must be limited to the President, National Security Council, and the appropriate congressional oversight committees, and the requirements levied against it must only be those which cannot be obtained by any other means.
Over the past several years, the DO has experienced a phenomenon that, heretofore, has never occurred the resignation of a large number of young officers, many of whom resigned while on their first tour overseas. This problem, virtually unheard of in the past, is so serious, that the CIA's Office of Inspector General initiated an investigation to discover the cause of the exodus.
The most important reason for these resignations is the DO's single career track, and the limitations this system places on promotions. In this era of budget cuts and downsizing, the DO is limited in the number of officers it can promote to higher rank. As a result, only a small percentage of officers are promoted each year. As one might imagine, because all officers are recruiters, the competition for promotion is fierce. The fact remains, however, that many officers, even those who have recruited sources, must wait years for a promotion. This, of course, has a negative impact on the officer corps, and leads to accusations that the system is unfair, and unresponsive.
Even at its best, the current system is ponderous, and open to abuse. If say twenty officers out of one hundred at the GS-11 level have recruited sources over the year, but only eight can be promoted, how does one decide which eight get the nod? If no hard targets are included in the mix, then is the decision made on simply the number of sources recruited, or on the quality of the intelligence they provide. If on quality, then how does one define quality? If quality is defined as the importance to the U.S. of the nation against which the source was recruited, then, in effect, officers assigned by the DO to less important countries, are unfairly disadvantaged through no fault of their own. If hard targets are a factor, then does one promote an officer for being lucky enough to be the station's "Duty Officer" when a Russian intelligence officer walks-in to the embassy and volunteers, over an officer who spent a year of professional effort to successfully recruit his source. And what happens to the officers who were just as, or maybe even more, professional than the twenty officers who recruited sources, but when the moment of truth came, the source turned them down. Recruitment, after all, like courtship, is not a one-way street.
One can also see how, in such a system, a certain amount of fraud and dishonesty can creep in. How many of the recruited sources are "paper-recruitments" sources, which, on paper, are hyped to be much more valuable and impressive than is the actual case?
In an attempt to mitigate this problem, the DO launched a cash bonus program - money for good work. Many officers, however, regard this to be too mercenary, and they are not as much interested in financial remuneration, as they are in professional recognition.
This one-dimensional system leaves a lot to be desired. The current system does not recognize the varied strengths of its officers, or appreciate the fact that other duties are equally important to that of recruiting. Rather, the DO assumes that all of its officers will be good recruiters, which only serves to prevent other avenues to promotion, and goes a long way in alienating many officers by limiting their career advancement opportunities. Aside from promotional limitations, however, there are other factors, which have adversely impacted on DO officers. In some cases, these factors might be more important to young case officers, than their restricted opportunities for career advancement. The following are just a few:
Case officers are frustrated by the criticism they hear of the DO, most of which they agree with, and with the apparent inability or unwillingness of the President and CIA senior managers to establish the leadership necessary to right the wrongs. I was overseas when the July 4, 1994 issue of U.S. News and World Report was published, the cover of which was emblazoned with an article entitled "The CIA's Darkest Secrets An exclusive investigation of corruption and incompetence in America's spy service". A number of first and second tour officers read and discussed this article with me, stating their belief that virtually all the charges contained in the article were true. Sadly, two of them resigned not long after, and a third planned to resign after his next tour.
Case officers are also frustrated by the "reinvention of the wheel" which results from the steady and consistent change of CIA leadership. Every time a new Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) is appointed, he appoints a new chief for the DO, and the two men begin a long period of studying the DO's problems. After a considerable amount of time and effort, and many cables to the field stations explaining why certain policies were right, wrong, poorly timed, etc., a new policy is created and sent to the field, which for the most part is only a variation on a theme. Shortly thereafter, a new DCI is appointed, and the whole process begins anew.
As a result of all of the above, case officers lack pride. They are not proud of their jobs, their managers, or of their institution. They have no esprit de corps to fall back on when times are bad, because, sadly, there is no esprit de corps left. What DO case officers need more than anything else, is for their leaders to make the substantive, and systemic changes so sorely needed. These officers want to be good, and they want to proud of their service. They also want and need for their leaders and their country to be proud of them.
