The book contains no classified information and I do not profit from it. CIA censors attack this book because it exposes the CIA as a place to get rich, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted or stolen in espionage programs that produce nothing. Despite the talented work force, more than 90% of employees now live and work entirely within the United States where they are largely ineffective, in violation of the CIA's founding charter. We need to make Americans safer by increasing the tiny numbers of CIA heroes serving under cover in foreign lands. We need financial accountability and whistleblower systems to stop tremendous waste and theft.
As you know, the conventional wisdom is that the CIA is wise to ignore a critic because to do otherwise merely gives the critic publicity. In this case the CIA seems to be actively seeking publicity. I avoided publicity about this lawsuit -- I was served papers on 21 September -- until the CIA actually issued a press release about it.
CIA chief Leon Panetta personally demanded that this lawsuit go forward. I think Panetta is beleaguered at the CIA, in over his head, and that the lawsuit is a way for him to obtain the support of the CIA's seventh floor. Rank and file employees generally agree with the statements I've made, but the top bureaucrats are firmly opposed.
Following are copies of sections from the book that deal with this issue:
From an introductory note:
All individuals, unless they are public figures, are obscured in order
to make it impossible to identify any CIA employee or
agent. Dates and places of non-public events have been obscured
or changed. No classified information, sources, or methods are
revealed. As a former CIA employee, I was required to submit the
book to CIA censors for their approval. I initially sent a copy of the
manuscript to the CIA's Publications Review Board, asking them to
identify any classified information, which I would then take out. I
am an expert on what portions of intelligence operations constitute
classified information and already knew there were none. Without
reviewing the book, the CIA disapproved the publication of every
word. During the course of a year, I repeated my request to the
CIA that it identify any classified information in the book. The CIA
eventually returned it to me with all but a few paragraphs wiped
out. Words deemed appropriate for public viewing by the CIA were
reduced to less than one percent throughout the book.
Before writing this book, I exhausted all avenues open to me
to improve human intelligence programs. I repeatedly confronted
all levels of my chain of command without result. I met with the
Inspector General's office, but found it a broken system-the IG was
not up to the task and was under investigation by the FBI for leaks.
The Director at the time was sympathetic and cleared the way for
my final foreign assignment, but he was soon removed and replaced
by managers who represent the status quo. No anti-corruption or
whistleblower systems exist in the organization, possibly because
the CIA's official secrecy makes such checks and balances dead-ends.
Only open, public debate will lead to reform.
I worked with the CIA's censors in good faith. During telephone
conversations, CIA censors seemed to recognize the manuscript
contained no classified information and at one point suggested it
might be approved with minor revisions. During each of my many
communications with the censors, I repeated: Show me the classified
information in this book and I will take it out. In each case they
replied, after months of delay, with evasive letters, from anonymous
P.O. boxes, signed by people using fictitious names.
I believe the CIA sought to block publication of this book
solely because it is critical of the organization. All of the dozens of
books written by ex-CIA officers and approved by the CIA demonstrate
that censorship standards are lax and inconsistent. Some
of the books, especially the recent Tenet and Drumheller books,
reveal what I consider to be a startling amount of classified information.
These books criticize the President, however, and not the
Funds allocated to protect Americans are being stolen or wasted
on phony or nonexistent intelligence programs. By attempting to
censor this manuscript, the CIA puts Americans at risk. The purpose
of the book is to add to the criticism and debate about reform
of the organization. Criticism and debate is how we solve things in
America and I consider it my duty to publish this manuscript.
From the preface to the paperback edition:
Since publication of the hardcover edition of this book, I've continued to work for intelligence reform in order to improve the quality of intelligence provided to the President.
Human source espionage in its most basic form is just a one on one meeting in which a CIA officer gathers secret information from a human source. Sources are people with access to secrets, on terrorist organizations or nuclear proliferators, for example. These meetings tend to occur in dingy hotel rooms in dysfunctional countries. It's hard, lonely work, away from friends and family, and there's always the chance that the local police will break down the door and rearrange your schedule.
But it's the fundamental work of espionage, and an intelligence service must be designed to motivate its officers so that they are eager to get out each day and gather the intelligence the President needs.
The CIA drives its officers to do other things instead, and this is why the CIA must be fixed.
