The Business of Intelligence is Not Business

From Diogenes

Here we go again.  The Administration has announced the creation of the White House Office of American Innovation, tasked with crafting ideas to reshape the federal bureaucracy to make it leaner and more effective.  For more details, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-taps-kushner-to-lead-a-swat-team-to-fix-government-with-business-ideas/2017/03/26/9714a8b6-1254-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html?utm_term=.a69350749e95&wpisrc=al_alert-COMBO-politics%252Bnation&wpmk=1 and

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/26/politics/kushner-american-innovation-white-house/index.html.

The organization will be run by an individual whose sole credential is being the boss’s son-in-law (Hmm.  Welcome to a sure-fail principle of human resource management from the business world.  I’d be more comfortable if he was ever in a job from which he could get fired.).

I won’t presume to comment upon the applicability of business principles to the entire federal government, whose raison d’etre is not to make money.  (Plus we’ve seen this movie before.  New administrations try to give the impression that they’re offering something entirely new.  This initiative is reminiscent of Al Gore’s Reinventing Government in the 1990s.  You probably have your own views on its success.)  I’ll stick to how this may affect intelligence issues, based upon previous efforts to impose business principles.

In the 2000s, an outside business executive introduced to the CIA the Working Capital Fund, by which the administrative budget (for things like printing, logistics, and the like) was taken from the managers of these functions and placed in the hands of those who engaged in the formal mission of the Agency—providing intelligence.  If a “customer” could get an administrative service for less on the outside market, one could purchase it there.  The Working Capital Fund created a caste system of second-class citizens, beholden to analysts, ops officers, and scientists, who no longer were colleagues, but supplicants.  The system led to massive shifts in personnel, loss of expertise, and plummeting morale.

What happens if we spread this idea to the Intelligence Community as a whole?  Rather than collaborating and integrating efforts toward a common vision and purpose, as has been the case in recent years, it will again create competition across and within IC member agencies.  This in turn will lead to reluctance to share information and insights, again, across and within agencies.  And we all remember where that led—Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and other surprises which could have been avoided with adequate intelligence sharing and dissemination.

Part of the Administration’s plan is to provide products earlier and cheaper (“more securely”—always a concern for intelligence officers, goes unmentioned).  For intelligence officers overseas, this idea generates pressures to “pitch” a developmental—a potential source who is being wooed by a case officer—too early, because of demands by the business mentality to get things done now.  Development of the enduring trust between case officer and asset (overseas spy) simply cannot be rushed without damage to what is intended to be a long-term relationship.  “Seeding” operations—establishing assets who might not be called upon immediately, but who are invaluable when needed—would fall off the to-do list because they do not add to this quarter’s bottom line.

How one determines the value of an intelligence product goes unanswered.  What is the value of a piece of intelligence that shapes a policymaker’s thinking, that provides warning of a crisis that can be prevented, that materially contributes to the national security, that saves lives—American and foreign?

Who pays for these intelligence products?  Intelligence has multiple customers at numerous levels—White House, Cabinet, other federal, state, local, and tribal organizations.  Will lower-level organizations—which might be able to use the intelligence directly—have the financial wherewithal to purchase intelligence insights when the proposed budget includes massive cuts?

Intelligence officers—and I suspect many other government workers—are not motivated by dollars.  At CIA, the key motivations are mission, service to country, pride in America. We’re often told that we can make far more money in the private sector.  Maybe we can, but the psychic benefits of making a difference and making history far outweigh financial considerations.  Intelligence needs the type of person who puts country first; sound business principles put profit first.  Trying to create a money-based intelligence bottom line misses the point of intelligence and of service.

Some individuals have monetized intelligence products.  They’re called hostile intelligence services, who try to buy American national security secrets from spies.  Now that’s an encouraging business model.

