The “War Over the CIA” from 2001-2005 will merit its own chapter in the history of this Time. The CIA was a minor player in the larger struggle of the Bush Administration's feverish drive 2001-2005 to cement the United States' transformation to a post-modernist society of faith, mass emotion and belief. A minor cog, but a significant one.
To the Administration and its water-carriers, the CIA served as both a bogeyman and standin for the “pre-9/11 thinking” of empiricism, facts and verification.
The CIA is a complex bureaucracy. Certainly portions of the DO (Directorate of Operations) and other elements dutifully (in some cases enthusiastically) embraced the White House transformative post modernist vision. Other portions at the Agency resisted.
The CIA writ large helped its critics because of its track record. That record opened itself to — and invited — criticism, skepticism and even disdain. To Administration critics, particularly after November 2003, the CIA became a short hand for institutional truth-telling, competence and a healthy skepticism for neocon dreams.
Like a typical WWF-written script, both sides had villains and heroes. But is this reality? Not even close.
Two items come to mind. First is from Michael Sheuer, former Agency analyst, the celebrated author “Anonymous” and former head of the (Alec) Bin Laden Station. Sheuer has just written a colorful and occasionally brutal essay in the Washington Post “Book World” entitled Bad Intelligence: Two new books on the evolution of the CIA help explain the agency's current black eyes. Second, a recent WaPo article on the new Open Source initiative at the Office of the estwhile new Director of National Intelligence (OenDNI) highlights some of the points prompted by Scheuer's piece.
What are we being told here?
Michael Sheuer and the WaPo OenDNI initiative article both leave us locked in the Vince MacMahon narrative. One can cheer or boo depending on preference. In Sheuer's case, he performs well and we get some bravura body slams. Sheuer at least does not ask if we can smell what he is cooking. (One shudders).
But by now with the Bush Administration's post modernist transformation project in disarray, we are entitled to more. If we wish to jettison the Bush Administration's contempt for facts and empiricism, surely we must demand the same of its critics?
Let us address Michael Scheuer first. He deserves healthy respect that he is now a public figure. That was not an easy achievement. He shrugged off the enormous pressures on him within the Agency and from the Administration to remain silent.
The major evaluation of Michael Scheuer here at the Stiftung is not on what he believes regarding the War on Terrorism. But who he is. And what that means for the CIA in the future.
Michael Scheuer is the poster child for the dysfunction of the Agency. An analyst with almost no significant in-country and in-region experience or fluent language skills in the primary languages of the region, Scheuer should never have been put in charge of Bin Laden station in the first place.
He is a bright man. His analysis stands on its own. But he was and is not the man the United States should have had in charge of (what became, largely because of CIA managerial ineptitude) Bin Laden Station.
Yet Michael Scheuer's lack of language and in-country experience is not unique but par for the course at Langely. Even now. (The Stiftung notes that the Agency's rotation of people through Baghdad Station 2003-04 quickly is not giving them “in-country experience” and merely reflects poor organization and management). Most tellingly, Scheuer relies on the “Foreign Broadcast Intercept Service” (FBIS) which is a now-acknowledged Agency program that translates on a daily basis media from various regions of the world. It used to be officially a product of the Commerce Department.
Scheuer's lack of language skills is one reason he called FBIS “”the crown jewel of the American intelligence community.“ If it wasn't for FBIS, he couldn't have shown up for work. And maybe that was a message he and the Agency needed to listen to. Given the lack of regional expertise, language skills and cultural awareness, is it any surprise that Alec Station never recruited an asset within or even close to Al Qaeda? Or had any Non Official Cover (NOC) assets on the ground in Afghanistan?
The United States has never had enough linguistically trained analysts or even DO officers. The Stiftung remembers back in the 1980s the old SOVA offices had only a tiny fraction of officers capable of reading or speaking Russian. Most then, as with Scheuer in the 1990s, relied on FBIS.
FBIS translations, even when accurate (and the Stiftung used to read FBIS too — although more than a few times the daily FBIS piles would accumulate unread in a messy corner), can never be a substitute for getting inside the mind, memory and world view of an enemy. No matter how bright the non-language trained,non-in-country-experienced analyst. (That an analyst ran Alec/Bin Laden Station alone speaks volumes about career paths, incentives and management at CIA in the 1990s).
Okay, now we understand that Michael Scheuer, even if one agrees (or disagrees) with his policy conclusions, represents much that is broken about CIA and how it positions people into critical assignments, what does he have to say in his book review?
Scheuer writes well. Almost all of his observations are about politcs and process rather than intelligence itself. And this deflection is not accidental, perhaps.
The Stiftung notes that Scheuer passes the buck upwards, claiming most of the problems with the CIA are because of failures at the Director level. How and where Scheuer apportions blame is designed to settle scores through the prism of Iraq.
Scheuer specifically blames famous neocon and Iraq war supporter Woolsey, but for what? For not following up apportioning blames for Ames. (Deutsch gets a pass). Scheuer most obviously skips the underlying evisceration of Counter Intelligence staff that began under Turner that allowed a mediocrity like Ames to rise to his position.
And Scheuer says not a word on Woolsey's fixation on technology such as satellites, etc. — like Turner circa 1978-80, at the expense of training HUMINT officers with language and other hard skills. Deutsch continued this trend of misalignment of resources.
Instead, Scheuer seems determined to grind axes, demand revenge, all within the prism of 9/11-cum-Iraq. Thus, in case a casual reader wasn't paying attention, he attacks noted neocon-WWIV proponent Woolsey and Tenet again. He ends with this screed:
Perhaps they [the 9/11 Commision] would be embarrassed enough by them [the books under review] to redo their unsatisfactory labors, which, by failing to lop off so many eminently deserving heads, left the moral cowards in charge. Short of that, we must find a CIA skipper with Walter Bedell Smith's integrity, frankness and courage — and try resolutely to avoid perpetuating the disastrous combination of Woolsey and Tenet.
Entertaining? Perhaps. Loyal to the WWF script created by the Bush Administration's post modernist agenda? Without a doubt. Accurate? Not really. Useful? Hardly.
The WaPo piece on Doug Naquin, heading the Open Source Center, notes that the Center is based on FBIS and is blogging. This is actually probably a good thing. But as the piece notes, getting a culture based on denial of access to embrace open source information will require more than a new ”Center" and blogs. And unfortunately, the Center is being based on FBIS. Within the Community, this will consign the initiative to marginal influence. Watch this space. It would be nice to be surprised.