Many CIA officers spend their careers within Headquarters rather than out in the field because the system requires them to do so. CIA officers naturally want to advance their careers, to gain power and praise, and to be promoted. But the CIA system perverts these natural desires. For example, any CIA officer who had gone out to hunt bin Ladin would have had to live and work, alone, in remote countries, for years, outside of American embassies. Such a person would have been unable to network and build the connections and friendships with CIA managers at Headquarters, would have been unable to manage the budgets, or to rise in the management layers, processes that are vital to a CIA career. Anyone who had gone out to the field to find bin Ladin would have returned years later, unknown to anyone at Headquarters and unpromotable.
Spying is important. It's the second-oldest profession. The President, as Commander in Chief, needs intelligence to defend Americans. Nuclear weapons, for example, are based on 1930's technology and are increasingly available. Like a lonely and unpopular schoolboy who brings a semiautomatic rifle to school one day to show everyone that he is a person of consequence, some nations are actually proud of having become nuclear powers. The United States can lose cities to nuclear attack, and a small ally like Israel can be completely destroyed.
Yet the CIA has few of the human sources of intelligence the President needs. I remember looking over one list of sources, a list that was to be shown to the President and members of Congress. At first glance this list looked impressive, each source with his official cryptonym. Then I realized, hey, the number one source is a guy I've only met a couple of times, and he's not been recruited. And I know this guy on the list, and I know that guy, and they don't have any real access to secrets. And I know these guys on the list, and they're American citizens who live in the US, and they shouldn't be sources at all.
In working on intelligence reform, I've taken aim at the CIA's lack of operational and financial accountability. I've proposed solutions to the two groups that can make a difference: politicians and journalists. I've explained that the CIA is systemically flawed, but that the quality of its employees is high.
Working to fix the CIA resembles the often lonely and boring work of espionage: finding the right people to talk to and traveling to meet them. I've spent a lot of time traveling, spending nights in hotel rooms, and walking the halls of Congress, meeting people, visiting scholars at institutes, and writing articles. Just as during my spy career, I work in alias.
There have been some minor, incremental improvements in CIA intelligence collection since The Human Factor came out. The US military has sought to fill gaps in CIA intelligence by collecting some human source intelligence on its own. The FBI has taken over elements of terrorist interrogations. But ultimately, as I stated in the hardcover edition, we will need the window of opportunity opened by the next major intelligence failure to enact real CIA reform. CIA bureaucracy is simply too powerful. My work is designed to build credibility and contacts, and to convince Americans on what needs to be done, so that when a dirty bomb detonates over New York or Washington, DC, we'll be positioned to enact intelligence reform.
A step toward operational accountability by President Obama upon winning the election was the appointment of Leon Panetta as CIA chief. Panetta was significant for what he was not: a career CIA bureaucrat. The CIA and its allies had championed one of its own, who was, interestingly, the man I nicknamed "Suspenders" in The Human Factor. Suspenders had a charismatic ability to rise within the CIA, but had no record of producing intelligence.
Panetta's appointment caused some dismay among conservatives because he was a political operative with no intelligence experience. But the important thing was that the new CIA chief be someone the President trusted. I wrote articles of support of the nomination in the Washington Times and National Review.
It turned out Senate Democrats had cut a deal with the President in which Obama could have Panetta as CIA chief, but Suspenders would be appointed as a powerful deputy to Panetta. Panetta dutifully praised Suspenders at his confirmation.
Surrounded by people who wanted his job, Panetta was quickly co-opted by the bureaucracy and was resistant to intelligence reform. But there remains hope. Had Suspenders been selected instead, any improvements would have been unlikely.
The key indicator of the CIA's lack of operational accountability thus remains: no top manager has ever been disciplined, demoted, or even reassigned for failure to provide the intelligence the President needs.
In working toward financial accountability, I focused on a single issue. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress gave the CIA more than $3 billion to increase its deep cover capabilities overseas. During the years after 9/11, the CIA was not able to field a single additional effective deep cover case officer overseas. The money disappeared in increased pay packages to employees, expensive boondoggles, the enrichment of contracting companies run by former CIA employees, and the expansion of CIA offices within the United States. More than 90% of CIA employees now live and work within the United States.