The Future of Secrecy in a World of Mass Exposure

From Susan Hasler
The CIA has a portrait wall along one of the wide, windowed corridors that line its interior courtyard. Look out the windows and you see magnolia trees that are magnificent when pink in bloom. Look to the paintings and you see a line of former directors, dark-suited men posed in front of globes, flags, Agency seals, and other symbols of power. Even those that are smiling have that dour “I’ve got a secret” look in their eyes. The secrets, of course, were the key to their power. In my two decades at the Agency, I saw a half dozen pictures added to that wall, until the latest reached the end of the corridor. Then one day my husband and I came in to find that the portraits had been moved closer together, leaving room for many more future directors. The same phrase popped into our minds at once: “That’s optimistic.”
We were already beginning to doubt that the old and cranky bureaucracy of secrecy could change fast enough to survive. What is the future of CIA in a world of Wikileaks, Russian hackers, and Snowdens? Does it double down and install more firewalls, limit distribution of intelligence, and crack down on the contacts employees can make with the outside, or do they figure out a new path that will require serious rethinking of how we handle secrecy?
There are conflicting views of secrecy within the Agency, generally corresponding to where an individual works.  Those on the operational side of the house tend to take a “slippery slope” view. Protect everything. Admit nothing. It is understandable for those out in the field who have human assets at stake, but it gets silly at times. For example, as an employee, I could’t acknowledge the existence of a training facility that has been depicted in popular movies. As an analyst, I once had to get a senior manager to weigh in before the operators would allow me to use a piece of sensitive intelligence in an article I was writing for the then vice president. What is the use of collecting intelligence if you can’t use it for the VP? 
Which brings us to the view on secrecy that tends to prevail among analysts. Yes, certain things have to remain secret, but our job is to analyze and distribute our findings for use by policymakers. We need to be able to talk about things and collaborate with counterparts in other parts of government. We also need to talk to academics and other outside experts to produce the best possible analysis. 
Analysts know that the real “secrets” only comprise a part of the judgments we make. Open source material and collaboration with colleagues is often the larger part. Perhaps the most important ingredient of the analysis is our training in overcoming bias and an office ethic that does its best to shut politics out (yes, I’m political now, but that came after I left the Agency). Unbiased analysis is at a premium these days, but its utility is limited by the fact that most Agency analytical judgments are secrets, even when they could be easily declassified.
The utility of the analysis is also limited by the fact that most CIA products are overclassified. Analysts make a classification decision at the end of every paragraph. The default move is to slap on an S NF (Secret Noforn) for B&A or background and analysis. Meaning, it’s secret because I’m an analyst and what I write is informed by secret material even if nothing in this paragraph can be specifically connected to a secret report. Typing that S NF becomes so automatic that occasionally I found myself adding it to paragraphs of short stories I wrote at home that had nothing to do with the CIA. You type S NF because there are no penalties for overclassification, only for underclassification. 
The problem is that overclassifying intelligence makes it less likely that it will be seen and used by the people who need it. People who worked at State Department used to tell me that they had to go to a special room to read highly classified reports. They admitted that they often didn’t bother. 
So what does the CIA do in the wake of the latest Wikileaks release, double down on secrecy or take a different tack? I would argue that we cannot and should not continue trying to protect everything. The key judgments from Nation Intelligence Estimates should be routinely declassified after removing all reference to sources and methods. I think this would serve the American people better than making the bulk of intelligence available to only a limited audience. 
CIA should focus on protecting those things truly worthy of protection: human and technical sources. It should give its analysts better training on making classification decisions.
Perhaps the Agency should consider occasionally sacrificing secrets in the interest of shining a light on an evil. I must admit that I would love to see CIA respond to the latest Wikileaks release by publishing every last bit of dirt it has on Julian Assange and his connections. Of course, that will never happen because of where some of those connections might lead, but it makes for delicious fantasy.  

White House-Intelligence Community Relations Are Evolving

From Diogenes

One of the pillars of Intelligence Community analytic tradecraft is employing a range of techniques, including alternative analysis and analysis of competing hypotheses (ACH).  Let’s try those techniques in looking at the President’s view of intelligence and the Intelligence Community.

The conventional wisdom, almost reaching revealed truth in some quarters, among the news media, many pundits, and numerous individuals within the Intelligence Community is that the President has denigrated the officers who work in the IC, and that he willfully ignores the IC’s product, believing in a personal omniscience about world affairs that is not warranted by his experience, training, or contacts.

Another view would hold that we are seeing a transition from a historical phase of White House-IC relations to another.  Some presidents came into office having run an intelligence agency (Washington, the elder Bush; or saw their father run one, in case of the younger Bush), and had a well-developed sense of what a non-politicized intelligence service can do for an administration.  Other presidents had to learn on the job, and their views changed from skepticism to applause for intelligence professionals.  This complete maturation, however, is not guaranteed for any presidency.  Nixon remained wary of CIA throughout his tenure.  Carter came around reluctantly.  Tense relations with CIA were the watchword with the Kennedy administration immediately following the failed Bay of Pigs operation.

