What can Americans do to make the government keep the CIA an active force in protecting us? There are far too many people that want this great country to fail. We do not need another 9/11. Thank you for your 30 years of service.
Thank you for your question and your kind words.
Let me say a few things about your questions. First, I think that you and the American people are doing a good job of supporting the CIA and the Intelligence Community. Wise people know that these organizations are made up of patriotic, hard-working employees who are serving their country and trying to do the best job they can to obtain high-quality intelligence and analyze it for the policy-makers. Since the CIA began in 1947, we have grown to an Intelligence Community of over 16 agencies, and I don't know how many people, but plenty! That number is, and should be, classified. So, I think it is safe to say that the U.S. Intelligence Community will survive and continue to provide critical support to our government and its policy-makers.
That said, every effort should continue to be made to prevent leaks from anyone who has access to classified information, whether in the executive or legislative branches of government or from within the Intelligence Community. When leaks occur, the American people should indeed register their concern. During my many years in the CIA, I rarely heard of a leak, a revelation, anything that suggested that classified information was getting out to the press or into the public domain. If and where this has happened in recent years, reforms should be put in place. The bottom line for me would be that anyone who has leaked information should have his or her clearance revoked, no matter what level.
As for terrorist threats and the possibility of another 9/11, we do live in a dangerous world, and another event is a possibility. The fact that nothing has occurred "yet" does not give me deep comfort, since it took al Qaeda eight years between attacks at the World Trade Center to accomplish their awful mission on 9/11. I do believe we are more knowledgeable about international terrorism and specific terrorist groups than we were before 9/11, and we are also much more reactive than we were then. In addition, our coordination within and among all U.S. intelligence organizations has been brought up to date. The worry is that it just takes a small group of deeply ill-intentioned individuals with weapons - biological or nuclear - to create another event. We have to work to isolate hostile terrorist elements and to contain the movement and flow of nuclear and biological and chemical weapons. I am confident the U.S. Intelligence Community is focused on this!
Is it possible that, within the US intelligence network, a rogue group of officers could take over our country? Are there enough protections within the agencies to prevent that? And finally, do you see anything strange going on right now with the new president and his actions?
Thank you for your question. I am a devotee of 24, but I think you should rest assured that a rogue group of officers from within the Intelligence Community neither could nor would take over our country. The clearance process is extensive, and the clearances of all personnel at the CIA are updated on a continuing basis. Further, personnel work together closely. It would be all but impossible for a rogue group to form without its coming to the attention of someone within the organization. There is a lot of overlap and interconnection, even though everyone works within the “need to know” of their own area of focus. There have certainly been rogue agents, such as Rick Ames of the CIA and Robert Hanssen of the FBI. They are rare cases, but they have both been prosecuted and are in prison now. I don't think there is even a shred of evidence of “a rogue group of officers” trying to overthrow our government ever in the history of U.S. Intelligence.
Regarding the President, I want to note that the CIA is apolitical and does not engage in policy-making. It is an intelligence collection and analysis organization, and it reports to the President of the United States. I do not see anything strange going on with the new president and his actions. As with all presidents, he has been elected to pursue a set of policies that cover our national security and he relies heavily on U.S. intelligence in formulating those policies.
Thank you for your questions and interest in American intelligence. I just wanted to take a minute to say that I have received a number of questions which are political in nature, specifically questions about President Obama's birth certificate, about possible martial law in the U.S., and others. Though I'd love to offer my comments on every political topic imaginable, it is not for me to do. I write only about American intelligence. The CIA is an apolitical organization. It reports to the executive branch of the government, and its mission is to "collect" and "analyze" intelligence for the policymakers. Tempting as it is to believe – and to read – otherwise, the CIA collects and analyzes. It does not make policy, and it is not a political organization.
Thank you for your questions. Answers to other questions are on their way.
What is your opinion of the release of the so-called torture memos? Will this hurt or hinder CIA operatives in the future?
