Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Random Thoughts

By Melissa Boyle Mahle

Sometimes I am amazed by what I read in the newspapers. It makes me return to the question of what is a secret.

Shame on You, Walter Pincus

In my book, the names of spies, former, current and in train, are secret. If we can’t keep the names of those working for us out of the public domain, what incentive is there for that potential spy to cross the line, risk his or her life, and tell the CIA or any other US intelligence agency, “I want to cooperate with you.”? This article by Walter Pincus falls in the irresponsible category by printing the Iraqi’s name. The defense is that “Johnny did it too” does not cut it any more in the nation’s capital than in the elementary school principal’s office.

Ex-Iraqi Official Unveiled as Spy
Former Envoy Worked With French, CIA
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006; A17

Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's last foreign minister, Naji Sabri, was a paid spy for French intelligence, which later turned him over to the CIA to supply information about Iraq and its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs more than six months before the war began in March 2003, according to former senior intelligence officials.

Although some CIA officials met informally with Sabri, who traveled extensively outside Iraq, the French and the CIA used a third-country intermediary when attempting to get information from him about Hussein's inner circle and weapons programs, according to the retired officials who refused to be identified because the information is classified.

"It was never clear what he wanted," one former official familiar with the situation said of Sabri, "but we never paid him." Sabri's role in providing information to the United States was reported by NBC News on Tuesday.

Over the summer of 2002, Sabri, as foreign minister, negotiated the terms U.N. inspectors' return to Iraq, and in November 2002 he announced Hussein's acceptance of the proposal.

Publicly Sabri was insisting that Iraq had no prohibited weapons of mass destruction. Privately, the sources said, he provided information that the Iraqi dictator had ambitions for a nuclear program but that it was not active, and that no biological weapons were being produced or stockpiled, although research was underway.

When it came to chemical weapons, Sabri told his handler that some existed but they were not under military control, a former intelligence official familiar with the situation said. Another former official added: "He said he had been told Hussein had them dispersed among some of the loyal tribes."

At the time, the Bush administration was preparing for the coalition's invasion of Iraq and publicly insisting that Hussein had reconstituted nuclear programs and was concealing from United Nations inspectors both chemical and biological weapons in violation of Security Council resolutions. The White House, which was seeking a congressional resolution that would permit the use of force against Iraq, hoped Sabri would defect, the two former officials said.

"They wanted a big public defection, which would have been good for the policy," one official said. But Sabri comes from a prominent Iraqi family and defection was not an option, one of the former officials said.

The White House was far more interested in trying to get Sabri to defect than in the information he was providing on Iraq's weapons programs, in part because the intelligence community did not trust him, another former intelligence official said.

Sabri took office in fall 2001 after a major housecleaning of Hussein's foreign affairs team. A diplomat with an Iraqi Christian background, Sabri once taught English literature at Baghdad University and was director general of the information ministry during the Persian Gulf War. His brother was one of the Iraqi officials that Hussein had killed because of alleged disloyalty.

Sabri was described as "smart and smooth" by a U.N. official who dealt with him, and as "a type that appeals to Westerners." According to a former intelligence officer, Sabri went out of his way to spend time with Americans and others when he was a diplomatic official in Vienna.

In a speech in February 2004, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet referred to Sabri, although not by name, when he said the CIA had obtained information from "a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle." Tenet said that source described Hussein as covertly seeking to get a nuclear weapon and having stockpiled chemical weapons while his scientists were only "dabbling" with biological weapons development with little success.

Misplaced Priorities

I wish I could just be upset by the printing of spy’s name. The entire story is disturbing because it shows just how rotten the politicized world of espionage had gotten under former DCI Tenet. Here we had the chance to run a spy inside the inner circle of Saddam Hussein and collect leadership intelligence. It just does not get any better than this in the intel world. Sure, there must have been questions on his reliability. THERE ALWAYS ARE!