Limit DO Reporting:
The President and the National Security Council (NSC), in partnership with the Congress, must retake control of the DO, and use it to obtain only that information which must be obtained through espionage. To accomplish this, the President and the NSC should demand more and better information from other government departments and agencies. These organizations must pull their own weight and attempt to answer many of the questions they currently levy on the DO. Each organization should also be required to demonstrate that all appropriate overt sources have been queried for answers, prior to submitting a request for a specific question to be nominated as a national security requirement.
The NSC should then initiate a policy of sifting through all questions nominated to be national security requirements, to ensure that only vital and strategic requirements, and only those worth the risk of exposure, are levied on the DO.
Operations - Provide Better Cover:
Before any operations abroad can succeed, case officers must have cover good enough to hide their true affiliation, and their operations. Therefore, the DO must discontinue assigning most of its case officers to U.S. Embassies abroad, although there will always be a need to have some case officers assigned undercover in embassies, so they can spot and assess official targets. Our embassies are incompatible with cover, because they are permeated with Foreign Service Nationals, many of which work against our interests, and the embassies are a natural point of focus for local counterintelligence services. In effect, the U.S. Government has announced to the local service that all of our personnel, including our intelligence officers, are located within the embassy. This provides the local service with an immediate advantage over the DO's case officers - counterintelligence officers know where they are, and can spend their resources investigating a single location.
To counter this threat, DO case officers must be assigned to non-official cover positions, mostly in commercial entities. When our case officers are hidden among thousands of U.S. businessmen, it will be almost impossible for local counterintelligence officers to uncover them, and hence, their personal and operational security will be greatly enhanced. The DO is already working on this type of cover, but more needs to be done, and on a greater scale.
Provide Case Officers with the Appropriate Skills:
In espionage, two factors are constant. Intelligence officers recruit foreign nationals who can provide classified information on their government's plans and intentions, and the counterintelligence services of those countries try to thwart these operations. The DO recognizes these facts, but only as it concerns operations in "hard target" countries. It is time for the DO to recognize that its operations in the rest of the world also face counterintelligence threats.
In this regard, the DO must recognize that its officers are only unique if they have the talent and skills to operate clandestinely. If not, they are no different than officers from the other government departments, or journalists, who, in order to be discreet, try to protect their contacts. Therefore, it is essential that all DO officers be well trained in the disciplines of cover, counterintelligence, and operational security. Rather than a three-day bloc of instruction, this training should be extensive, and provide the foundation on which all officers build their careers. When the nation looks to the DO to operate clandestinely, the DO must be able to respond with expertise and professionalism.
Bureacracy - Reorganization:
The recruitment of human sources is the primary function of the DO. In this regard, it should be noted that there are a small number of officers who are natural born recruiters. They can recruit sources anywhere, anytime. These officers are invaluable to the DO's mission, and should be recognized and rewarded for their unique and valuable skills. The DO should identify those officers who have the innate ability, and the desire to be recruiters, and form them into a special corps. The fighter pilots of the CIA if you will, first among equals. These officers would be used selectively to recruit targets that have painstakingly been identified, investigated, and developed by their colleagues. This is roughly how the Mossad (Israeli Intelligence) operates, to great effect.
More career tracks should be opened to DO officers. Given the vital importance of counterintelligence, operational security, and agent handling, it simply does not make sense for the DO to expect and insist that all of its officers be recruiters. The skills required for counterintelligence, operational security, and agent handling, vary widely. The DO should identify those officers who have the interest and skill to excel in these disciplines, and provide them with career tracks that recognize and reward their efforts.
Because all case officers are hired as generalist recruiters, the DO believes that all of its officers should be able to recruit anywhere in the world, without a high degree of language ability, or an in-depth knowledge of the country and region to which they are assigned. As a result, DO officers only spend two to three years on assignment, before being reassigned to another country, frequently a country with a different language and culture. DO officers, therefore, do not have sufficient language skills to operate effectively, nor do they have the degree of area familiarization required for them to operate skillfully and securely. To remedy this situation, increased language and cultural skills are sorely needed, particularly for officers going to areas less familiar to Americans, such as Asia, and the Middle East.