As you know from all the media coverage of this topic, it is complex and deeply challenging. If I could give one answer, I would say that I believe the United States of America should operate within the framework of the Geneva Conventions – or, if not, develop with other nations a new accord which would work in this era of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. We are, after all, the world's great experiment in democracy, a land of high ideals and morality. And we do not want to lose that ground.
That said, it is hard to imagine what any of us would do if we were President and had access to captive terrorists with seemingly direct knowledge of al Qaeda (or other terrorist) plans, capabilities and intentions. There is no easy answer, but overall, I believe we should operate within an internationally accepted standard of conduct, particularly when the evidence remains slim that torture produces accurate information.
Thank you for your question.
I came across your column on the Family Security Matters website and I wanted to ask you about the CIA.
I really want to become an operations officer like you are because I want to serve my country, but I also know the selection process is very competitive. What skills can I develop that would make the CIA interested in recruiting me? Specifically, what kind of language and technology skills are useful? And what types of physical training would be good preparation for training received at the Farm?
Thanks for your time! I hope to hear from you soon.
Jenny Liu (Connecticut)
Thanks for your question. The CIA (I call it the “Agency”) continues to look for people in the critical human intelligence (HUMINT) field, which is the field of the operations or case officer.. As you have no doubt read or heard on the media, the Agency is in the process of significantly expanding its ops officer corps, so this is an excellent time for you to think about applying.
In terms of skill sets, I think it is safe to say that you would want to have a foreign language capability in Arabic, Chinese, or any of the South Asian languages—and/or substantive area expertise. In today's world, significant emphasis is being placed on those geographic areas due to the terrorism and nuclear proliferation issues.
In addition, you will want to have "people skills," the ability to meet people and develop relationships. I'm sure you have a sense of adventure, or you wouldn't even have sent me the question. But, remember as well, that you will probably have to "serve time" between overseas assignments in the great bureaucracy at Headquarters in the Washington area.
As far as the physical aspects of training, I would say that basic athletic skills--are you a runner?--will serve you well, but don’t worry too much about that at this time, just send a resume that describes your background, skills/talents and versatility.
If you're ready to apply now, contact the CIA website at www.cia.gov , which has the information you need for the application process. They will eventually recontact you--if they are interested in your resume/background. It’s a pretty straightforward application process. The only negative is that you don’t really get notified if there is no interest.
Let me know how it goes and best of luck.
Can you explain, in specifics, the difference between INFORMATION and INTELLIGENCE in the world of espionage and how, if, they would differ from their respective meanings in the business world?
Walter – Illinois
Thank you for the excellent question. I had a strange experience earlier in my career when I met with a potential agent and needed to identify myself to him by “breaking cover,” that is, by letting him know that I was an intelligence officer, not the business person that I claimed to be. So, I confidentially told him that I was “in intelligence.” Not grasping my meaning, he curtly responded that I seemed to be extremely self-confident. I suddenly realized he had no idea what I was really saying and thought that I was bragging to him that I was “intelligent.” Well, I did get that straightened out, but it surely points up the trouble in using that word, “intelligence.”
I view “intelligence” as a subcategory of “information,” the latter being the broad field of obtaining and communicating knowledge. “Intelligence”—and I mean of course intelligence in its national security context—is the area of knowledge that covers information that is essentially clandestine—obtained largely via covert methods and maintained within classified channels.
As you are probably aware, there are many layers of “intelligence,” the reason for so many different classification levels—from “Official Use Only,” through “Top Secret,” up into the highly classified signals and communications intelligence sectors. But each of these fields is defined by the fact that it is classified—that the information is obtained using discreet and protected sources and methods. In short, “intelligence” is “information” which is not in the public domain.
Within the intelligence world, there is a category which is referred to as “open source” material. This is in fact information which is obtained by intelligence analysts as part of their background research on a specific topic, but it is essentially information that is openly available, in the media or public documents.
