CIA Leviathan Wakes Up and Hunts Ishmael

Word came early last week from the Washington Times and Washington Post, while I was away on vacation, that Ishmael Jones, pseudonymous author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture would be sued for breaking his secrecy oath.

I reviewed Jones’ 2008 book here on chicagoboyz in April, and followed it up more recently with a late September review of a similar book by Canadian “Michael Ross” on his time with Mossad.

I found both books surprisingly revelatory about the organizational culture of these two intelligence organizations, but found little that would interest the James Bond crowd, or be of much value operationally to foreign governments.

Jones’ book was by far the most damning, however, because he illustrated (with incidents from his own deep-cover career) the extent to which the CIA now operates for its own bureaucratic benefit with minimal attention to its central mandate – gathering actionable intelligence. All the most virulent criticisms of the Tea Party against big government are understatements when it comes to how national security has been subordinated to the HR nostrums of the day at CIA. Jones effectively outlined how “the emperor has no clothes.” Not so much inept as indifferent. As someone operating under “deep cover” in the clandestine branch, away from the support and comforts of consular life, he was certainly qualified to note the career paths and day-to-day obsessions of the “home office” and his colleagues. While he didn’t name names, he described enough duplicity and lassitude in the CIA’s management and staffing to earn the undying enmity of “tap dancers” and “clock watchers” alike.

Most notably, Jones outlined in some detail how the vast number of clandestine officers that were supposedly hired and deployed by the CIA post 9/11 (at huge expense) were posted to the continental US. Numbers were further bulked up by counting support staff as “officers.” Meanwhile, CIA clandestine officers already in the field overseas at the time were being methodically hindered and removed to avoid bureaucratic risk. Jones contrasted this institutional predilection with his time in Iraq as part of a team of intelligence agents (largely Army).

Apparently the Panetta CIA will now conduct lawfare against one of its own, after having done so much to limit his success when he was overseas secretly working on WMD proliferation. No good deed goes unpunished. Execute the messenger when the news is bad.

It’s still early days in the legal matter. I’ve not seen any indication that Jones’ legal team has formed a strategy for protecting or saving their client. Goodness knows Jones’ pocketbook will necessarily take a massive hit, which may well be the intent of the suit in the first place. Having delayed Jones’ out-of-pocket reimbursements during his active clandestine career (to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars), it’s only appropriate that the CIA’s parting shot would be to take away what they did pay him. Pour encourager les autres.

After risking his life overseas, there’s some irony that his own employers will hold him accountable for leaking their institutional dysfunction, rather than any actual secrets.

Will a change in control of the House mean that the CIA finds itself under Congressional scrutiny for misleading elected representatives about how they were spending billions of dollars? One would imagine that Jones’ defense lawyers will be dropping hints about the potential perjury committed by his CIA managers testifying on the Hill over the last decade. Be a shame if something should happen to all those shiny careers. Horse-trading ahead, I assume.

The intelligence agency that works safest, works not at all. And a CIA entirely based in the US or ensconced behind the walls of embassies can look busy without actually being busy. The current CIA bureaucracy, for entirely understandable reasons, has preferred Potemkin villages and iron rice bowls to aggressive intelligence-gathering. Jones’ misfortune is to have been a witness to it all. I hope this all turns out OK for him.

My mini-book review offers additional details for those with an interest in intelligence organizations.

11 thoughts on “CIA Leviathan Wakes Up and Hunts Ishmael”

  1. A small correction, James. The Agency employees you are referring to are officers. Those foreign individuals whom Agency officers cultivate and pay to disclose information are the agents. Officers get to go home when their cover is blown; agents get bullets to the back of the head.

  2. This tracks with the books by Bob Baer and Reuel Marc Gerecht, which pictured the CIA as largely incompetent. Certainly the story about Valerie Plame shows a level of incompetence and self serving behavior that is depressing.

  3. I hold the cia at the same level of respect as that guy who used to make psychic predictions for the supermarket tabloids periodically.