Instead of doing the meat and potato work of putting together careful debriefing sessions and vetting the intelligence take careful, we went for the political big-play, defection. Surprise, the guy refused because all of his extended family would be instantly dead. I am sure the CI folks were whispering, “Oh he won’t defect. He must not be for real.” This is what the CI folks always whisper because they are paid to be paranoid. The bottom line is the CI folks have absolutely no feel for the agent’s reality—the potential death of absolutely everyone in his family. CI folks are always lost in the wilderness of mirrors.

In comparison, the political optics of a big-name defection—even though the guy was saying things that didn’t jive with Washington’s line—would have been a propaganda coup and a lot less complicated. In the name of security, defectors can be kept under close wraps so he would not be able to actually publicize what he is telling his debriefers. Why run a spy, which is the hard part of espionage, when you can have a parade animal?

This is embarrassingly poor tradecraft. And now the guy’s name is all over the media. Iraqis have a tendency to play for keeps. This is one for the instructional books at the Farm. Unfortunately, however, there are no books that contain missions blown because of the CIA culture that failure is not an option and if it does happen, it is covered up.

Outsourcing Intelligence

It seems that the powers that be might be waking up to the costs of outsourcing intelligence work. The contracting world in intelligence has exploded since 9/11. I wrote about this in my book Denial and Deception, which came out in 2004. There was absolutely commentary on this subject. In 2004, it just was not relevant.

What is going on? Seasoned officers are opting to walk away from their careers as staff officers in exchange for flexible schedules, higher income and more freedom on selecting assignments. This is a win scenario for the intelligence professional. It is a lose scenario for the intelligence community because it is not adjusting by creating an open labor market in the profession. Security clearance are hard to come by (and take forever to get for a contractor) so that it becomes a contractors market. Market balance can only be established if the labor flow is increased by creating channels for entry for professionals with knowledge and/or experience, but lacking the clearance.

The employer has to pay more for labor, but actually gets less. Institutional loyalty and knowledge is lost. This is telling situation because it is happening while the IC bemoans the lack of experience officers with time on target.

Increase in Contracting Intelligence Jobs Raises Concerns
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 20, 2006; A03

AllWorld Language Consultants Inc., a Rockville firm, is seeking experienced military interrogators to work in Iraq for $153,500 a year plus bonuses, with proficiency in Arabic "preferred but not required," according to Yahoo's Hot Jobs listings.

The U.S. Army element of the Multi-National Force-Iraq is looking for a private contractor to provide airborne surveillance over that country that will "provide situational awareness of the entire area of operations," according to another Web announcement.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is seeking a counterintelligence analyst to work for the Pentagon's newest intelligence agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), in its Colorado Springs facility to "create and deliver briefings, write reports, and represent Counterintelligence Field Activity," according to a Web classified ad.

These positions and thousands like them are part of a growing trend at the Pentagon to contract out intelligence jobs that were formerly done primarily by service personnel and civil service employees.

But, by using contract employees, government agencies lose control over those doing this sensitive work and an element of profit is inserted into what is being done. Also, as investigations have revealed, politics and corruption may be introduced into the process.

The office of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte has quietly begun to study the contracting issue because "it already is a problem," a senior intelligence official said in a recent interview.

A related concern for intelligence agencies inside and outside the Pentagon is that the government is training people and getting them security clearances, but they then leave for better pay offered by contractors, sometimes to do the same work.

"Once cleared, they can get a higher salary outside and they are gone," the official said. "We're leasing back our former employees."

The phenomenon is partly the result of Congress's approving large funding increases for intelligence activities but not increasing the limit on the number of full-time persons that agencies can hire. "We don't have the billets," the official said, so the surge is taken care of by contracting out the jobs.

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who ran Iraqi military training from 2003 to 2004, describes the hiring of civilians to do jobs previously done by the military as a "shell game" created by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to keep the "force strength static on paper." In an op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times, Eaton wrote, "This tactic may help for a bit, but it will likely fall apart in the next budget cycle with those positions swiftly eliminated."