You mentioned the business world. Today companies are increasingly turning to former intelligence and law enforcement officers to help them assess security risks to their business and/or clients. A number of companies have developed in the past two decades which are dedicated to providing these services for private firms. In the past few years, in particular, such companies and services have proliferated. I myself would not refer to the product they obtain strictly as “intelligence” because it does not involve national security. But to the companies concerned, the subjects they want security consultants to review are important to them and generally involve company-sensitive or “proprietary” information.
Suffice it to say that “intelligence” is always classified and tightly held. CIA and other intelligence officers refer to their product as “intelligence.” You would rarely hear one say, I just got some good “information.” “Intelligence” is definitely an inside word!
Over the last three decades intelligence agencies in the United States have shifted from human to electronic intelligence gathering. That has meant fewer people on the ground and many more remote eyes and ears scanning the globe. Would you discuss the value of each method of intelligence gathering and share with us your thoughts, especially in the aftermath of the London terrorist bombings, on whether the current, operational balance between the two is an appropriate one. Put more simply, might security agencies benefit more from doing more of their business "the old-fashioned way?"
Tahlman - Ohio
HUMINT or SIGINT/COMINT? Human Intelligence or Signals and Communications Intelligence, with all of their high technology cousins. Where do we spend our intelligence budget and where should we be spending it? The early July terrorist tragedy in London is a stark reminder of the critical need of HUMINT.
You are absolutely right that there has been a significant focus on science and technology (S&T) intelligence, particularly in the 1990’s. It’s pretty hard not to be impressed by the S&T collection sources and methods the U.S. has developed in recent decades. Some of these are among the most sensitive and highly classified of all US Government military and intelligence programs.
I myself would come out of a “high tech” briefing absolutely dazzled by the incredible, sophisticated equipment and programs described. I honestly have to say that the S&T efforts represent some of the most impressive and advanced technologies ever known to man. I myself could only understand portions of any of them. I used to imagine that we would someday be able to place a microchip in a Politburo meeting and then read the results from a remote locale in outer space. And I used to wonder if HUMINT would eventually be replaced by these sophisticated, advanced and highly secret programs. Perhaps it would all be the world of James Bond’s M.
But, when it is all said and done, the most important information we can obtain comes from human beings, a fairly small number of human beings who are making decisions that are hostile to Americans/American allies and U.S. interests. The only way to know what these people are thinking and planning is to get to them, one human being to another. This is the core of HUMINT. It too is a very complex field, since of course it is not easy to identify, locate and then get direct access to a terrorist, for example. But, it is the only way available to date that will allow us to get the answers to the critical questions of the plans and intentions of hostile elements.
As recent history bears out, it has been profoundly challenging to get to the individuals who are planning heinous acts. Clearly, it would have been invaluable to us to have had direct access to Saddam Hussein when he was in power or to any of his key cabinet or staff who might have had any information on Iraqi plans and intentions, much less, Iraqi weapons programs. And of course I mean the kind of access that would have made him want to trust and confide in us. Indeed, all of our lives would have been changed if we had been able to get to and recruit any of the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, even though each would have had only limited knowledge of the overall plan.
There has been a huge debate within the Intelligence Community and the halls of Congress about where and how to spend the intelligence budget. Even though the budget itself remains classified, it is now quite well known that only a very, very small percentage of the budget goes to HUMINT. But as you have probably read, Congress and the intelligence and 9/11 Commissions have given serious consideration to putting more money into HUMINT. The last two Directors of Central Intelligence have urged Congress to allot more money to the expansion and virtual rebuilding of the HUMINT capabilities of the CIA in particular.
The bottom line is that we must use and expand all of our capabilities, human and technological. But as 9/11, and now the horrific bombings in London have shown, to prevent terrorist acts, we must identify the people who are planning them, get access to them and then learn their plans and intentions. HUMINT is at the core of this critical search for information. Ultimately, the only way that 9/11, the Madrid and London bombings could have been prevented is if we had had human sources who could provide us the invaluable information we needed to prevent these awful acts.
I was struck by the seeming parallel between your former role and that of Valerie Plame, the deep cover CIA operations officer, who you referred to in your article "What's in a name?"