    Can anyone think of even one major event detrimental to the US that the cia has predicted or had any significant information about? I mean, if I remember correctly, their report on the Soviet Union about a year before it imploded didn’t have an inkling of what was developing, and their highly political report claiming that Iran had abandoned its atomic weapons program has since been withdrawn.

    The only place the cia is even remotely competent and accomplishing big deal clandestine stuff is in the feverish imaginations of the Russian tabloids and TV.

    Here in the real world, they couldn’t tell you which direction to look to see the sun rise tomorrow.

  4. Well, we eventually had to get to something like this. “Vast” numbers of our CIA are stationed in the U.S. because…? When you see Saudi princes killing their lovers in London and Afganistan apparently admitting to taking bags of Iranian money but there is no video, no audio, no report, then you know we’ve reached a stage where the shadow government is running the show. Billions of tax dollars spent and we can’t find a way to mock the most regressive Islamic regime in the world? Fighting for an Islamic Republic but we can’t point fingers at the leaders. The First and Second Amendments are our only hope…for a short while apparently.

  5. Yes…his interview story matches mine. Luckily, the guy who was to recruit me warned me off, which I assume happens a lot.

  6. As with ANY government entity, incompetence rules. These guys couldn’t find their own backside, buck naked, in a room full of mirrors. This is one money sink hole that needs to back filled and sealed. My guess is that the Military has better intelligence resources than these do-nothings. But, like J. Edgar Hoover, these hacks probably have enough dirt on the people that could do something about it that nothing will happen.

  7. gathering actionable intelligence

    Very little strategic intelligence is “actionable.” Almost all of it is atmospherics that are just a cut above open source collection, and the better quality stuff is merely a tiny glimpses behind the scenes – observing a vast carnival by looking at it through a straw, and then issuing a report on what the carnival will be like next year based on what you saw through the straw and what the departing guests looked and smelled like. Tactically actionable intelligence is often available, but it’s time sensitive and it is only valuable to tactical operators, and then its only valuable in the aggregate – you could know where all AQ operators are on a given day, but could you take action against more than a few of them? Within a day your information would be decaying and largely useless. Hence DoD’s vast apparattus, which is largely aimed at things of tactical and military interest. Sometimes that stuff has strategic value, but then only in the aggregate, or for very narrow details (e.g. “human sources confirmed that the pictures of Cuba were indeed Soviet missiles.”) The idea that there’s a vast trove of actionable strategic intelligence out there just waiting to be had if only we had a more aggressive, efficient strategic national intelligence agency is a white whale. It’s like thinking we could game the stock market if only we threw enough analysts at it – flash trades are easy, gaming it strategically over 20 years appears impossible.

    On the other hand, nobody is discussing where we could really make some progress, which is economic espionage. I guess stealing the recipe for improved micro-nuke power plants isn’t as glamorous as the notion of thwarting a rogue state’s war plans…

  8. But, like J. Edgar Hoover, these hacks probably have enough dirt on the people that could do something about it that nothing will happen.

    Nixon found out what happens after he named an outsider to head the FBI.

    Oleg Penkovsky was able to find actionable strategic intelligence and give it to us. Of course, the CIA blew him off so he had to go to the British.

  9. “And a CIA entirely based in the US or ensconced behind the walls of embassies can look busy without actually being busy.”

    As an engineer buddy of mine is fond of saying: “A whole lot of BTUs, but not many foot-pounds.”

    We could wipe the slate and start over and do no worse; CIA can’t get out their own bureaucratically-muddled and corrupted way. Those walls and fences at Langley insure nothing gets in or out, and if someone has the “b@$$s” to expose them, they are pursued. Like the war on poverty with trillions down a rat-hole, how much have we poured into “intelligence” and what is the return on the investment? —-Oh, they can’t tell us for our own good because it is “secret.”

  10. The Whistleblower Protection Act might cover him, but I believe that’s intended for current employees, not former. Let’s hope it applies.

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