Printer Friendly

Lost agency: CIA must return to its roots to become effective once again.

In 1942, as the United States went to war with brutal and fanatical foes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the creation of the first civilian intelligence collection organization in U.S. history.

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), under the brilliant direction of its first and only leader, Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan, performed legendary service throughout World War II from the jungles of Burma to the mountains of Norway and into the heart of the Third Reich, itself.

At the advent of the Cold War, the OSS became the Central Intelligence Agency--and the CIA morphed into a large, lumbering bureaucracy.

Almost seven decades after the birth of this civilian intelligence agency, we need to go back to the beginning--to a lean, flexible, imaginative organization trained and equipped to confront our nation's enemies. We need a new OSS.

The office in 1942 was an organization built in the image of Donovan, himself, and staffed by what he called his "glorious amateurs." Occasional failure was accepted as the cost of doing business. Inactivity was not. Donovan told bis agents that it they fell, "they should fall forward." Within the OSS were Army paratroopers and regular military officers. There were also former communists, actors, professional athletes, bankers, lawyers and socialites. Probably the single most effective OSS operative was a one-legged woman named Virginia Hall, who operated inside occupied France disguised as a peasant despite continuous, ruthless efforts by the Gestapo to hunt her down.

The OSS adopted a simple operational methodology: it did whatever it took to acquire the intelligence the nation desperately needed. Across the world it penetrated embassies, recruited foreign diplomats and stole secrets to intercept the official communications of hostile nations. The intelligence acquired was important, but it was not enough, and so the OSS also sent operatives deep into occupied territory under a variety of non-official covers to steal secrets, conduct sabotage and make contact with resistance groups. The dividends paid were enormous, but so were the costs. OSS agents caught by the Germans were lucky it they were killed quickly. Donovan knew what price his people would pay for acquiring the intelligence the nation needed. The men and women of the OSS understood exactly what sacrifices they would have to make.

After a hiatus following the end of the war, the OSS was reborn in 1947 as the Central Intelligence Agency. We were now in a global confrontation with the Soviet Union. We needed intelligence officers overseas, and we needed them in large numbers. The Red Army's plans for an invasion of Western Europe were of intense concern, so were Soviet efforts to undermine the government of Italy, to form new relationships with African nations and to sell arms to India.

Most CIA agents were sent to nations that were generally supportive of our efforts. Cover was not a concern in most cases. The West Germans and Thais did not spend huge amounts of time trying to identify and expel U.S. intelligence officers. We moved--as the OSS had--with the understanding that the CIA would do whatever it took to acquire the intelligence the nation needed. That meant deploying large numbers of officers under official cover to focus on countering the actions of Soviet personnel who were also operating under official cover.

This long, almost ritualized confrontation--a significant element of the Cold War--dragged on for decades. It was a tough, shadowy war, but one in which the rules became well known and were generally religiously observed. Spies might be caught. They were rarely killed. A bad day meant some period of questioning by the other side and then deportation as persona non grata. We did not target Russians for lethal action. They did not target us.

By the mid to late 1980s, this war was coming to ah end. The Soviet Empire was beginning its slow-motion disintegration. New dragons--terrorism, drug smuggling and nuclear proliferation-were coming to the fore. These emerging targets did not lend themselves to attack using the methodologies of the Cold War.

Officers under official cover were not well placed to recruit operatives who could penetrate organizations such as Hezbullah. Personnel trained and equipped to work diplomatic targets were not conditioned psychologically or physically to deal with the dangers inherent in operating against armed groups which were prepared to use murder and torture as tools of the trade.

It was time for radical change. Justas the OSS had reinvented itself into the CIA of the 1950s, it was now necessary for the CIA of the Cold War to transform into something capable of handling emerging threats. The moment had come for our premier human intelligence agency to shift form once again.

It did not happen.

The organization, which had begun life as the free-wheeling, rule-breaking, and eclectic mix of "amateurs" in 1942 had calcified into another, large, ponderous federal bureaucracy. The OSS decided what intelligence needed to be acquired and then did whatever it could to get it. Its methodology was driven by the requirement.

The CIA that had emerged decades later now worked the problem backward. it began by stating its methodology, as if it were a given, and then looked to see what intelligence it could acquire via these mechanisms. Officers who had spent their entire careers working abroad under official cover and in confrontation with other generally civilized adversaries had no intention of moving into the business of penetrating hostile, lethal, ruthless drug cartels and terrorist organizations.

The predictable happened. We began to experience catastrophic failures. In Lebanon, we lost the Marine barracks and the embassy. The CIA provided no warning. Hostages were taken and held with impunity. Time passed. The failures became more frequent and more damaging. We lost two embassies in East Africa. The USS Cole was attacked. Again, the CIA provided no warning. Then came the 9/11 attacks. Shortly thereafter, a war was launched against Iraq based on catastrophically wrong intelligence assessments.

It has been seven years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and Osama Bin Laden remains at large.

Within the CIA, nothing fundamentally has changed. New bureaucratic entities have cropped up. More lines have been drawn on wiring diagrams. More requirements for coordination have been put in place. Meetings and PowerPoint presentations have multiplied. None of dais compensates for a failure to collect the necessary human intelligence in the first place.

The issue is not sloth. Nor is it a lack of dedication. The CIA continues to attract large numbers of resolute, patriotic Americans.

The organization has degenerated into a stiff, risk-averse bureaucracy due to abysmal senior leadership and a lack of political support.

Donovan told his people to fall forward if they fell. He tolerated failure when inevitable, because he knew in a risky business things often went awry. Today's CIA lives by the unofficial mantra. "Big ops. Big problems. Little ops. Little problems. No ops. No problems." Donovan would roll in his grave every time it is uttered.

Since 9/11, everything we have done in the interest of so-called "intelligence reform" has carried us in exactly the wrong direction as far as human intelligence is concerned. Yet more layers of supervision and bureaucracy have been stacked on top of an already inflexible apparatus. The CIA is becoming less capable of doing the nation's business, as if caught in some self-perpetuating death spiral.

It's not that on Sept. 10, 2001, we wern't conducting enough meetings or preparing enough long-term strategic plans. The problem was that we weren't running the necessary sources inside al-Qaida to tell us the intentions of that organization. Human intelligence is not collected by staffs, offices or other bureaucratic creations. it is acquired by small number of highly creative individuals, freed of restraints and limitations, and turned loose to do the impossible.

At the end of World War II, Kermit Roosevelt wrote the official history of the OSS in an attempt to record for future generations the lessons learned. On the first page of the manuscript, he wrote: "Secret intelligence, sabotage and subversion could not be run along standard military or bureaucratic lines. In the handling of agents the human element was primary, and it was discovered many times over that a few individuals who combined understanding of this factor with imagination in operations and objectivity in evaluating results could produce far better intelligence than could larger staffs which attempted to work on a more regular, more bureaucratic of more military basis."

We don't need to add more layers of supervision, oversight and coordination to the process of collecting human intelligence. We need a new OSS.

Charles Faddis is a retired CIA operations officer and former head of the agency's WMD terrorism unit. He is the co-author of "Operation Hotel California," and president of the consulting firm Orion Strategic Services, LLC. All material contained in this article was cleared in advance by the CIA.
COPYRIGHT 2009 National Defense Industrial Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT; Central Intelligence Agency
Comment:Lost agency: CIA must return to its roots to become effective once again.(VIEWPOINT)(Central Intelligence Agency)
Author:Faddis, Charles
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Previous Article:Building a cybersecurity lab.
Next Article:Choke point: hijacked super tanker exposes vulnerability of energy supplies.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters