President-Elect Obama's First CIA Briefing

On November 6th, 2008 President-Elect Obama sat through his first detailed CIA briefing. It is unlikely that Mr. Obama realized during this one appointment, in what must be a hurricane of meetings, that he was staring into the face of the greatest threat to the success and survivability of his presidency: the CIA's lack of fundamental human sources of intelligence on the terrorist organizations and hostile nations which threaten Americans.

The CIA would do the United States a great service by advising Mr. Obama: We don't have any good human sources of intelligence overseas on current threats such as Iran and North Korea . You're on your own; you're going to be making decisions blind.

But the billions spent on the CIA require that Mr. Obama be given an earnest and impressive dog and pony show. Mr. Obama has been elected as the candidate of change, and the CIA is the organization most in need of change. However, the CIA will do anything within its considerable power to fight change.

CIA Director Michael Hayden and his assistants will seek to wow Mr. Obama in order to recruit him to their side and to keep the money flowing to the CIA without accountability. They will not advise Mr. Obama that they've presided over massive growth of the CIA within the United States, that current and former employees have grown rich through the CIA's fraudulent and unaccountable use of federal funds, and that the CIA's human source intelligence programs overseas are broken or nonexistent.

The CIA's inability to do its fundamental duty is staggering. Some of this inability comes from its unwillingness to physically assign CIA officers to the locations where they need to be in order to conduct intelligence operations. Most CIA employees now live and work within the United States, and those assigned to foreign countries are nearly all within American embassies located in friendly and neutral countries. In just one specific program since 9/11, designed to field officers in non-embassy assignments overseas, the CIA, with more than $3 billion spent, has been unable to field a single additional effective such officer overseas.

One of Director Hayden's top priorities has been to create even more CIA offices and headquarters within the United States. Hopes for Hayden as a reformer had been high, but after his appointment as Director he was quickly "co-opted" or influenced to support the CIA's way of life. "You are where you stand" is a government saying which suggests a person will give his loyalty to his current position. Why shouldn't he? -- if he supports the CIA's bureaucracy, like George Tenet, he'll become rich through book deals and board memberships; and if he doesn't, like Porter Goss, he'll be thrown out the door.

The CIA people who will brief Mr. Obama during his presidency are the Agency's fast-trackers. These talented and intelligent people are devoted to the service of the CIA, however, and they'll not reveal how desperately little real espionage is actually conducted. Most of Mr. Obama's briefers will have spent their entire careers within CIA Headquarters in Virginia, and a few will have done some tours as diplomats within American embassies abroad. It's unlikely that anyone briefing Mr. Obama will ever have recruited a good human source of intelligence. These people are not afraid of conducting espionage overseas, but in a Byzantine organization, it's necessary to operate from within the palace, not out in the field.

Mr. Obama's faith in the efficiency of government will not serve him well in his dealings with the CIA. The CIA uses the principles of secrecy, intended to protect agents and operations, in order to hide from accountability. Fraud and waste are dramatically worse at the CIA after 9/11 because of the almost unlimited inflow of money. You can hire a bunch of Eagle Scouts if you want, but put great big bags of money in front of them and they'll crumble. It's just human nature. 

Nonexistent or false intelligence has slapped down Mr. Obama's predecessors. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Afghan and Iraq wars poisoned the Bush presidency. Presidents Reagan and Carter were consumed by hostage crises. All of these crises -- and most of the foreign policy crises faced by post-war presidents -- featured dismal human source intelligence.

Some hope may exist in Mr. Obama's recruitment of former Clinton officials to his administration. Although one could argue that the South Asian arms race took President Clinton by surprise and the preparations for the 9/11 attacks took place on his watch, overall he seems to have done the best job of dealing with the CIA, simply by ignoring it. With two ongoing wars, Obama may not have this luxury.

Mr. Obama should be wary of the intelligence provided to him by the CIA. He will be walking blindly into the foreign policy crises he will certainly face during the next four years, and history suggests the CIA's poor performance will be the greatest threat to his presidency.

