The Magazine

The Unchanging CIA

Technology and spies go well together.

Feb 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 22 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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More important, paramilitary work, even when it’s just providing training to foreign security services, brings case officers closer to their targets. It forces operatives to be more familiar with the terrain, the cultural, political, and geographical imperatives that often define a people, especially in less-developed, war-ravaged lands. It raises the CIA’s intelligence-collection game. 

Drones do, too. The agency and the Pentagon need “targetable” information to use these machines. Information provided by foreign-intelligence “liaison” services and electronic intelligence are often indispensable to aiming a Predator at an enemy. But CIA clandestine human intelligence can matter. A file review of drone targeting would probably reveal that the Clandestine Service has not regularly supplied the critical information necessary for a lethal strike—hence the more complex targeting matrix to which administration officials sometimes allude. But to the extent that the service has helped, it has obliged case officers to push themselves intellectually and operationally. It pulls—harder than traditional espionage—“inside” case officers out of their diplomatic preserves. That’s never a bad thing.

The odds are good that the CIA has an increasingly weak grasp of its primary targets in the Islamic world. The tumult of the Arab Spring, the historic failure of still-friendly Arab intelligence services to see beyond their national borders, the overkill of drones (if a terrorist is worth a missile, he may well be worth risking American lives to capture and aggressively interrogate), and the inability of the CIA to operate in dangerous places when the U.S. Army isn’t present—all are working against Langley. With an American withdrawal, Afghanistan will likely become a black hole for reliable HUMINT. The coming darkness regionally is probably unavoidable. And if the terrorists successfully strike, the debates and recriminations will recycle as painfully as before. 

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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