Sunday, December 05, 2004

Feel Safer Yet?

Bush is purging the CIA of critics and calling for the hiring of a whole new crop. A move that's sure to leave the country safer. What? It won't?? What the fuck?
"Let’s just start with the ‘hire more case officers’ stuff," says a highly respected and decorated veteran intelligence officer who spoke with the Phoenix on condition of anonymity (necessitated by the turmoil at Langley) in mid and late November. "Let’s first note that the president’s memo doesn’t say where the money to hire all these people is coming from, and that what it in fact orders Goss to do is draw up a plan with a budget and get it to the White House three months from now. So when you’re going to see the actual process begin to get this new 50 percent recruited is God knows when.

"Next, once you begin that process, for new DO officers you’re looking at the expenditure of at least half a million dollars and at least one year of training. And then you really need three to four years to figure out if someone is, in fact, good at being a DO officer. So they can talk all they want about increasing levels, but the devil is in the ‘as soon as is feasible’ part of the memo. ‘As soon as feasible,’ when it comes to training and fielding a new officer, is not the same as ‘immediately.’ "

It’s even more complicated for non-official cover officers, or NOCs — CIA officers who, unlike most DO officers, operate under corporate or non-governmental cover without benefit of diplomatic immunity. Another seemingly bold move, this one by Goss, was revealed in the November 17 edition of USA Today, which reported that Goss had instructed his new deputy director for operations, Jose Rodriguez, to "launch a much more aggressive espionage campaign that would use undercover officers to penetrate terrorist groups and hostile governments." This "risky new strategy" would call for a radical increase in the number and use of NOCs, and would be a "sharp departure from the CIA’s traditional style of human intelligence, in which field officers under flimsy cover as diplomats in US embassies try to recruit foreign spies and gather tips from allied intelligence services."

Innovative as this sounds, according to another veteran intelligence officer intimately familiar with the NOC program, it’s going to take even longer for this new "aggressive" campaign to come to realization. Furthermore, if history is any indicator, it may not yield much except grief.

"Goss could very well be long gone before the first NOC hired under this new effort ever sets foot on the field," the veteran officer says. "First is the issue of actually resuscitating the NOC program — there have never been that many NOCs, and the number is very, very low right now. Then there’s time and money. For your average case-officer trainee, it’s an investment of about half a million dollars and a year of time. For a NOC, it’s more like a million dollars and two years. While the training itself isn’t that different, everything with a NOC has to be done away from the formal CIA environment, which means you have to set up a mobile training process, which is costly and takes more time."

And, he says, after all the costly training, NOCs generally don’t last all that long. "A lot of them end up quitting the agency earlier than most for one of two reasons. The first is because it’s really one of the most thankless, frustrating jobs there is. You can’t keep all the salary you’re paid in your cover job — you have to return anything beyond your GS salary, which makes it effectively impossible to maintain your cover if you’re supposed to be in a $200,000-a-year job and you have only $57,000. People have actually quit and gone to work for the companies that were providing their cover, and who can blame them? More money, less stress.

"The second reason," the officer continues, "is that the counterintelligence capabilities of most local intelligence services have gotten much better in recent years due to technology, and it’s much easier to crack someone’s cover now. You can’t just send people out there with the highest-quality forged identification when a CI officer in some other country can go online and oh, what does he find? There’s nothing in public records you can pull off the Web that backs up the guy’s identity. These days, it takes a lot more in time and other expenses to just adequately backstop a NOC."

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