In meeting with members of congressional intelligence committees to discuss financial accountability, I was in for a surprise. I had expected a variety of reactions, but not the one I got. They politely interrupted me. They already knew about the missing $3 billion. They already knew about this accountability failure, this waste and theft. They agreed with me. But they couldn't do anything about it. There is simply no financial accountability mechanism to deal with waste and fraud at the CIA.
The Government Accountability Office (the GAO) audits government spending. A 2001 GAO report says: "We have not actively audited the CIA since the early 1960s, when we discontinued such work because the CIA was not providing us with sufficient access to information to perform our mission... we have made a conscious decision not to further pursue the issue."
When the waste and stealing start, effective clandestine operations end. The contracting game at the CIA has continued at full force, and has even mutated into a faux industry that uses the jargon of real business. M&A, profit margins, and synergy are discussed as if this were a real American industry instead of a bunch of government contracting scams.
Real human sources work doesn't take much money, just agent pay, hotel rooms, airplane tickets. With the money forced into the system after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it seemed to make the system burst. Intelligence operations ran better before 9/11 simply because there was less money.
Citizens Against Government Waste published one of my articles, in which I suggested that CIA employees be given a whistleblower mechanism, the ability to contact cleared law enforcement officials when they see fraud and waste. The CIA currently has no whistleblower system.
I've walked away after meetings with politicians in an optimistic mood, however. I'm using an alias and criticizing an intelligence service, yet I can meet some of the most influential people in America and discuss intelligence reform. The CIA's lack of operational and financial accountability cannot stand forever in a country like ours.
There's a perception in Washington that the staffers on the Senate and House intelligence committees are former CIA employees who are beholden to the CIA. In fact, a minority of staffers are former CIA employees, and these people, having experienced CIA bureaucracy up close, are the ones most open to intelligence reform.
The staffers on the Senate intelligence committee are more attuned to the democratic process because they work directly for individual senators. The staffers on the House intelligence committee, by contrast, are permanent employees of the committee and do not work directly for individual members of Congress. The reasoning seems to be that because a House member's term is shorter, members' personal staffs will have a harder time grasping complex intelligence issues and obtaining security clearances. The use of permanent employees without direct connection to elected politicians makes House staffers disconnected from the accountability that elections provide. They form a much more closed society, more closely linked to CIA bureaucracy, and resistant to intelligence reform.
Politicians can make a difference. CIA dysfunction thrives in the political conflict between left and right. Traditionally the CIA has been perceived as a gang of right wingers seeking to topple leftist governments. Some see the CIA as the hand behind worldwide conspiracies and complex dirty tricks. The CIA actually encourages this viewpoint because underlying it is the assumption that the CIA is ruthlessly efficient. I wish the CIA were efficient enough to aggressively confront leftist governments, but it's not.
Many conservatives think the CIA just needs to be unleashed from the confines of Democrat-imposed rules. In the last 10 years, though, through its attacks on Bush via the Plame incident, Iraqi WMD, and leaks on interrogations/torture, the CIA seems to be more a gang of left wingers seeking to topple American conservatives. Politicians should come together and realize that the CIA fails to support Presidents of either party.
The torture issue is a good example of a left versus right conflict that prevents reform. When members of Congress attack each other over torture/interrogations, they are unable to focus on reform of the main mission, which is to find spies who cooperate voluntarily.
Democrats have greater faith in the efficiency of government and tend to be less responsive to intelligence reform. They are reluctant to believe that top-down centralized government can be dysfunctional. The CIA has come to form a political ally, a lobbying group, a supporter. Despite my efforts to make intelligence reform a bipartisan issue, nearly all of the articles I've written have been in conservative media, and most of the meetings I've had with politicians have been with conservatives. Conservatives are quick to acknowledge dysfunction in government bureaucracy.
The difficulty in convincing people on the left of the importance of intelligence reform has been my single major disappointment. It's a shame because for President Obama, the uncertainties lie ahead. His success as a President, and whether he wins a second term or not, will depend, I believe, not on the economy or health care, but the on quality of human source intelligence he receives on threats to national security.