Ishmael Jones is a former member of the Central Intelligence Agency, andthe author of the new book, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, the first book written by a deep cover CIA officer.
On November 6th, 2008 President-Elect Obama sat through his first detailed CIA briefing. It is unlikely that Mr. Obama realized during this one appointment, in what must be a hurricane of meetings, that he was staring into the face of the greatest threat to the success and survivability of his presidency: the CIA's lack of fundamental human sources of intelligence on the terrorist organizations and hostile nations which threaten Americans.

The CIA would do the United States a great service by advising Mr. Obama: We don't have any good human sources of intelligence overseas on current threats such as Iran and North Korea . You're on your own; you're going to be making decisions blind.

But the billions spent on the CIA require that Mr. Obama be given an earnest and impressive dog and pony show. Mr. Obama has been elected as the candidate of change, and the CIA is the organization most in need of change. However, the CIA will do anything within its considerable power to fight change.

CIA Director Michael Hayden and his assistants will seek to wow Mr. Obama in order to recruit him to their side and to keep the money flowing to the CIA without accountability. They will not advise Mr. Obama that they've presided over massive growth of the CIA within the United States, that current and former employees have grown rich through the CIA's fraudulent and unaccountable use of federal funds, and that the CIA's human source intelligence programs overseas are broken or nonexistent.

The CIA's inability to do its fundamental duty is staggering. Some of this inability comes from its unwillingness to physically assign CIA officers to the locations where they need to be in order to conduct intelligence operations. Most CIA employees now live and work within the United States, and those assigned to foreign countries are nearly all within American embassies located in friendly and neutral countries. In just one specific program since 9/11, designed to field officers in non-embassy assignments overseas, the CIA, with more than $3 billion spent, has been unable to field a single additional effective such officer overseas.

One of Director Hayden's top priorities has been to create even more CIA offices and headquarters within the United States. Hopes for Hayden as a reformer had been high, but after his appointment as Director he was quickly "co-opted" or influenced to support the CIA's way of life. "You are where you stand" is a government saying which suggests a person will give his loyalty to his current position. Why shouldn't he? -- if he supports the CIA's bureaucracy, like George Tenet, he'll become rich through book deals and board memberships; and if he doesn't, like Porter Goss, he'll be thrown out the door.

The CIA people who will brief Mr. Obama during his presidency are the Agency's fast-trackers. These talented and intelligent people are devoted to the service of the CIA, however, and they'll not reveal how desperately little real espionage is actually conducted. Most of Mr. Obama's briefers will have spent their entire careers within CIA Headquarters in Virginia, and a few will have done some tours as diplomats within American embassies abroad. It's unlikely that anyone briefing Mr. Obama will ever have recruited a good human source of intelligence. These people are not afraid of conducting espionage overseas, but in a Byzantine organization, it's necessary to operate from within the palace, not out in the field.

Mr. Obama's faith in the efficiency of government will not serve him well in his dealings with the CIA. The CIA uses the principles of secrecy, intended to protect agents and operations, in order to hide from accountability. Fraud and waste are dramatically worse at the CIA after 9/11 because of the almost unlimited inflow of money. You can hire a bunch of Eagle Scouts if you want, but put great big bags of money in front of them and they'll crumble. It's just human nature. 

Nonexistent or false intelligence has slapped down Mr. Obama's predecessors. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Afghan and Iraq wars poisoned the Bush presidency. Presidents Reagan and Carter were consumed by hostage crises. All of these crises -- and most of the foreign policy crises faced by post-war presidents -- featured dismal human source intelligence.

Some hope may exist in Mr. Obama's recruitment of former Clinton officials to his administration. Although one could argue that the South Asian arms race took President Clinton by surprise and the preparations for the 9/11 attacks took place on his watch, overall he seems to have done the best job of dealing with the CIA, simply by ignoring it. With two ongoing wars, Obama may not have this luxury.

Mr. Obama should be wary of the intelligence provided to him by the CIA. He will be walking blindly into the foreign policy crises he will certainly face during the next four years, and history suggests the CIA's poor performance will be the greatest threat to his presidency.

Ishmael Jones is a former member of the Central Intelligence Agency, andthe author of the new book, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, the first book written by a deep cover CIA officer.