We may be seeing an incremental development of such a view of intelligence with the current administration.

From the initial arm’s-length denigration of intelligence professionals, we have recently been treated to P45’s visit to CIA’s Original Headquarters Building’s main lobby.  No matter what the substance of his tone-deaf ineloquence before the Memorial Wall, P45 became the first president to visit the Agency on his first day on the job, perhaps illustrating the importance he attaches to the work of the Agency.  Moreover, as the Washington Post reports in its look at the President’s time-management preferences, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/02/21/how-donald-trump-spent-his-first-month-in-office-by-the-numbers/?utm_term=.b34989acc415  he devoted six hours during his first month to intelligence briefings.  While this works out to only a few minutes per day, it is better than the initial fears of him shutting out intelligence completely.  Not stated in the Post coverage is the identity of the individual/organization providing the intelligence briefings.  Was it the erstwhile National Security Advisor, a designated President’s Daily Brief briefer, CIA Director Pompeo, an acting Director of National Intelligence or representative, a combination of these worthies, or someone else?  We also do not know the substantive issues discussed in the briefings, or how the message was received.  That said, we might posit that P45 has moved to the “these guys might have an important role to serve” phase in his thinking.

More troubling is the possible quick transition to “and that role is to back policy” vice “set the table for policy discussion”.  The FBI refused an administration request to publicly badmouth campaign team-Russia connection stories, while the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security bristled at taskings for “shows that” analysis of terrorist links of people from the seven countries subject to the new travel ban. Policy-neutral analysis has been the watchword of American intelligence since the founding of CIA, and resistance to such politicized tasking is to be expected.  Similar calls during the Reagan administration for material bolstering a USSR-terrorist nexus and during the Bush administration for a Saddam-al-Qaeda link did not go over well with the IC’s analytic cadre.

We’ll be watching for signs that the White House’s view of intelligence is evolving to the more classical truth-to-power relationship.

For further reading on the alternative analytic techniques, see Richards J. Heuer and Randolph H. Pherson Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis CQ Press, 2014, 384 pp.

For more extensive commentary on Presidential-IC relations, see

Christopher Andrew For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush Harper Perennial, 1996, 688 pp.

John L. Helgerson CIA Briefing of Presidential Candidates 2008, 214 pp.

David Priess  The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama  Public Affairs, 2016, 400 pp.

 

This Just in: Fake News, Fake Countries, Fake Flags

From Diogenes

Elbowing its way into contention as the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year (and it’s still only February), “fake”, particularly when used as the adjective in “fake news”, has dominated the discussion among pundits, the news media, and various regimes around the world.  Alas, the word “fake” could well win the annual award for its new meanings, as it continues to be misused, both in connotation and tone.

“Fake” has historically been a synonym for deceptive/false.  In recent weeks, however, the slogan “fake news” has served as a substitute for thoughtful analysis and more than one-deep examination of ideas.  A thoroughly exasperated CNN anchor Don Lemon abruptly shut down a panel discussion when guest Paris Dennard continued to parrot what Lemon called Dennard’s “stupid talking point” of “fake news”.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrb-yuvqf4I  Rather than disagreeing with a point, its users instead use “fake news” to denigrate opposing views via oracularly-posited dismissive language, in this case labeling a story, a body of work, or an organization as overarching “fake news”.  To be effective, this mantra is repeated, often, wearing down the patience of the opponent and diverting the attention of the audience from the original substantive issue(s).  Breaking the link between audiences and media is a time-honored propaganda technique that is becoming more popular around the world.

Resort to this oversimplification of a debate also erodes the richness of our language.  A more articulate method of disagreement is to say “your reporting is missing the more important issue, which is…” or “one might question the intellectual/factual foundation of your assertion”.

If the misuse of “fake” regarding news wasn’t enough, we now have “fake countries”, vice “illegitimate regimes”, thanks to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called Israel a “fake” nation at the quadrennial International Conference in Support of Palestinian Intifada, always at the top of the social calendar in Tehran.

