In Terror Fight, “Rush For Immediate Results” Leads to Loss of Tradecraft, Misses Real Threats

Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo have a long AP article this morning, outlining yet another huge blow to CIA operations, this time in the form of the loss of a number of agents in Lebanon. However, in describing that situation, Goldman and Apuzzo provide a description of a likely root cause of the problem that I think may apply more globally than just to the CIA and counterintelligence:

The Lebanon crisis is the latest mishap involving CIA counterintelligence, the undermining or manipulating of the enemy’s ability to gather information. Former CIA officials have said that once-essential skill has been eroded as the agency shifted from outmaneuvering rival spy agencies to fighting terrorists. In the rush for immediate results, former officers say, tradecraft has suffered.

As described by Robert Baer in his description of the utter failure of tradecraft in the Khost bombing, the loss of tradecraft in the CIA started when it was under the direction of John Deutch (whom I think of as likely Clinton’s worst appointment and entirely inappropriate for the job), but as Baer described, the massive expansion in CIA activities post 9/11 with so few properly trained field agents contributed even more strongly to the current shortage of tradecraft.

But it is not just within CIA where a massive shift in actions and priorities occurred post 9/11. Consider what has been put forward just in the past few months from the FBI and NYPD and it is easy to see that here, too, a “rush for immediate results” has hurt the fight against terrorists, producing laughable arrests while missing real threats.

Just last night, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly staged “terror porn”, in which they described the arrest of the “Christmas Light Bomber” in a case that it appears even the FBI found not worth pursuing. The FBI looks no better, however, having chosen to indict a group of Georgia crackers who met at Waffle House to discuss making ricin from a few castor beans. And, of course, the FBI really outdid itself in concocting and making an arrest in the Scary Iran Plot, where we are asked to believe in a connection between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and a Mexican drug cartel.

But, as Baer describes for Khost and as Goldman and Apuzzo describe today for Lebanon, this mindless focus on immediate results also leaves the country open to real attacks that escape detection.  And here, again, the damage is not just limited to CIA. Marcy notes here how NYPD’s massive counterterrorism efforts completely missed the two most significant recent attempts to attack New York City. Also, despite the huge attention that was being paid to Anwar al-Awlaki, contact with him was one of several clues the intelligence community did not connect with other clues from Nidal Hasan prior to his attack on Fort Hood.

Where is the function within NYPD, FBI and the counterterrorism effort in general that subjects allocation of efforts to the “laugh test”? Is there no process within the FBI that would flag a group of elderly militia wannabe types as worthy of only an occasional drive-by rather than infiltration with a confidential informant who helps push them toward indictable actions? Is there not a single person within NYPD who looks at allocation of efforts and says it’s not worth spending the funds to produce a video of a car bomb to use in terror theater for announcing the arrest of someone for building a single pipe bomb? (And come to think of it, why was the video available Sunday night if Pimentel was arrested Saturday night?) What big disaster awaits the country because the intelligence apparatus has been tied up in chasing down the next lame press conference material instead of filtering through the vast amount of information collected to identify the legitimate threats?

12 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    The primary focus and function of the CIA is no longer that of an intelligence agency, but that of another branch of the nation’s armed forces.

    The militarization of the CIA is evidenced by both the funding and hiring decisions within its various components (massive increases in counterterror operations and clandestine services, transition of formally desk-bound analysts of the Intelligence division to frontline positions directly on the battlefield, etc.) as well its ultimate leadership.

    When a four star Army general is magically and seamlessly transformed overnight from being the nation’s top warrior to that of the Director of the CIA, the transformation of the CIA into another branch of the nation’s armed forces is complete.

  2. MadDog says:

    OT – An interesting tidbit quoted by the NYT regarding the Haqqani memo and IMs:

    “…Pakistani news media reported Sunday that Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of the powerful Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, met with Mr. Ijaz in London on Oct. 22, where Mr. Ijaz handed over what he said were his communications with Mr. Haqqani…”

  3. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Yeah, it’s really creepy that Petraeus is running CIA now. I liked it better when most of his actions were more public. He’s been very quiet the last couple of weeks. Just what has he been up to?

  4. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Yes, and Haqqani has an interesting response:

    Ijaz is the same person who called for declaring the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) a terrorist organisation, Haqqani was quoted as telling the president.

    A few days later, the same person then reportedly met the head of ISI Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Haqqani reportedly added. “What does this indicate?” he was quoted as rhetorically asking the president.

  5. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And just up via NDTV:

    Full text of Mansoor Ijaz’s interview to NDTV

    Barkha Dutt: If this was meant to be all about plausible deniability to use your phrase, the phrase you said Husain Haqqani used with you, why did you out what was clearly a confidential process?

    Mansoor Ijaz: Ya, that’s a fair question and it is important that the viewers understand. I write editorial pieces two or three times a year in some of the more important newspapers and journals around the world. When I do it, I usually try to create, what I would call an anecdotal entry to the op-ed piece. Something that indicates why what I’m about to write as a policy prescription is important. So with the Financial Times which is probably, if not the most important newspaper, certainly one of the two most important newspapers in the world, when you write for that comment page you have to have certain authenticity with which you write. So my policy prescription was that the ISI has got out of control. We need to find a way to now help the Pakistani civilian government deal with that, and the US are to take the lead role. And in my piece I said that the Section S of the ISI – that’s what we call the strategic section – deals with these kinds of problems in Afghanistan and you know other – Kashmir and things like that – they do. That Section S should be labelled as a terrorist organisation. That was the prescription in my op-ed piece…

    Now try to square Ijaz’s statement about Pakistan’s ISI in the NDTV interview with that ISI tidbit from the NYT. Good luck!

  6. GregLBean says:

    Surely when some of these laughable scary plots are first discovered a simple request to the plotters from authorities to ‘please explain’ would kill the whole thing dead.

    I always slow down when I see a warning that I am speeding flash on a billboard sized sign over the freeway, I don’t when I am secretly snapped by a speed camera.

    Whatever happened to an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

  7. Jim White says:

    Heh. I guess FBI did have a little judgement on the Pimentel case, but where was this on the Waffle House Crackers?

    Federal authorities declined to pursue a case against an “al-Qaida sympathizer” accused of wanting to bomb police stations and post offices in New York City because they believed he was mentally unstable and incapable of pulling off the alleged plot, two law enforcement officials said Monday.

    New York Police Department investigators sought to get the FBI involved at least twice as their undercover investigation of Jose Pimentel unfolded, the officials said. Both times, the FBI concluded that he wasn’t a serious threat, they said.

    The FBI concluded that 27-year-old Pimentel “didn’t have the predisposition or the ability to do anything on his own,” one of the officials said.

  8. Sparkles the Iguana says:

    I don’t understand why the outed spies story is emerging now, when Nasrallah announced it on TV in June. All of these Iran-linked stories emerging at the same time is enough to make a person suspicious.

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