Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Decline of the CIA

This essay by GABRIEL SCHOENFELD in the WSJ is absolutely incredible. It clearly, dispassionately and chillingly analyzes what has gone wrong at America's Central Intelligence Agency. After Schoenfeld is done with his analysis, you will begin to understand the dimensions of the problem that Porter Goss is facing. If Goss finds a solution that can fix this agency, it will be an absolute miracle, and he should be nominated for beatification.

Schoenfeld cites two works by former CIA personnel in his discussion. The first is the widely acclaimed "Imperial Hubris" by Anonymous (better known as Michael Scheuer) and the second is Melissa Boyle Mahle, author of "Denial and Deception."

Here is a sample comment or two about the first author by Schoenfeld:

Sentiments like these mark the author of "Imperial Hubris" as something of a political hybrid--a cross, not to put too fine a point on it, between an overwrought Buchananite and a raving Chomskyite. This alone, one might think, should have unfitted him for a high position of trust within the CIA. But that is not the end of it. Even as he lambastes the U.S. from his isolationist position, reserving special fury not only for America's alliance with Israel but for our "hallucinatory crusade for democracy," Mr. Scheuer also swivels to assail Washington for being insufficiently hawkish in waging the war on terror.
"An Unprepared and Ignorant Lunge to Defeat" is how Mr. Scheuer titles his chapter on Afghanistan. What appears to exercise him most is the fact that after September 11, the U.S. waited almost a month to respond to al Qaeda's attacks.


All of which leaves only two questions. How did a person of such demonstrable mediocrity of mind and unhinged views achieve the rank he did in the CIA, and how could so manifestly wayward and damaging a work have been published by someone in the agency's employ? To the second question, at least, an answer of a sort is ready to hand, if one that raises disturbing questions of its own.

Of the emphasis during the Clinton administration on Affirmative Action at the CIA combined with the desire for it to maintain a "risk-averse" position vis a vis the White House (as documented in Denial and Deception" )Schoenfeld writes:

Today, after more than a decade of submission to this powerful tool, CIA employees can take pride in being part of a very inclusive institution indeed. One measure of this, as the agency itself boasts on its Web site, is the number of "affinity groups" it supports within its ranks. There is, for example, the Asian Pacific American Organization, which "assists in recruiting, mentoring, counseling, and monitoring the advancement of Asian American officers to insure that equity is occurring." The Black Executive Board functions to advance the "multicultural environment" and provides guidance "to senior management on all matters affecting recruiting, hiring, retention, networking, assignments, promotions, and career development opportunities." The Hispanic Advisory Council "provides input" on Hispanic issues, while the Native American Council serves as "a champion of diversity in the [CIA] workplace." There is also ANGLE, the Agency Network for Gay and Lesbian Employees, which is "geared toward fostering the principles of diversity and creating opportunities" for the agency's "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered employees."

These, then, have been the fruits of an effort going back well over a decade and consuming a large quotient of the agency's senior-level attention--the same period in which al Qaeda was gathering force and training thousands of Islamists, and when the CIA's overriding need, conspicuously unmet all those years, was the hiring of more officers capable of speaking and reading Arabic.

What it boils down to is that our major intelligence agency became a showcase for the government's affirmative action policies at the expense of actually doing the real intelligence work that might have prepared us for 9/11 and the rise of Islamofascism.

Of course, the decline of the CIA was multifactorial. But the primary rot can be traced to a decade old quest for mediocrity, incompetence and conformity to political correctness. Read the entire article.

Now a confession of sorts. When I first read the Gabriel Schoenfeld article it rekindled memories of my dealings with the CIA while a flight surgeon at NASA. It happened that I was fortunate enough to be one of the people invited on a trip in 1985 to the Soviet Union (the height of the Cold War). It was just after I had been the crew surgeon for a secret DoD space mission. Little did I realize that my participation in that mission was noticed by the Soviet authorities, who could not explain the presence of an otherwise unremarkable and unimportant NASA doctor on a trip of significant political and scientific import(we were the first official visitors permitted into Star City and Russian Mission Control). Of course the Soviets assumed I was a CIA operative.

Naiive as I was, this explanation did not occur to me until it became obvious that one of the young men "assigned" to our group began to take a special interest in me (I guess it wasn't my great beauty or wit that charmed him). At a reception at the Embassy in Moscow, he danced with me, inviting me to secretly accompany him to a dacha not far from Moscow. He asked me a lot of questions and fortunately I was able to readily figure out what was going on (the embassy officials were kind enough to help me out in this regard!) I managed not to divulge any state secrets, but became interesting to the CIA upon my return to the states.

Some years later I returned to the USSR, when they were in the midst of their Afghanistan adventure and stimulated even greater interests in my Russian hosts who invited me to stay beyond the "official" visit I was on (a visa extension was hurridly arranged while on an airplane from Tashkent to Moscow--so that tells you something); and I was then wined and dined by two young gentlemen in an exclusive restaurant near Red Square. When we were all very very drunk, they casually admitted to me that they were KGB and wouldn't I pretty please give them some little tidbit for their masters. I taught them the Wizard of Oz song "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" as we linked arms and danced through an empty Red Square at 2:00 AM. Needless to say, the CIA were very interested in my impressions then, also. It was not long after this last fiasco, that the Soviet Union crumbled (and I assure you, I had nothing to do with it, although the decline of American intelligence probably began with my escapades!)

So ended my career as a not so covert espionage agent. My excitement at all of this attention from both the KGB and the CIA was probably mediated by my love of spy novels and my tendency to occasionally indulge in melodrama (my "histrionic" qualities, if you want the psychiatric term).

But since that time in my life I have been intently interested in the workings of the Intelligence community, and am not surprised in the least at what has been going on in the CIA for the last 15 years or so.

Sad, isn't it, that the superhero spys of Clancy and other writers are just figments of an overactive imagination?

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