Monday, August 4, 2008

CIA Veteran Rips Agency, Tests Limits of Right to Publish Without Permission

“ ... 'We probably had more case officers in California than we did in Iraq,' he writes. ... He describes CIA secretaries and security guards having group sex in the Green Zone’s parking lots ... oblivious to surveillance cameras. ...”

Aug. 2, 2008

By Jeff Stein, Congressional Quarterly National Security Editor

A 25-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine service has written a scathing — and unauthorized — account of the spy agency’s management, setting up an unprecedented legal test of former employees’ rights to pen tell-all books.

Writing under the pseudonym “Ishmael Jones,” the author says he wrote “The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture” in order to “improve the system and help it defend ourselves and our allies.”

“I’m ready to take whatever they have to do,” Jones said of his former employer in a telephone interview July 29.

“There is no classified information in the book,” he maintains. He used a pseudonym, he says, because “I was under deep cover for most of my career, so to use my real name might expose people I’ve met.”

Jones (whose true identity has been independently verified) says he is giving any money he earns from the book to the children of a hometown soldier who was killed in Iraq.

But former CIA operative Frank Snepp says Jones is “inviting big trouble” — and he should know.

Snepp bypassed agency censors in 1978 and published a searing, unauthorized memoir of his tour in Vietnam, “Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End, Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam.”

The CIA sued, eventually winning a landmark Supreme Court victory that allowed the agency to confiscate Snepp’s earnings, on the basis that he had violated his employment contract by not submitting his book to CIA censors for clearance.

Jones did something far more dangerous, Snepp thinks, by submitting his manuscript for clearance then “thumbing his nose” at CIA censors because he didn’t like their censorship decisions. “God knows what the hell could happen to him,” Snepp said.

“I did the best I could,” Jones told me. “I sent it to them more than a year ago, and I said, ‘Please tell me what you want taken out of this, or re-written,’ repeatedly. But they disapproved all of it, with the exception of a few sentences. They approved maybe one percent of the book.”

So he went ahead without their clearance, he said.

“Theoretically,” Snepp said, “if the CIA argues he exposed state secrets . . . they could go after him on a criminal basis.”

The same goes for his publisher, Encounter Books in New York. A publicist for Encounter did not respond to an e-mail early last week asking for comment.

Jones, who did a stint as a Marine Corps officer after college, presents a withering portrait of the CIA as suffering from a timid, self-serving bureaucracy that has stifled initiative and failed to recruit meaningful spies.

The CIA has also misled Congress on its spending, he maintains, diverting billions of dollars that were supposed to bolster its spying operations overseas into a dramatic expansion of offices inside the United States.

“It’s been a constant promise to Congress since I joined in the 1980s that we’re going to get out of the embassies. It didn’t mean into the United States,” Jones said. “The billions given to the agency after 9/11 to get case officers out of the embassies were intended to put them overseas,” he said. “And what they’re doing is hiring a lot of people, putting them in training for a very long time, and then they’re stacking them up in U.S. offices.”

“We probably had more case officers in California than we did in Iraq,” he writes.

“What’s happened is the CIA has spent more than $3 billion specifically on fielding officers outside of embassies,” he added, “but has been unable to field a single additional effective officers overseas.”

Jones, fluent in Arabic, was raised in the Middle East, where his father was “a businessman.” He says he spent most of his career living and working in foreign cultures under a false identity, without the protection of a State Department or other official passport.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano dismissed Jones’s book as fiction.

“The Graham Greene version was better,” he said by e-mail late Friday.

Gimigliano declined to speculate on what legal steps the agency might take in response to Jones’s unauthorized book.

The Impression of Working Hard

While it takes up only one chapter in his 384 page book, Jones is merciless in his depiction of the spy agency’s work in Iraq.

He describes a bloated CIA station in Baghdad, where he served for several months in 2006 before calling it quits. The vast majority of the CIA’s estimated 500 employees in Baghdad are support personnel living and working inside the walled-off Green Zone, he said, not case officers out in the field trying to recruit spies.

“The support staff is too big,” he said of Baghdad. “They were working hard and they meant well, but most of them didn’t need to be there. I thought we were creating a huge number of people there so we could tell Congress we had X number of people stationed in Iraq, but most of them were support.”

“Less than 15 percent of the employees we had in Iraq were case officers,” he writes in the book, “meaning that less than 15 percent were qualified to gather intelligence. The rest were for support: the chow hall workers, secretaries, security guards, and operations support people, such as analysts, information technology specialists, reports officers, and people who handled technical intelligence gathering systems.”

Jones didn’t put a figure on the number of CIA personnel in Baghdad, but said it “was greater than the number of people the agency had stationed in Vietnam at the height of the war, and the large numbers gave the impression that the agency was working very hard.”

Most of them were young, getting their feet wet in the war zone. For the majority of CIA bosses back home, he said, a tour in Baghdad or Afghanistan “wasn’t a great career move.”

“They avoided serving in a war zone.”

Jones cut corners to get to Baghdad, which enraged his bosses. Why did he go, when he could have avoided it at the end of a long career?

Dodging Iraq was “kind of beyond what my mentality was,” he said, “which is that I perceive myself as a tool to produce intelligence for the president to make decisions.”

Jones has plenty of policy prescriptions for reforming the spy service, but “The Human Factor” is far from a dry policy tome.

He describes CIA secretaries and security guards having group sex in the Green Zone’s parking lots, for example, oblivious to surveillance cameras.

“All of the culprits were identified and sent home,” he writes, but not before “senior employees got to watch the video the next day.”

Meanwhile, he describes some agency managers as obsessed with finding pornography on an employee’s computer, which could be a firing offense, no matter his value to the agency. When one longtime, high quality employee fought back, Jones said, his supervisor spread the false rumor that the man had child pornography on his computer. He quit.

The book is replete with the kind of quirky characters — the good, the bad, the ugly — that the spy agency has customarily tolerated, and needed.

One is his no-nonsense Hispanic CIA sidekick in Baghdad, who frequently ignored agency guidance and told his Iraqi informants to “cut the bullshit.” It worked.

The CIA did have a few talented case officers with good operations in Iraq, Jones said, mostly young people.

But they were rare. He himself was able to get some decent intelligence from Iraqi informants about impending terrorist attacks or the location of roadside bombs, he says.

But the system valued “industrial” production over quality, he writes.

“Some people had enormous output; a few, although they sat at their desks for twelve hours, had none . . . Sending e-mail to friends throughout the organization was a common time-waster. If anyone giggled while sitting at his desk, it was a safe bet he was ‘instant-messaging’ with a friend in the agency. If two people giggled alternately, it usually meant they were sending messages to each other.”

But Jones saves his hottest anger for what he describes as self-dealing CIA managers who, he says, have avoided or mismanaged clandestine operations around the globe.

Since 9/11, he writes, many CIA “mandarins” (its most senior officials) have retired from the agency to “get rich” as private contractors with their old employer. And they’re not being replaced by people with on-the-ground counterterrorism experience, he says, despite the agency’s constant ballyhoo about gearing up for “the long war” against terrorist groups.

The younger people who volunteered for Baghdad duty, Jones said, often confided their hopes about parlaying their wartime experience into managerial jobs back in Washington, where they could lead a wiser, battle tested agency into the future.

It’s not happening yet, said Jones, who has stayed in touch with agency friends since his retirement two years ago. “It looks sort of like business as usual.”

It’s sad, he says.

“I liked everybody I met and talked to there,” Jones reflected. “I thought they were just the greatest. But if they had any weaknesses, it was a certain cluelessness about how to advance in the organization.”

Jeff Stein can be reached at

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