http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/12/15/opinion/edbrown.php


CIA needs help from real world 
By Art Brown

 
Monday, December 15, 2008 
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 BlackBerrys. 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.

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