VIENNA, Virginia: This is the article I never intended to write. For former CIA officers, the tipping point between debate-generating critique and "if they had only listened to me" pontification is easy to cross, and I had hoped to avoid the latter by simply refraining from attempts at the former. So let's be clear, I am not claiming to have been prescient. It took more than three years outside the agency for me to truly understand its problems and to see a possible solution.
To start with the bottom line, the CIA's human spy business is not answering the hardest questions. How can I know this, three years out of touch with the secret stuff? The answer is simple: because Osama bin Laden is still the head of Al Qaeda. And no one has been held accountable for failing to catch him.
By the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, every serving CIA officer - indeed, every American - knew that the agency had one prime mission: "Get him!" But, after more than seven years and billions of dollars, we have failed. I recognize much has been done to damage Al Qaeda but, make no mistake, no amount of "rendition" of bin Laden lieutenants can mask our failure to bring to justice the man who ordered 9/11.
There are other failures too, less dramatic perhaps but of even greater consequence. The clandestine creep of nuclear know-how threatens to put the worst weapons into the worst hands. If North Korea or Iran, or Shangri-La for that matter, claims the right to develop a nuclear fist, our intelligence services should know every detail about that program. Yet we collectively fail over and over again when North Korea tests a missile or nuclear reactor construction in the eastern Syrian desert come as a surprise. If the CIA's human spy arm was operating as a private business, it would be running at a loss. Think Detroit, not 007.
Why? First, the agency is simply too insular. It does not sufficiently tap into the expertise that exists across the breadth of America. The human spy components of the CIA live in a cocoon of secrecy that breeds distrust of outsiders. This is one reason very few officers have Blackberries. Despite their reputation as plugged-in experts on other countries, many CIA officers do not even have Internet access at their desks. Worse yet, they don't think they need it.
Second, the CIA has a terrible problem with quality control. When I was still there, for example, CIA spies reported on several occasions that Al Qaeda had plans to attack American military bases overseas - in countries that a quick Web search would have shown had no such bases. Quantity outweighed quality as folks in the spy business focused not on accuracy or impact, but on increasing amounts of product.
And that brings us to perhaps the most numbing factor, the lack of performance accountability. In my years in the agency, I cannot recall a single case where anyone was fired for failing to perform. I cannot even remember anyone being demoted. There is no job-threatening penalty for mediocrity. Think of this on Jan. 20, when we're likely to see bin Laden sending an inauguration greeting to the new president.
So let me float a proposal borrowed from the business world. If you want to find answers to the hardest questions, why not reach broadly into the expertise of the country and assemble the best spy team possible?
On Shangri-La's nuclear ambitions, it would probably mean including a few engineers who build our own bombs. They could make sure you understand the missing parts of the puzzle and how those parts may be hidden. You'd also want successful entrepreneurs who know how to make deals in Shangri-La and can point you to others who deal there more often.
It goes further. Good freelance reporters know how to find sources. The expertise of academia could be balanced with a seasoned detective or tough prosecutor adept at turning a crook. The more military the topic, the more military folks you would want on its pursuit. The spy business simply isn't that difficult. It is creativity, judgment and the ability to reach a goal on time that are hard to teach.
The agency would not lure these outside experts with a career or give them ranks or titles. That only breeds the ladder-climbing trap that sees newly minted CIA managers, six months into their assignments, planning how they might climb that next rung. Rather, the agency could compile advisory teams of accomplished Americans for a fixed period of service and then let them return to their respective fields. Their incentive would be the chance to make a real difference, with maybe a decent payment at the end if the project is a success.
Yes, there are some obstacles here. Using "normal" citizens in a covert role could require giving them legal protections that may not exist right now. Getting consensus among policymakers and Congress, and isolating the hard questions from the headlines of the day, will be a difficult challenge. And, more insidiously, wounded institutional pride at the CIA could generate bureaucratic knife-fighting by employees who would rather see the quest fail than give credit to "amateur" operators. The safe bet is that none of this will ever happen.
But is it not worth trying? It would certainly be worth breaking some existing rules if we could really assemble a better spying apparatus from the best parts America has to offer. We couldn't do much worse.
Art Brown, a 25-year veteran of the CIA, was the head of the Asia division of the agency's clandestine service from 2003 to 2005 acting on behalf of the White House Murder Inc., in preparation for the Hariri and the Benazir Buttho murders/assassinations courtesy of the evil association of CIA2/MOSSAD within the infamous White House Murder Inc....
The slowness by which the Bush SS detail responded to the recent shoe-throwing
incident reveals how wide and deep Bush's own incompetence has trickled down
throughout every federal LE agency, not just our own.
Even before Bush was elected in 2000 I have read numerous posts on this website
by people who said our federal LE system would suffer under Bush, just as the
Texas school system suffered when Bush was governor. And just as our federal
school system is now in the same sad and low state of affairs as Texas, which
registered the lowest academic rates of all of our states during Bush's
governorship, our federal LE system shows similar deterioration.
Some are saying that Bush's SS detail reacted slowly because they hate Bush and
wanted to see him clobbered by one of the shoes. Others are saying the SS is too
well trained on immediate and instantaneous responsiveness that only
incompetence and the general 'Duuuuh' mentality trickled down from
"Duuuuh-ble-u" or "Duuuuhbya" has mentality infected even the highly trained
instincts of the SS.
But whichever the truth -- the SS didn't want to respond faster, or the SS was
incompetent -- the incident clearly shows that Bush should not be taking any
more international trips for a very, very long time... and Obama may have to
provide double the number of SS agents to Bush as are assigned to Carter and
As for our agency, we have all witnessed too well how trickle-down incompetence
has affected our leadership. Leonhart has appeared all but paralyzed in her
thinking and decision-making. Let's all be very, very glad we only have another
month remaining in a long, eight year descent into moronic, incompetence, and
idiocy at our agency and national levels.