This week the world was also treated to a fake flag of the U.S., featuring 51 stars, which greeted U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the European Union headquarters in Brussels.  Fake flags should not be confused with false flags, spyspeak for misattribution, which we discussed in an earlier altcia article.  The 51-star flag might be a first draft for a new U.S. flag when Northern Virginia is formally admitted to the union.  NOVA already is treated as a state by the Washington Post, which always capitalizes its references to the area.

The bottom line: when you hear “fake”, ask yourself who is really doing the faking.

The Perilous Aftermath of the Next Terrorist Attack

From Susan Hasler:

Another terrorist attack will inevitably happen in this country. It will not take place because of who now sits in the White House, how the courts rule, or whether or not counterterrorism professionals are doing their jobs conscientiously. It will take place because of a wide range of cultural, social, religious, and geopolitical factors in our recent history. It will take place because of failed policies, imperfect vigilance, and cycles of violence and retribution set in motion long ago. It will take place because there is no such thing as complete safety, even if you build walls, waterboard detainees, suspend civil liberties, bomb the shit out of a Muslim country, and bankrupt the treasury in the process. 
 
Just as inevitable as the next attack is the blame game that will follow. The blame game never solves anything. Yes, you can spread blame around like manure on the fields in springtime. There’s plenty to go around, and it will stink to high heaven, but nothing good will grow from it. It distracts from efforts to stop the next attack. It never even gets close to finding the real culprit. Yet we indulge in it passionately, as if we expected it to yield solutions rather than ruin. 
 
Who will Trump blame? He’s already told us part of the story, tweeting on February 6, “Just can’t believe a judge [the one who suspended Trump’s travel ban] would put us in such peril. If something happens blame him and the court system. People pouring in. Bad!” If the Judiciary has been ruining your day, what better time than after an attack to work up a groundswell of support for reducing its powers?
 
Trump will also blame the Intelligence Community, of course. The IC, and particularly the CIA, has been a scapegoat-of-choice for politicians for decades. If you keep yelling “intelligence failure” loud enough you can keep people from looking for policy failures. This might be an opportunity for Trump to clean out any pesky officials who have been providing intelligence he finds unpleasant to read. Perhaps he can institute a sweeping, disruptive reform that will make CIA less of a “skunk at the garden party” offering unbiased intelligence and more of a team player offering up nuggets to support policy. 
 
Trump will blame the press for weakening him and therefore the country. He may take moves against the press that would only be tolerated in a post-attack atmosphere of fear.
 
Finally, Trump will blame women and men in pink hats for demonstrating at airports. He will stir up the hatred, racism, and misogyny in his base until peaceful protest is met with violence. He may ask for more powers to quell this violence.
 
The blame game will be a golden opportunity for a gold-plated opportunist to push his agenda further than he could hope to now. Bannon and company are probably already planning for it. We should all be thinking about how we will respond.

“Please excuse my son from suicide bombing today. He has a cold.” ISIS having commitment problems while bureaucracy offers vulnerabilities

by Diogenes

While the White House complained of lack of coverage of terrorist events that did, in fact, garner extensive media ink and pixels (e.g., try telling the Florida media that it ignored the Pulse nightclub attack), here’s a terrorism story you might have missed.  Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim reported here: A file on Islamic State’s ‘problem’ foreign fighters shows some are refusing to fight.

An Internet adage holds that if it exists, there’s porn of it.  With ISIS, if it exists, there’s a form to monitor it.  The bureaucrats in the Tariq Bin Ziyad Battalion of ISIS (distinctive in the annals of terrorism, ISIS, inspired by its predecessor al-Qaeda, has a human resources department) meticulously logged excuses offered by 14 foreign volunteers (nee fighters) for not being available for the battle for Mosul.  Reasons included documented and undocumented medical problems, homesickness, unhappiness with areas of assignment, disillusion with the cause, or previously-undetected allergy to fighting.

Although this is an admittedly small sample, given ISIS battlefield losses, it is likely that ISIS writ large is facing similar problems of morale among the foreign troops who initially were the zealots’ zealots.  Foreign recruitment has slowed to a trickle of what it had been (thanks in part to a continuous stream of arrests in Europe of ISIS recruiters, as well as eroding appeal of a losing cause).  Local ISIS “military planners” (terrorist attack strategists and tacticians) now have to deal with flagging enthusiasm by remaining foreigners experiencing the shrinking of the caliphate’s physical territory, while the terrorism tourists who returned to their home countries after a few weeks or months in Syria and Iraq have gone on to fame for attacks in Europe and other regions.  This could draw other expatriate terrorists back to their home countries for more self-aggrandizing terrorist attacks.

