December 18, 2006
Naked To Our EnemiesBy Clarice Feldman
Much as been made of the demonstrated ignorance of Silvestre Reyes, the newly named chair of the House Intelligence Committee. But Reyes is far from alone in failing to have learned the most basic facts of the forces arrayed against us.
Reyes' position requires that he provide oversight of our intelligence operations, and those in charge of those operations have demonstrated they know little more than Reyes does:
So it appears that neither the watchers (our counter intelligence officials) nor their watchers, the Congressmen selected to oversee them have a clue as to what they ought to know to do their work effectively.
One of the most disturbing books I can remember reading in a long time, is Bill Gertz' Enemies which reveals the failure of the U.S. Government in stopping the penetration of enemies and terrorists, stealing our secrets and using them against us. The numerous failures and the utter insufficiency of the few corrective steps taken are mind boggling. If Congressional oversight cannot accomplish what executive authority has not, we are in serious trouble. Management by committee having a poor track record, I am not comforted.
The most astonishing reports in the book are the incredible failures of David Szady who was appointed the FBI's senior counterintelligence official, despite consistent failures detailed throughout Enemies! Szady's blunders are so numerous and glaring that Gertz could have used them for a follow up book: What the Hell Do You Have to Do to Be Fired From the FBI?
What's less well known is that there has been little discernable change in our counter terrorism efforts. They still stink.
Gertz details the ghastly performance of our counter-intelligence forces. While he deals with several agencies, the most detailed deficiencies in the book involve the FBI, and I want to highlight two of its failures as he describes them., The focus is on the one man more responsible than anyone else for these failures: David Szady. He, and what came to be known as "the Posse", FBI officials Mike Rochford, Rudy Guerin, Jim Milburn and Bill Cleveland, have a lot of explaining to do.
The Hanssen Case
It was obvious there was a KGB mole operating in the US government. This person was likely to be in either the CIA or FBI. The agents in charge of the investigation, posse members Rochford, Guerin, and Milburn, were overseen by David Szady. All automatically assumed it could not be someone inside the Bureau. They focused instead on Brian Kelley of the CIA whom-in the absence of any credible evidence-they hounded and harassed (along with his family), ignoring a large body of very credible evidence that it was not he.
The mole, as we learned too late, was Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent whose own brother-in-law, another FBI agent, Mark Wauck, had over a decade earlier warned the FBI that Hanssen had suspicious amounts of cash on hand and was likely working for the Russians.
The supervisor to whom he conveyed this information, Jim Lyle, astonishingly never followed up on it. This alone is shocking enough.
Hanssen's betrayal was never uncovered by investigative effort. It was caught fortuitously because a tape recording and other evidence in the hands of a Soviet defector pointed the FBI to finally identify him as the mole.
Lyle, the FBI agent who failed to act on Wauk's suspicions, was promoted to head the Counterintelligence Center at the CIA.
The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General cited among other things:
Gertz notes that while the FBI post-Hanssen did some things to improve security,
The damage did not end with Hanssen. Of Szady's numerous failures post-Hanssen, none is more documented or inexplicable than that involving the Chinese spy, Katrina Leung.
The Leung Case
The Inspector General's detailed report of his investigation into the matter is detailed here.
Here's the summary of that report:
As early as 1991 the FBI knew that Leung had privately confessed to spying for the Chinese and yet kept her working.
In part this may have been because two of the FBI's senior counterspies, J.J. Smith and Bill Cleveland, had been engaged in long-term sexual relationships with her and were thereby compromised. Smith had flat out lied to his supervisors when the evidence came to light in 1991, claiming falsely that Leung had passed a polygraph test.
She was the most highly paid of the US sources and the (dis)information she supplied was used by her supervisors to downgrade the credibility of other American intelligence sources on China which were sound.
The FBI engaged in a long cover up of this mole, who had so compromised our intelligence. Once Leung's perfidy could no longer be denied, Szady led the damage assessment team and allowed Leung's handler (Smith) off the hook, by early retirement. (Cleveland went on to Lawrence Livermore lab. When he did so, he failed to tell the security office about his affair with Leung, itself a serious breach which Szady excused, saying the violation should not be pursued.)
Not only was Szady's good friend, Cleveland, never prosecuted for his role in this, probably the most serious breach of intelligence in years, but Smith who was prosecuted did not cooperate as even the very weak plea deal he worked out required. Smith's inadequate cooperation allowed Leung to make a very generous plea agreement of the case against her as well.
As Gertz observes: "Szady himself was involved in the problems that plagued the Leung case." He looked the other way when preparing the damage assessment (particularly ignoring the fact that the disinformation she provided caused the agency to discount far more valuable contrary information, for example.) "His hands were in it from the beginning to the end," Gertz concludes. "And he never was held accountable for the obvious conflict of interest."
In an interview
for NRO, Gertz offered some suggestions to improve our intelligence operations:
I have some other ideas I do wish the Congressional intelligence committees would give serious attention.
Elections matter. The oversight functions of Congress are about to be shifted around. It isn't at all clear who will be even tasked with oversight of intelligence, a development creating yet more confusion and defusing accountability, making it even more likely that nothing much can be anticipated to change.
Nancy Pelosi has announced a brand new oversight of our intelligence operations is in the works:
I'd be interested to watch how this proceeds.
Tom Maguire asks some sensible questions.
If Congressman Reyes, incoming chair of the House Intel Committee, is on this panel, is he up to the job? And who will staff it?
Will the sub-committee make the same mistake the 9/11 Commission did of relying so heavily on FBI and CIA employees seconded to it, people one can imagine were far more concerned about protecting the bureaucracies for which they work than an honest assessment of those agencies' failures?
I am growing increasingly concerned. How much longer can we count on dumb luck to protect us from our enemies?