"The Pentagon ramped up so fast, it had to turn to contract personnel to have continuity," said another former senior intelligence official who now does contract work. He pointed out that some jobs are so complex, military personnel on three-year rotations are facing reassignment just as they master their jobs.

The trend toward contracting for intelligence analysts will hurt the ability of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency to retain and keep high-quality people, said a former senior intelligence official who helped supervise the rebuilding of the CIA's case officer and analyst corps. "It takes time to get the young up to snuff, and you need 10 to 20 years to get the value for that investment," this former official said, asking for anonymity because of his past role in government.

John O. Brennan, the longtime CIA official who started up and headed the National Counterterrorism Center before his retirement, said contract personnel "bring on recognized expertise that exists outside government" and "often are needed as new [intelligence] systems are being built."

Now a contractor himself, Brennan said it should come as no surprise that many younger military and government-trained intelligence personnel, who have top security clearances, are resigning to take jobs in the private sector.

The CIA's contracting has generally been limited to technical support, but almost two years ago a "spy drain" was described in a column by intelligence expert James Bamford, who warned, "Private contractors are taking over jobs once reserved for highly trained agency employees." Because of the rush to expand activities, Bamford said some newly hired former CIA officers said that "their talents are being wasted on unsophisticated tasks."

Attention has also been focused on the rapid growth of Pentagon intelligence contracting because of recent guilty pleas by former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and contractor Mitchell J. Wade, who used contributions and job offers to get his former company, MZM Inc., more than $100 million in mostly intelligence contracts between 2002 and 2004. In one case, according to court papers, Wade drafted and gave Cunningham an outline of the work that CIFA then contracted with MZM to perform.

Federal investigators are reviewing CIFA's contracts, according to a government prosecutor involved in the inquiry. CIFA Director David A. Burtt II said in a recent interview that 70 percent of his agency's work is handled by contractors.

Brennan said that contract employees frequently cost less for government agencies when they are needed for short durations while new agencies get fully staffed. Thereafter, higher pay given to contract employees over government employees can be justified only in part because contractors offer less job security than the government does.

Brennan said he introduced a rule at the National Counterterrorism Center that personnel cannot resign and return to do the same job with a contractor until a certain amount of time had elapsed.

The contracting for intelligence personnel is "neither black nor white," according to Brennan, but it "needs to be watched."

The Arabic-speaking interrogators that AllWorld Languages is seeking must be U.S. citizens, have security clearances, and be willing to start immediately and deploy to any city in Iraq. AllWorld is a subcontractor of L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., a multibillion-dollar defense contractor that recently got a six-month, $420 million extension to its no-bid Army contract for translators. About 80 percent of the 5,000 translators L-3 employs for the Army are working in Iraq.

William Golden, who runs IntelligenceCareers Inc., maintains a Web site listing thousands of jobs, including senior posts within the intelligence community. In a slide presentation on his site, Golden points out that as the number of contract positions in the intelligence field increases, the number of candidates for such jobs decreases -- in part because the number of people leaving military and government service in the intelligence field is less than the number of jobs being opened up to contract employees.

In a recent presentation, Golden said 65 to 70 percent of new contract employees who took contract jobs after they left government with security clearances came from the military. Less than 15 percent earned their clearances while working for contractors. One reason for the difference is that it takes a year or more to get a top-secret clearance; meanwhile, an employee is waiting to be hired or is hired and doing a non-cleared job. Those who had clearances just need to have them updated, which takes far less time.

As a result, someone with a top secret and special compartmented information clearance, meaning access to electronic intercepted data, can get as much as 35 percent more pay than others with lesser clearances or no clearances, according to Golden. Brennan, who now runs his own intelligence consulting concern, the Analysis Corp., agreed that "a security clearance in the Washington area means money."

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