The ISIS bureaucracy’s penchant for data collection offers potential intelligence bonanzas.  The ISIS forms included a photo (inexcusably lax operational practice for a terrorist group), country of origin, name of sponsor (who may now be in hot water), blood type, classes taken, clothes and shoe size (there is no indication that they are getting Internet ad spam, yet), and family status (including children and wives in infidel countries and number of children from slave girls).

This week’s ISIS bureaucratic form is not unique for the organization.  According to the New York Times and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, an October 2007 raid of an al-Qaeda in Iraq (the ISIS ancestor) base in Sinjar found similar attention to detail by the personnel department.  Recruiters and the welcoming committee filled out forms between August 2006 and August 2007 on each of the 700 arriving foreign volunteers, including name, age, occupation, home town, phone number, amount of foreign currency donated, contact numbers for next of kin, educational attainment, travel partners, and military operational specialty (many offered themselves as martyrs, read: suicide bombers).

Beyond Spin: How to Spot False Propaganda

FNU MNU LNU

In early February 2017, Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that  “I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a 6-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.”

CNN was quick to point out that these alternative facts were indeed brand new information, as there never was a Bowling Green massacre and that President Obama did not ban the Iraqi refugee program.

For false propaganda to work, the data is uncheckable but sounds checkable.  In this instance, the facts were checkable and CNN shot down the story.  A real Bowling Green case involved Iraqi emigrants Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, residents of Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were granted refugee status and entered the United States in 2009.  They were picked up in May 2011 on terrorism charges, pleaded guilty, and sentencedtwo years later.  They wanted to smuggle weapons and explosives to al-Qaeda in Iraq, not to conduct attacks in the U.S., according to court documents.  Then-President Obama ordered a revetting of the 57,000-58,000 Iraqi refugees recently allowed into the country, causing a huge backlog and delaying any others to enter the U.S.

The case illustrates some noteworthy points of false propaganda.  (True propaganda is material that is true, but spun.  False propaganda is either falsely attributed, or inaccurate on the facts, or both.)

  • It has a whiff of plausibility and sounds vaguely familiar. There have been so many gun-related attacks on U.S. college campuses, and so many terrorism arrests, that one more could have gotten lost in the news cycle.
  • It has at least some tangential relationship to “classic” facts (real facts, not alternative facts).  There have been jihadi terrorist attacks in the U.S., and many planned that did not garner extensive media coverage.  There were two terrorist-related individuals in Bowling Green.
  • The teller relates the tale with such conviction that the audience believes that the teller believes it is true.  The American default to believe authority, particularly coming out of the White House, only adds to the supposed credibility of the story.  Americans also tend to give credibility to rapid-fire delivery when added to apparent conviction.
  • There is a reason given why the audience has not heard the particulars of the story.  In this instance, the media did not cover it.  It’s hard to believe that the media would skip a massacre.  Since it did not happen, it was not covered.  CNN covered the case of the two Iraqi supporters of al Qaeda.

If you find any/all of these aspects of a story, (classic) fact-check before going further.