So a couple of questions, please:
You described, like Ms Plame, working under cover with your 'psuedo' and 'alias' protecting you. Were you then a clandestine CIA 'Non Official Cover' (NOC) operative?
Secondly, Ms Plame, (Mrs Joseph Wilson) was married and had the cover of a 'housewife'. If, as I assume, you are married, how did you manage with being both a 'housewife' and leading the colorful life of a spy? Did your husband know what you were up to? How did he cope with a woman who was constantly practising deceit?
Garry - Arkansas
What an informed question you ask. You sound very knowledgeable. Actually I was not a non-official cover (NOC) officer. I was usually under what is called “official cover,” which means that I was always a U.S. Government employee in my assignments in the Field, as well as when I worked in Headquarters.
While in the Field, however, I had numerous occasions where I used a “business cover”, which means that I a short term identification with a company where I used an alias and an alias identity. In those cases I was assigned an alias name and then would create a story that I could support and work with, but which would also provide me some access to my potential target. I would help to structure those so that they would fit with aspects of my life, personality and skill set.
Just to be clear, we never ever use a US business without the explicit approval of the committing official of the company involved!
As I said in an earlier article, my pseudonym (pseudo) was only used in written correspondence within the Agency. A pseudo, as opposed to an alias, is just a written name. It is a method we use to protect our true identities in case of an exposure of a classified document, which of course shouldn’t happen. Just another layer of protection in this appropriately complex and layered intelligence business.
Regarding Valerie Plame, my understanding is that while serving in the Field, she was under deep cover, which would not be U.S. Government. Of course I don’t know what her personal plans are or were, but if, as a current employee she were sent overseas, even on a brief assignment, she would need cover of some sort. The public revelation of her identity by American media essentially took that option away for her, regardless of where she lives or to whom she is married.
The whole idea of “housewife” cover was something I had suggested some 30 years ago, early on in my career and when I was married. The idea was pretty innovative at the time and also a non-starter. I doubt very much if Valerie Plame ever used “housewife” cover, but I suspect the Agency is much more creative in approaching cover today with so many working women now accepted in the professional workplace.
In my own case, I married a colleague who was also a case officer. That made it easy in terms of his knowing what I did and vice versa. However, it was virtually impossible to get a joint assignment overseas, particularly since housewife cover was not an option. So, you can probably see that I ended up single again. There was no deceit, but there was also no joint assignment, sad to say.
You are right that it is difficult if the “significant other” is not an Agency employee. These days, the spouse gets a general clearance or approval, so that there is not really the ugly issue of deceiving one’s spouse.
I will say that it is difficult to date “outsiders” for the very reason you say, and indeed over the years, I have found that I cannot have much of a career discussion with anyone outside my old business. That’s why I retired as an “overt” employee when my chance finally came.
Thanks, Garry. Regards from Willa
I was watching the History Channel (sadly, can't remember the show), and there was a former CIA guy on there (face in the shadow) who grudgingly admitted that the complex shaped charge bomb used on the USS Cole was built using Iraqi explosives and the design was "tutored" by the IIS. Louis Freeh's book, MY FBI, confirms Russia made the explosives, and Russian media says the explosives were Russian that had been sold to Iraq (Freeh's book seems to support this as well). FOIA attempts have failed-no surprise. What do you know about IIS involvement in the bomb for the USS Cole?
George in South Carolina
Thanks for your question. That’s a good one, and dicey. First, I do respect the History Channel! But, I am very careful what sources I listen to in these interviews, since I like to make my own assessment of the person being interviewed. Basically, I don’t think many retired CIA officers are going to report in the public venue what would essentially be classified information. In spite of all the leaks and stories out there, retired operations officers are loathe to reveal classified information, much less to breach their security commitment.
That said, there is a great deal of info in the public domain about the bombing of the USS Cole, and I think the respected analysts have been pretty good on this. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh is a pretty good source! Overall, on this one the Al Qaeda link works for me!