The second important group that can make a difference are journalists: Despite the growth of internet news and talk radio, the New York Times and the Washington Post retain enormous power. Their reporters have developed excellent sources among top CIA managers. These sources illegally provide classified information on such things as torture/interrogations and Iraq WMD intelligence failures, and in exchange these journalists will not attack the CIA's bureaucracy because to do so would be to attack their sources. A member of the Senate intelligence committee told me he met with CIA officials to propose changes to improve clandestine operations and the CIA fought back through a Washington Post column the very next day. In not confronting intelligence reform, journalists who cover the CIA build careers and win prizes, but in doing so the New York Times and the Washington Post, located in America's two primary terrorist target cities, abandon their readers. In order to protect their readers, these newspapers should pay more attention to intelligence reform. Journalists who explore CIA dysfunction are nearly all political conservatives.
I've worked to bring recognition to the fact that the CIA's employees are good people, just poorly led. The CIA's employees are well-meaning, talented, and intelligent. It's just a broken system they work within, a system which must be fixed.
A problem the CIA does not have is attracting talented and intelligent people. Yet it is a problem that the CIA actually claims that it has. In response to criticism or to the latest intelligence failure, CIA management always says it just doesn't have the talent it needs.
CIA Chief George Tenet did it repeatedly after 9/11. CIA Chief Panetta did it shortly after his appointment, and announced plans to go to Michigan to recruit Arab Americans.
But the CIA has always hired good people. These people want to do the best job they can, and if the system were changed, they'd get out and gather the intelligence we need, and they'd start doing it overnight.
Few CIA officers actually speak foreign languages, though most have a latent ability - some training, or a childhood language that hasn't developed. It's just that foreign languages aren't necessary for advancement. Only English is needed at Headquarters and within American embassies.
The CIA's employees are talented and intelligent, and are ready to achieve. But the bureaucracy of the CIA, which over the decades has evolved into a living creature, has other goals. With little operational or financial accountability, and little oversight from politicians and journalists, CIA bureaucracy, like any other life form, seeks to survive and to grow. It's a big, lazy creature, but it has the ability to leap up off its couch and viciously defend itself when it feels threatened. It doesn't like to work hard, but knows that its growth and survival depend on creating the appearance of looking busy. Understanding these characteristics makes it possible to predict its future behavior.
Any CIA operation which is revealed to the public shows these telltale signs: the operation looks busy, a lot of people are involved, and large amounts of money are spent. Often you'll hear the CIA accused of being risk averse. I agree. However, risk aversion is a complex concept. The CIA will sometimes conduct risky operations in order to achieve a more important goal: looking busy. An example of this type of operation is the Abu Omar operation, in which 21 Agency employees flew into Italy to abduct a single terrorist suspect, or as an eminent scholar commented: "21 people to get one fat Egyptian!" a man who was already under the surveillance of the Italian police. The 21 people stayed in five star hotels and chatted with Hqs on open line cell phones, all at great expense and awful tradecraft. But it was a successful operation in that it spent a lot of money, made a lot of people look active, and suggested the CIA's willingness to take risk.
CIA officials are quick to deny that the organization is risk averse by pointing to risky operations that went wrong. This darker, more complex, passive-aggressive aspect of risk aversion seems to say: We can certainly do risky operations, but here's what happens when you make us get off our couch and do them.
Take a look at any CIA activity that is revealed in the future and ask yourself: was this a traditional, inexpensive, operation involving a meeting between a CIA officer and a human source to gather intelligence? Or was this an operation designed to spend a lot of money, to make a lot of people look busy, and to give the appearance that the CIA is willing to take risk?
Whenever we see CIA employees released from bureaucracy, we see success. The tactical intelligence production within Iraq is excellent; the early Afghan campaign, featuring no offices and a flat chain of command, just a few guys and bags of money, was extraordinary.
Readers interested in improving the security of Americans and our allies through intelligence reform can write or call their member of Congress, or set an appointment to meet them at their offices in their home district or in Washington. Every member has a web site containing contact information. They're usually very accessible to constituents.
If you have any clout, any connections to politicians or journalists, talk to them. Send me an email via my web site, www.ishmaeljones.com, if you think they'd be open to talking to me.
In this great country of ours, we solve our problems and we look toward an optimistic future. We will solve the problem of CIA dysfunction, and it will bring:
Safety and security for Americans and our allies.
And our cities protected so we can go about our lives in peace.