CIA should go back to intelligence work.

"… at issue is the fundamental mission of the CIA, which during the past decade has morphed into a paramilitary force. Senior officials, including CIA Director John O. Brennan, have warned that the agency’s emphasis on lethal operations deviates from its traditional mission and could impair its ability to focus on gathering intelligence. The administration first signaled its intent to shift control of drone operations to the Pentagon last year, when Obama announced new guidelines for counterterrorism missions — including a pledge of greater transparency — during a speech at the National Defense University. At the time, administration officials briefing reporters said there would be “a preference for the Department of Defense to engage in the use of force outside war zones.” The remark was a reference to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — countries beyond the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States has carried out drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets." Washpost

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The "Authorization for the Use of Force" law (AUF) has been interpreted as restricting the USAF to employing armed UAVs (drones) in active war zones.   This has been convenient to those who wish to restore some of CIA's power within the US Government since this situation could be understood to require a presidential "finding" for strikes outside active war zones.  CIA is legally able to act on such presidential authority but not the armed forces, or at least that is the legal justification.  CIA lost a lot of functions in the intelligence community reorganization of ten years ago and this drone business has served to give them important functions again.

CIA is supposed to be the lead agency in the IC for clandestine HUMINT.  Clandestine HUMINT is a game to be played by masters of human psychology who devote themselves to a lifetime pursuit of the subtle skills needed to persuade people to inform against their own.  Having done this, the clandestine operative must maintain control over the recruited agent under what are inevitably difficult conditions.  This requires a great deal of skill and is a very specialized job.  Most recruited foreign assets are obtained after long, carefully orchestrated cultivation.  People like Aldritch Ames or the egregious Walker family are anomalies.  These people jumped into the arms of the Soviets but that is not the normal case. 

The skills and mentality needed by a fighting organization like the USAF have little to do with the the clandestine HUMINT task.  In fact they are such as to degrade the clandestine HUMINT capability of an agency with clandestine HUMINT as its primary work.  There are clandestine HUMINT groups within DoD but these groups are restricted to their own particular work, often in cooperation with CIA.

John Brennan, the current director of CIA wants to get CIA out of the killing business in order to work on restoring the quality of CIA HUMINT.  IMO he is absolutely right in wanting this.  pl

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25 Responses to CIA should go back to intelligence work.

  1. Personally I believe the CIA does what it does because it can. And it cannot conduct the Humint mission as currently constructed and operated. Perhaps others disagree!

  2. The Twisted Genius says:

    I watched the “capture-kill” mentality begin to pervade the CIA shortly after 9-11. Nearly the entire Agency became focused on that mission. One one level, I guess it was a predictable human reaction. But I think it was also the easy path rather than the much more difficult path of penetrating our enemies through aggressive and sustained clan HUMINT operations. Capture-kill (and enhanced interrogation for that matter) didn’t require intelligence officers to operate in a foreign language. That’s what contract interpreters were for. There was the immediate and quantifiable feedback of the dead and captured terrorists. That and drone operations made much better PowerPoint presentations than the slow and methodical clan intel ops that largely went by the wayside. Most importantly, this mission fit the new breed of intel officers more interested in rapid promotion than practicing the craft. It was a perfect storm.
    I would bet that there are factions in the CIA that desperately fear going back to the days of clan HUMINT, no matter what Brennan and others may want. I’m sure these “Johnny high speeds” played their political games with the right people in the appropriations committee to ensure that the DOD does not take their lethal drone operations away from them.
    BTW, I enjoyed the photo of Sidney Reilly. One of my old units endeavored to operate more like him than like traditional clan HUMINT units. It was quite an experience.

  3. b says:

    “John Brennan, the current director of CIA wants to get CIA out of the killing business in order to work on restoring the quality of CIA HUMINT. ”
    That is not the case. It was bait and switch. While in the White House Brennan claimed that he wanted drones move to the army. As soon as he was at the CIA he lobbied for keeping drones at the CIA.

