Washington Post
Spooking the CIA
By Jim Hoagland
November 21, 2004

America's spies wander in a wilderness of mirrors of their own making.
Baying at their heels are congressional reformers, spurned Iraqi politicians
and a tough new boss with a presidential mandate to whip the CIA into line
or else.

That's Mission Probably Impossible for Porter Goss, who intends to make the
CIA accountable (hooray) for its undeniable serial failures and politically
loyal to the Bush White House (hiss). Goss, the agency's director, needs an
error-free plan. He is poking at a mean snake with a short stick.

The Chinese would use a different animal metaphor: Goss chops off the heads
of chickens to frighten harder-to-get-at monkeys. A former spook and an
ex-House member, Goss has forced out two officials who ran the agency's
covert operations, and he has a clear exit strategy for others who defy or
undercut him.

The ousted officials and/or their admirers at the agency fight back by doing
what they do best: getting their story (and Goss's first operational memo)
into the press, without identifiable fingerprints on the leaks. Schooled in
the black art of camouflaging propaganda for national purposes, they can
adapt the technique for personal aims.

The desire for celebrity and for the wages of spin now burns brightly even
in the shadow world. This became unmistakable when best-selling author and
nonetheless spy Michael Scheuer greeted Goss's appointment by announcing his
resignation from the CIA and referred inquiries "to his publicist," as The
Post reported without a hint of irony, surprise or incongruity.

Deception is a way of life for spies, whose survival depends on lying
fluently. The constant danger is that they will begin lying to friends and
superiors as well as foes, and ultimately to themselves. To grant a power is
to predict its abuse: The agency's manipulations in Iraqi politics are the
latest case in point.

Sen. John McCain hits home by describing the CIA as "dysfunctional" and "a
rogue agency." Goss echoes that judgment in his memo by reportedly saying
that the agency's job is "not [to] identify with, support or champion
opposition to the administration or its policies." The suddenly loquacious
Scheuer said that the agency had been happy to let him oppose the
administration, although, he said, that had not been his intent.

But Goss errs badly in saying that the agency must "support the
administration and its policies in our work." He should rescind that unwise
and unworkable phrase and concentrate instead on his promise to "let the
facts alone speak to the policy-maker."

Well, yes, but which facts? Which policymakers? How loudly? When Clintonites
wanted facts that argued against military retaliation for al Qaeda's bombing
of the USS Cole, such "facts" were shouted at them by the intelligence
community. And when President Bush decided that Iraq's Ahmed Chalabi was
politically inconvenient, the agency gathered facts by making many of them
up and helping splash the most lurid ones on newsmagazine covers.

Bush, Goss and others in command must urgently think through the fact that
the agency whose judgments and tactics they now so distrust gave them Ayad
Allawi, a longtime CIA protege, as Iraq's interim prime minister. Covert
efforts to tip the January elections to Allawi's clique would be a betrayal
of U.S. sacrifices for freedom in Iraq.

For the longer term, Bush must decide how a secret agency dedicated to
deceit can be made compatible with America's open society and with his
promises to bring democracy to the Middle East. That may be the Mission
Impossible on which Bush's ringing declarations about freedom could founder.

Bush would then also wander in the wilderness of mirrors, a phrase that the
CIA's late James Angleton borrowed from T. S. Eliot to describe the
espionage trade. It is a leitmotif for a marvelous new book about spies,
truth and no consequences that Goss should read now, if only for the
author's observation that "Angleton's career supports the theory that the
intelligence profession not only attracts neurotics but produces them."

"Deceiving the Deceivers" argues that British turncoat Kim Philby was not
the KGB spy of the century, as widely believed, but was used in an
ultra-secret British disinformation operation to convince Moscow that it
faced a mighty (but nonexistent) U.S.-U.K. nuclear arsenal at the Cold War's

The author, S.J. Hamrick, a retired U.S. diplomat who was legendary as seer
and analyst in the early days of Africa's independence, is no CIA-basher.
But his historical account speaks to the eternal danger of the spies
treating truth as a pliable bit of tradecraft and of others ever fully
believing them.


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