The US Today vs. 1930s Germany: Analogy Doesn’t Fit

by William Standish

Mr. Standish has spent more than twenty years as an intelligence analyst, targeter, and collector, working with and within many Intelligence Community agencies, both civilian and military.
I’ve heard commentaries, call-ins, read articles and posts that compare us to 1920s-30s Germany. I get it — anyone who’s seen a single post since he became a long-shot possibility knows that I detest just about all he stands for. But I think that there is a danger, for those of us who are not Trumpophiles, in patterning our minds to look for too many similarities.
There are certainly commonalities, and it is quite possible that Trump and our rising populism will become a FUTURE case study for “where they went horribly wrong,” but we shouldn’t over-play the analogy.
In the time running up to Hitler’s consolidation of power, Germany was not coming out of a recession or recession-light; it was in destitution. Further, its destitution was rooted in an utterly conscious humiliation by its European neighbors. There was nation-wide misery, no rational reason to think it was going to end soon, and no support from outside…The country had reached a point where it was questioning its own value and its future. In this despair, human nature became the Germans’ greatest weakness — they were at rock bottom and facing only two options: deep soul-searching to determine what role their culture had played, to chart a path to overcoming those; or seek excuses and rationalizations. In this vacuum, Hitler’s words were a balm to the aching national psyche.
For us, there are many who feel left behind. Some may not want to face that coal mining in the Information Age is not a viable long-term solution, etc, but there is no nation-wide, crushing destitution that leaves all of us feeling there is no hope for the future.
Hitler found it convenient to demonize the Jews. This was made easier by quasi-science of the time — worldwide, to include in some corners of the US – that had “proven” that Jews were a human-like species, etc. And Jews, particularly in Europe, had suffered from centuries of culturally inbred hate, passed from generation to generation.
For the US, honestly – and according to (reliable) polls – most people don’t know a Muslim and don’t know the first thing about Islam. Frankly, other than a para or two in History class, most people honestly just don’t give Muslims a thought. So, while there is fear of Islam and fear of Muslims – reinforced through recent history – this is not an area where there is a deep cultural well being tapped into. This is the kind of ignorance that can, in many cases, be dissipated when a person sits down and talks to an actual Muslim, etc. So there’s not the reflexive revulsion that Hitler horribly tapped into.
People have compared Bannon to Goebbels. I don’t know…he may be. But I’d say the key difference is the dissemination of information today. When a source (correctly or incorrectly) reports some insider info, it is retweeted globally within minutes. Yes, the media can be manipulated…and we must watch, because there ARE disturbing signs, to be sure.
Most importantly, we are not 1920s Germany or Germans. There is an ethos unique to the US (as there is for pretty much every country) that makes drawing analogies dangerous and illogical. Germans were not monolithic, but they were much more so, particularly in commonality of even regional versions of a national identity. We may not melt so well as a melting pot, these days, but we are still the most diverse country on Earth. This diversity creates a critical thinking and individuality that countries in what we’re considering comparable circumstances have not benefited from.
Bottom line? Be watchful, mindful, and wary — never, ever forget the evil that came from Hitler’s Germany (or from slavery or from the Khmer Rouge, etc). But know that OUR particular brand of broken needs to be seen — and confronted — through its own, unique optic. Only in doing so will we be able to fix our own problems…

 

A Few Words from Susan Hasler…

One of the most intense, ambivalent, addictive, and weird relationships of my life has been with an agency of government. The Central Intelligence Agency is an overbearing and jealous partner, the type who doesn’t respect your privacy and tries to take over your life in an unhealthy way. It interferes with other relationships by limiting what you can talk about with outsiders. It asks you invasive personal questions. It wants to know where you got your money and how responsibly you spend it. It wants more of your time than it’s willing to pay for—a lot more. It stimulates you with an addictive stream of information from sources ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. It wants you to be creative while not breaking any unwritten rules. It wants you to take risks but not make any mistakes. It demands primacy over everything else in your life. It’s into kinky accessories like tire slashers, razor wire, radiation detectors, Humvees, and pop-up terrorist barriers.
The CIA was a place to swim in ideas and intellectual debate and to drown in frustration. There I met my husband, some wonderful friends, creative minds, and impressive intellects. I also ran up against glib careerists, pants-wetting bureaucrats, and the occasional borderline sociopath. The CIA gave me a stunning window into two of the great global paradigm shifts of our time: the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of international terror networks. The CIA gave me acute acid reflux.
You come to terms with CIA, wish it the best for the sake of your country, but you don’t get over it even years after you’ve left. Despite the Agency’s faults, I can’t condemn it  without denying the part of my self that was shaped to fit its needs. I often find myself defending CIA. In a world where so many indulge in non-thinking, name calling, and meme-level “debate,” it’s still a place that tries its best to practice intellectual rigor. It’s better than people think. It has been the scapegoat of choice for politicians for generations, allowing them to say “intelligence failure” rather than admit policy failure. If you have a passion for your subject matter, the CIA is a good place to be.
Now that I’ve left, I am grateful for the training I got there, for all the people who questioned my thinking and forced me to admit my intellectual biases and fight against them. I still marvel at the range of expertise in the Agency. I still admire the analysts’ strong sense of professional ethics.