  4. turcopolier says:

    that is interesting. So, the WP got it wrong. Actually I am not surprised, but I would say that “bait and switch” is probably incorrect. Brennan is an analyst. The DO simply recruited him back once they had him in the building. pl

  5. turcopolier says:

    See TTG’s response above. pl

  6. Fred says:

    “That’s what contract interpreters were for.”
    Doesn’t the use of a multitude of contract interpreters pose a significant risk of penetration of the CIA by our enemies, not to mention those with attitudes like Edward Snowden?

  7. Thanks PL and TTG!
    Any open source materials on how reliant CIA is on its contractors?

  8. eakens says:

    The other benefit is that if the CIA focuses on HUMINT and not rendition and drone strikes, then movie plots centered around the CIA will perhaps get back to being interesting.

  9. b says:

    @Pat “I would say that “bait and switch” is probably incorrect.”
    Yes. Sorry wrong metaphor. Brennan is quite a PR guy and doesn’t mind to “leak” whatever lie he wants to put out into the open. He is the major source of the “drones are good” and “ethical” campaign that ran shortly before he left the White House. He is also the one that reportedly pressed Sen. Feinstein to keep the drones at the CIA.

  10. turcopolier says:

    I used the series on Reilly as training aids and encouraged that kind of behavior. May be that is why I frightened the bureaucrats. pl

  11. And my understanding is that Sydney Reilly could pass easily as a German naval officer or dockyard supervisor. Perhaps am wrong?

  12. The Twisted Genius says:

    I said that in derisive irony. I share your skepticism in the wisdom of relying on the use of interpreters. IMO, they are the ones in real control of operations. They can phrase questions and answers in whatever way they wish for whatever reason they wish. If one has to use them, one must treat them as assets to be constantly scrutinized, recruited and tested.

  13. The Twisted Genius says:

    I wish I got the chance to work with you in the craft. Not only would we have frightened the bureaucrats, but I’m sure we would have caused them to fervently wish us dead.

  14. turcopolier says:

    No doubt. They tried using funding and various regs to try to slow me up. pl

  15. elkern says:

    Thanks for ID’ing “Sidney Reilly” – I had been thinking, maybe, a young Gomez Addams?
    I went to Wikipedia (a useful but limited source), and now I really don’t know what to believe about this character. VERY interesting life, even if only half the stories are only half true.

  16. Fred says:

    TTG, sorry to state the obvious. I’ve had to deal with contractors of a different stripe on commercial projects, there our own managers can be just as much a problem. Your pointing out the specifics about language skills is important to a layman like myself in helping me understand the field.

  17. PL and TTG! My guess is you both continue to frighten the denizens and leaders of several federal organizations.
    Please keep on keeping on!

  18. G. Hazeltine says:

    Speaking of translators – The Guardian, ‘Afghanistan: Lost in translation’ – 2008

  19. MartinJ says:

    My impression from 2003 onwards was that the UK and US agencies were not geared up for HUMINT collection in the Middle East. White officers no longer had the run of a country such as Iraq where they stood out like sore thumbs, unlike Reilly who could meld into the background in Russia. Perhaps this has changed in the years since.
    Low hanging fruit such as capture kill operations from a distance started to become an altogether more attractive direction. They were already becoming over reliant on assets to be all seeing all understanding while officers were restricted to being virtual prisoners on camp.

  20. Alba Etie says:

    I have met many different nationalities over the years as I drove taxis in Austin . One individual I met about a year before the Twin Towers & Pentagon was attacked was a gentleman from SW Asia who went by the nickname Ali- I met Ali because his wife was a temporary worker at a law firm I had contracted with as an assigned driver , the out of town firm was arguing a protacted case before the Tx Supreme Court , and needed me on standby often for runs to the private FOB . Anyway I had known this gentleman helped him get his Austin Tx taxi permit . My friend and his wife both earned their citizenship .Later I learned that Ali had gone back home to SW Asia as an interpreter for ‘stuff going on over there’ . Ali came back about a year later started driver taxis again , and said we could not talk about the ‘stuff over there ” for ‘obvious reasons ” but he could say we made more enemies then we killed & that he got attached to some contractors out in the field that actually made the case why AQ was opposed to the West . As another interesting note sometimes back in those days when I was still driving taxis me & Ali would cover each others regular runs when were off for our Holidays . Ali at Thanksgiving & Christmas for me -and I for him when ever he needed me too- like the Feast of Eid. Now I have lost track of Ali and his family ~ I wish him well .

