Saturday, September 27, 2008

The CIA’s Greatest Weakness

Jamie Glazov | 9/26/2008

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ishmael Jones, a former member of the Central Intelligence Agency. He joined the agency in the 1980s, where he served as a deep cover officer focusing on human sources with access to intelligence on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. His assignments included more than fifteen years of continuous overseas service in numerous exotic countries and several rogue nations. He resigned from the CIA in good standing. Ishmael Jones is a pseudonym, in accordance with laws that make it a felony to reveal the true names of deep cover officers. He is the author of the new book, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture. It is the first book written by a deep cover CIA officer.

FP: Ishmael Jones, welcome to Frontpage.

Jones: Thanks for having me and thanks for the forum you provide.

FP: We’re here today to discuss your efforts to reform the CIA. How’s it going?

Jones: I believe we have a tremendous national security weakness because the CIA’s clandestine service does not do its fundamental mission of providing human source intelligence on hostile nations and terrorist organizations. It’s our greatest weakness, and it opens the US and allies to our primary threat, nuclear attack.

During the last few weeks, I traveled to Washington, DC, and met more than 30 people involved in the intelligence field, including members of Congress, members of congressional staffs, and academics in think-tanks.

It was gratifying to learn that nearly everyone I met considered human source intelligence to be vital, and recognized that the CIA does not provide the intelligence we need.

My expectations were low, so I was pleased to hear that the threat and the problem are widely acknowledged.

FP: That’s nice to hear. But what can be done to defend against the threat of nuclear weapons? Can anything be done to fix poor performance in the CIA’s clandestine service?

Jones: Well, that’s where things become rather dark and gloomy. The problem with the CIA is that it lacks accountability, and the CIA uses secrecy to hide its performance. Secrecy is, of course, important to protect operations and identities when conducting clandestine operations, but the CIA instead uses secrecy to hide from accountability.

While the CIA is unable to run effective human source operations, it has a raptor-like efficiency when it comes to defending itself and its growth.

The CIA tells Congress that it doesn’t have the talent it needs and requires more time and more money to develop that talent. The CIA tells Republicans that restrictions placed on it by Democrats in the 1990’s, restrictions which prevented contact with some criminal elements, combined with budget cuts by Democrats in the 1990’s, hampered it greatly. Then, the CIA tells Democrats about hostile interrogations practices and wiretapping, which have become issues of great partisan concern.

These are examples of smokescreens and distractions. Because of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans, Congress has been unable to pass an intelligence bill for several years now. As I understand it, without a bill, Congress has little power to influence the CIA. The money just keeps coming in each year, and Congress is unable to influence what happens with the money or to demand any accountability. As long as the CIA can encourage partisan political conflict, it can get all the money it wants with little oversight. Even when the bill is passed, I question whether much will change at the CIA, but every bit of accountability helps.

For example, the CIA has been given more than $3 billion to place its officers in foreign countries, outside of the embassy system. This money has now been spent, wasted or stolen, much of it through contracting companies controlled by former CIA employees, with no result: no additional officers overseas. Congress knows about this, and Congress can talk to the CIA about it, but without a bill there’s no bite behind Congress’s bark.

FP: That’s a serious charge you’re making. You’re saying that in this specific instance, the CIA has stolen or wasted $3 billion in just one specific program.

Jones: The lack of accountability, combined with secrecy, means there’s no mechanism to deal with fraud and waste. If I witness a bank robbery, for example, I can contact the police and the FBI and I know they’ll get right on it. But there’s no 911 number to call for CIA fraud and waste, no police, ombudsman, inspector, no general accounting office, nowhere that charges can be filed and investigated.

Secrecy also means the CIA can avoid public pressure. Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere was blocked with the help of public pressure. The CIA has dozens of pork projects, dozens of Bridges to Nowhere, enriching current and former employees, but these are kept secret from the public.

That’s why I’m meeting people, to raise awareness, to draw publicity to the problem. That’s the purpose of my book.

FP: Congress should respond to public pressure. What can it do?