Prior to one of my assignments, I was given only five months of language training, yet I was expected to recruit new sources, and handle recruited sources, in that language. It does not take much imagination to understand that if an officer cannot adequately converse with a target, he or she will be unlikely to obtain the target's trust and confidence. And, without both the language ability, and an in-depth knowledge of the country and region to which the case officer is assigned, he or she will be relegated to the position of student, rather than equal, when dealing with a target, or a recruited source.
This is problematic when one considers that, in some cultures in Asia and the Middle East, being seen as equal, or even superior, is essential to gaining the admiration and respect of targets, and hence in recruiting and handling them. To be anything less in the eyes of such a target, or recruited source, is an open invitation to failure.
Therefore, DO officers should be encouraged and rewarded for specializing in at least one language, and to obtain an in-depth knowledge of a given country or region. Officers should be assigned to a specific region, and their overseas tours should be within that region.
As an example, a China specialist, should be proficient in Mandarin Chinese, and should spend his or her career moving throughout the region, with assignments to the People's Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong, Taiwan, and perhaps Singapore, which is ethnically seventy five percent Chinese. In this way, the officer's language ability would constantly be reinforced, and improve with use, and he or she would develop an intimate knowledge of the personalities, politics, economics, and culture, of the region. This expertise would enable the officer to converse with targets on an equal, or superior level, and, no less important, to understand the significance of what the target says.
Many foreign intelligence and diplomatic services require their officers to specialize in a given area and language because this system works. During my career, I found that my counterparts from the Soviet Union, the PRC, or from countries such as France and Singapore, were much better linguists, and much more knowledgeable than me or my colleagues, about the countries to which they were assigned.
As an example of how DO officers compare with some of their foreign counterparts, most officers preparing for a tour in the PRC receive approximately two years of language training, one of the DO's longest training courses. Graded on a five point system - 1 being a beginner, and 5 being a native speaker - students usually graduate from this course with a rough 3 level. At this level, a student has the basic ability to converse socially, and has the infrastructure to reach a higher level of communication with work and use. Generally speaking, these officers receive no instruction in the culture, history, or politics of the PRC prior to being assigned in-country. After spending a two-year tour in China, many of these officers will be reassigned to countries outside of the region, thereby losing much of their language ability, as well as the substantive knowledge they obtained.
By contrast, one of my contacts from the PRC told me that before he was sent on his first assignment, he received French language training for five years in Beijing. He was then assigned to West Africa (former French Africa), where he used his language skills for another five years, after which he was assigned to Paris. He believed he would remain in Paris for approximately five years, and expected to return to West Africa after his tour in Paris ended.
Because of the myriad dangers and forces arrayed against the United States, it is essential for our country to have a capable and dynamic DO. Billions of dollars and the safety of our citizens at home and abroad are at stake. But, in order for the DO to perform its mission effectively, change is necessary. Recruitment of human sources, the DO's main responsibility, must continue, but the DO must concentrate its efforts on only those targets, which have access to vital and strategic intelligence. The DO must also ensure that its officers have viable cover, and are well trained in the disciplines of counterintelligence, and operational security, without which its recruitment efforts will falter.
These changes will not come easily, and will require the active participation of senior DO officials, the President and the NSC, as well as Congress, in a bi-partisan effort to reform the CIA and DO, in order to make it the highly specialized foreign policy tool it was intended to be.
No degree of reform within the DO, however, will succeed unless the scope of DO reporting is limited to only that information which must be acquired through espionage. This will enable the DO to focus its efforts on the truly "hard targets", instead of having its efforts diluted to the point of journalism.
In addition, reform must include the willing and enthusiastic participation of the DO's men and women. They must be convinced that their leaders regard them as talented, and essential members of the team, and they must be provided with the opportunities for career advancement that, at present, do not exist. Therefore, new career tracks must be created for them. Keeping in mind that all case officers are not natural recruiters, officers must have the option of varied career paths, such as counterintelligence, operational security, and agent handling. These new career tracks are not only important to DO personnel, but are vital if the DO's operations are to be secure and successful.
Reform, however, will not be accomplished quickly. Rather, it will take a long time to reorient, and restructure the DO's method of operation, as well as its personnel. This will also require substantial funding, which should be seen as a necessary investment in national security. The reward will be a new, and dynamic DO, which will provide the policymakers with the key, strategic intelligence they require to guide our foreign policy into the future.