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Saturday, October 24, 2015

The CIA in 2015: balancing force protection, terrorism, and traditional intelligence collection.

Since I formally retired from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) roughly five years ago, and I was given the opportunity to come out from under cover, I have been regularly approached by young people who are interested in a career with the organization.  The fact that I published a memoir, and had the misfortune to be poisoned during my career while working operationally, has created an awkward, public persona with my name attached.  I don't mind, because I come from the mindset that only experienced officers can truly recognize the attitude and determination necessary to be a successful Case Officer.  Unfortunately, I've never been approached regarding one of the many other opportunities the Agency offers.  The CIA consists of four separate Directorates, and each one promises a career unlike any other, with tremendous opportunity to learn about the world we live in, and to be part of supporting National Security.  Any job with the Agency also provides regular opportunity for advancement in an environment of great challenges.  When I chose to write this blog post, I decided to avoid any appearance of a recruitment pitch.  No job is perfect, and the CIA exists under intense public and even international scrutiny.  I had instances of frustration, but they were almost always connected to the unfortunate bureaucracy that comes with working for Uncle Sam.  If someone is under the mistaken belief that typical government problems don't exist at the Agency, the reality is, because of the sensitive nature of the job, scrutiny is even more a part of everyday work, and officers must be vigilant to follow ALL rules, regulations, and guidelines.  That being said, let me take a little time to express to you why my career with the CIA was the pivotal, most incredible experience of my life.

As a Case Ofiicer, I was given the opportunity to complete the most intense, all-encompassing training regime that has ever existed for an Intelligence Officer.  The organization will not put officers in the field who have not demonstrated a thorough understanding and respect for security, counter-intelligence, and tradecraft.  What is tradecraft?  Simply put, tradecraft are the skills a Case Officer requires to operate successfully in an overseas environment.  Because of the current public obsession with the subject of espionage, the average American has a distorted perception of the Agency.  The CIA has no law enforcement authority, and only functions domestically in joint-arrangements with our Federal Law Enforcement partners.  Following the horrific and mind-numbing events of September 11, 2001, the Agency began an aggressive effort to share resources with Law Enforcement in support of National Security.  I have worked closely in just such an environment, and the results have been more successful than the public realizes.  Also, CIA officers, beyond the security officers the Agency hires for its facilities, DO NOT carry weapons domestically.  Outside of war zones, CIA officers aren't normally armed overseas.  And if an officer has been assigned to a war zone or dangerous environment, he or she is required to complete a thorough weapons training and familiarization course.  Having to work in a wartime environment should not come naturally to most Case Officers, but the changed circumstances of National Security have necessitated the Agency's involvement in various conflicts worldwide.  This effort is part of the mission to ensure Force Protection- the collection of vital intelligence to protect our young men and women in uniform.  I was also fortunate to work in a number of denied environments, and I can assure you that there is no more important job than defending our troops, and no greater satisfaction after the successful completion of a job-well-done.

I decided to write a memoir in order to share my experiences as a victim of intended poisoning by someone I was meeting for intelligence purposes.  Please understand, this wasn't a situation involving a foreign government, it was about someone who was mentally unstable and trying to play "spy".  When you chose a career as a Case Officer, you do not have the luxury of deciding who has access to vital information.  Eventually in their career, every Case Officer will be obliged to meet with unpleasant people.  I was young and anxious, and probably missed warning signs that a more experienced officer would have detected.  Be that as it may, I discovered the true meaning of dedication once my medical issues became a concern.  The Agency supported me in every way, providing access to the best physicians and specialists that the country had to offer.  I will always be  grateful for the support I received for my medical difficulties while still working.  The CIA Office of Medical Services is as good as it can possibly get, with brilliant on staff physicians and nurses, who travel at a moment's notice to treat unexpected illnesses.  The Agency will travel anywhere to collect the intelligence that the government needs to keep the American people safe.  Therefore, you will on occasion find officers suffering from conditions normally foreign to us.  The Office of Medical Services keeps the Agency healthy in both mind and body, because the need for intelligence never sleeps.

During my career, I discovered a support network within the Agency that went well beyond my expectations.  In one way or another, everyone working at the CIA does a job in support of life-saving intelligence.  In a nutshell, CIA Operations Officers spend time overseas, collecting confidential information that is vitally needed by our government.  The information is relayed back to the United States, where it is organized, formatted, and disseminated to the appropriate government agencies.  Its obviously much more complicated, and planning, hiring, training, and execution are all essential elements of the CIA's mission.  In order to collect the intelligence to keep America safe, the CIA must continue to attract the best and the brightest that our country has to offer.  I always tell interested persons that bringing a language skill to the table, especially Arabic, Russian or Chinese, is a good start, as is a history of some overseas living experience.  But not every Agency employee ends up, or even desires to go overseas.  For those that do, the key is being to assimilate oneself into foreign environments.  The name of the game is discretion; the art of NOT being able to draw attention to one's self.  Also, any officer serving overseas must understand the no-compromise importance of following the rules.  Espionage is not a game or a movie, and people can die if someone gets lazy.  A career with the CIA requires extreme discipline, as inevitably you will be exposed to classified information of one kind or another.  Understand before you even begin to fill out the application, that the organization can only be successful if the need for secrecy is paramount and non-negotiable.  If you have a natural habit of sharing things without thinking, then probably the CIA is not the place for you.  But if you enjoy current events and foreign affairs, if you have great discipline and want to be daily challenged, if you love Democracy and want to be a part of protecting national security, then without a doubt, give it some serious consideration.

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