Jones: Congress should resist being distracted by sideshow issues like interrogations and wiretapping. The CIA needs to do fundamental human source intelligence gathering, which does not depend on either of those issues. Congress should avoid partisan conflict and pass an intelligence bill, which would give it better oversight over the CIA.

Congress should also ban the lobbying of its members and permanent staff members of the congressional intelligence committees by CIA contractors. These lobbyists put pressure on Congress to maintain pork projects within the intelligence budget. And as the CIA grows within the United States, it becomes an influential constituent in an increasing number of congressional districts. I estimate that more than 90% of CIA employees now live and work in the US. I would be happy to be challenged on this figure.

Former CIA employees now working in Congress or for think-tanks tend to have a good understanding of the issues I raised. Agreement from within the CIA’s ranks is unlikely, though, because they’re all making too much money. A retired middle manager can easily take $250,000 a year from the government for an eight hour day, and ambitious retired senior managers, by forming contracting companies, can take tens of millions of dollars. As the wealth of these individuals and their companies has grown, so has their power and ability to lobby Congress.

So my effort is quite lonely compared to what the CIA can do. The ability of Congress to turn off the money flow will be difficult to achieve. The intelligence budget, as disclosed by the CIA, is $44 billion, and so that’s a lot of wealth being created.

Unfortunately, the lobbying power of the CIA and its profit-making entities is much greater than the lobbying power of supporters of Israel. Because of the AIPAC espionage scandal, supporters of Israel are sensitive to any accusation that their loyalties are divided, and they are steering clear of involvement in intelligence issues. This is a shame because an effective CIA clandestine service could really add to Israel’s security in this critical time. It’s not a question of whether one supports Israel or not; preventing nuclear attack on Israel is in the interest of Americans and all free people.

FP: Did the creation of a new Office of the Director of National Intelligence improve intelligence collection?

Jones: We had our chance to introduce intelligence reform after 9/11 but we blew it. The only major change after 9/11 was the creation of the DNI and this proved to be the insertion of many additional layers of bureaucrats into the intelligence apparatus. This was the worst thing which could have been done, because the intelligence apparatus is already hobbled by too many layers of bureaucrats.

Recently, I learned that the DNI staff has grown to over 2000 people. No-one I met in Washington thought these 2000 people served a useful purpose. If even a dozen of them were instead sent to foreign assignments as intelligence officers, it could dramatically improve national security.

FP: Eventually there must be a solution. What will it be?

Jones: Both McCain and Obama are candidates of change. Perhaps the next president will arrive with a mandate of change and will be able to reform the bureaucracy most in need of change.

Greater control over foreign intelligence collection by the US military will ultimately be the solution. The US military is an accountable organization and it will be capable of fulfilling the intelligence mission.

FP: Ishmael Jones, thank you for joining Frontpage.

Jones: Thank you.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at


Anonymous said...

I fully disagree with the author of your article. I don't believe that with some one like Mike Hayden CIA Director in charge that this much fraud would go on Mike Hayden has a long track record ethical behavior! Regards, Steven O Shaw, BBA, LUTCF, MSM, MSFS. Wenatchee Washington.;

GS Don Morris, Ph.D./Chana Givon said...

I truly appreciate your opinion and thank you for sharing. I would welcome a rebuttal article by you, I will then post it-all the best-doc

Unknown said...

The CIA would function in the way it should if officials holding their leashes didn't have souls geared toward profit and favor. But the politicians concerned with their "money ties" would no longer be favor if they began supporting the CIA's efforts to take active measures instead of the passive and observatory policy they have now.

Unknown said...

I disagree and have a "conspiracy theorists" approach to this matter. Please keep in mind that this is coming from an honorable ("yet") 18 year old passionate patriot with a "black or white" perspective on life and politics.

I believe the CIA would function in the way it should if the "cherry wood desk" officials holding the "average agency member's" leashes didn't have minds geared toward marginal profit and political favor. But the politicians concerned with the "money ties" would no longer be favor if they began supporting the CIA's efforts to take active measures instead of the observatory and nearly passive policy they have now. I believe the problems we are seeing today are a product of a shift in ideals on the side of the individuals holding the money used to feed certain programs that, if properly funded, would bring about the changes that would bring us to resolve.