  21. turcopolier says:

    Martin J
    I agree with most of what you say but the belief that “white officers” cannot operate in an environment in which they do not look right is incorrect. I have run operations in such places many times. The way this should work is a process of daisy chaining your way down to the level of access that is needed. This is a delicate task requiring real skill. you start with someone you have access to and proceed from that deeper and deeper into the maze with lots of testing on the way in. This does not invalidate TTG’s comment about language since often the first person in the chain does not speak English. This a job for hard hearted empaths who do not trust, but are willing to continue anyway. It is dangerous and requires a profound understanding of human nature. pl

  22. Colonel Lang,
    I can certainly see that it is not necessary for people to ‘look right’ in order to run successful clandestine humint operations.
    What I have more difficulty understanding is how the CIA can run such operations effectively, if it cannot overcome the terror of its employees ‘going native’ which Philip Giraldi has so vividly portrayed.
    Suspicion of people ‘going native’ is of course hardly new, or distinctively American. A few evenings ago my wife and I watched, together with our Indian neighbours, The Chess Players – the classic 1977 film which the Bengali director Satyajit Ray made about the takeover of Oudh by General James Outram in 1856.
    There is a marvellous scene in which Richard Attenborough, as Outram, warns his interpreter, Captain Weston, who loves the poetry and music of the court of Oudh, that signs of sympathy for the king could ruin his prospects of promotion.
    To my surprise I found that the actor who gives a brilliant performance as Weston, Tom Alter, was not as I had thought of English or Scots extraction, but the son of American Christian missionaries.
    Similarly, in the story ‘Miss Yougal’s Sais’, Kipling describes the policeman Strickland, who can pass for an Indian, as an object of suspicion among his fellow-countrymen:
    ‘Strickland was in the Police, and people did not understand him; so they said he was a doubtful sort of man and passed by on the other side. Strickland had himself to thank for this. He held the extraordinary theory that a Policeman in India should try to know as much about the natives as the natives themselves.’
    (See )
    On the other hand, Kipling was clearly holding up Strickland – who reappears in ‘Kim’ – as a model to be followed. The moral that the fortunes of the British Empire depends upon such detailed knowledge is repeatedly hammered home in his Indian stories.
    Likewise, parallel characters in the novels of John Buchan – Captain Arcoll in ‘Prester John’, and Sandy Arbuthnot in the Richard Hannay novels – are presented as objects of admiration. As with Kipling, a message about the requirements of maintaining the Empire is clearly implied.

  23. turcopolier says:

    David Habbakuk
    Actually it has seemed to me that academics, career diplomats and “line” military officers are more likely to “go native” than case officers. It is a potential problem and one against which supervisors must be alert and willing to counsel an openness to foreign thinking and ways without acceptance of it. Case officerhood is not a job for the kindly. That is why people are required who are both hard hearted and empathetic. I frequently reminded my people that it was their job to be prepared to betray this person who trusted them if that were judged to be in the national interest. A fair question would be why do this at all? Well, the fruits of integrated analysis are derived from many sources that are often linked to each other. The “craft” often provided the 5% concerned with intentions that leads to success with the other sources. pl

  24. Basilisk says:

    I had exactly the same thought. The Agency is not a monolith, but rather a constellation of, let’s call them “profit centers.” Some of those profit centers see their particular rice bowl being broken by a return to what they call the old, slow, fuzzy ways. It is altogether logical that they would reach out to their fans to forestall undesirable outcomes.

  25. turcopolier says:

    TTG & Basilisk
    “It is altogether logical that they would reach out to their fans to forestall undesirable outcomes.” Yes as Giraldi says that kind of “outreach” is what they are really good at. IMO if the DO clings to execution of the war fighting mission of the armed forces, they will eventually be “organized” out of existence to be replaced by something more useful. Having been both a shooter and clan HUMINT person I find that the conflict reported by you both within the DO is reminiscent of the conflict within the SOF community between the Deltoida and SEALS on the one hand and the old style GBs like TTG (and me). pl

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