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Sunday, December 27, 2015

A few "secrets" about the CIA..........

I apologize for my infrequent posts this December.  Christmas is very time consuming, not to mention I have a friend visiting from Austria for the Holidays.

During this Holiday season, I want to thank all of the U.S. government employees, both military and civil service alike, who spent Christmas away from their families so that we could safely enjoy the company of ours.  This expression of gratitude is not like the cut-and-paste "hearts and prayers" we get from Washington DC every time a national tragedy strikes.  My appreciation comes with the knowledge of how it feels to repeatedly miss birthdays, weddings, Holidays, and other special events because of a more important obligation: the security of the United States of America.  I want you to know that the men and women who sacrifice for our freedom do get lonely, and sometimes very homesick.  But in my experience, I never met someone in this position who wasn't proud to have the opportunity to make the sacrifice.  I spent my time overseas working as a civilian, and truthfully, I've lived in some awful places.  But I never let myself forget that eventually, I would always end up back home in my beloved Texas.  The locals all around me don't have that luxury to anticipate.  Which makes doing the job all the more important.  When we sacrifice to protect freedom, it works as a contagion of spirit, inspiring others to make courageous, sometimes dangerous decisions, in the pursuit of liberty.

Recently, while making up for lost time, I sat down and spent most of a weekend catching up on previous seasons of the hit show "Homeland".  I have a number of friends who really enjoy the show, so I wanted to watch a few episodes and see if it caught my interest.  Two things are certain: the show is very well-made and performed.  A great deal of effort and money is spent on special effects and production values.  The show provides tremendous excitement and suspense, and compared to what else I see as competition, "Honeland" is in a class by itself.  But in this blog I want to address some of the misconceptions that average Americans have about the CIA.  Homeland makes no effort to stay within any reasonable bounds of accuracy when it comes to the daily functions and authority of CIA officers, which is understandable.  Who wants to watch bureaucracy in action?  I recall in one episode where the main character "Carrie" was debating whether to order surveillance on someone.  The CIA has neither the manpower nor the legal authority to surveille anyone.  In another episode, senior CIA officers ordered the assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (to be committed by a U.S. citizen, no less).  It made for a heckuva episode, but has no basis whatsoever in reality.  The CIA doesn't order the assassination of anyone, and as far as I know, never has.  This brings us to the real issue with these shows.  The CIA and it's officers work exclusively at the discretion of whatever administration is in the White House at that time.  The CIA is operational only so much as it takes to collect necessary intelligence as securely and with as few repercussions as possible.  All operations are weighed for a risk factor and include a number of "necessary approval" firewalls.  The direction of the Agency's intelligence collection is determined by the respective administration voted into office.  No one gets to fly around the world, popping up in various friendly and unfriendly locations, to operate on their discretion.  It sure does make for great television, though.

CIA Case Officers working overseas do not drive fancy cars and spend their time in Casinos and horse races.  The job is not nearly as sexy as Hollywood wants you to believe.  The obligation of every Case Officer is to be aware of the intelligence gaps (what information is needed) and who within contact has best access to that information.  From that point on, the CIA officer employs his training to eventually reach an agreement with said person, to allow the officer access to the confidential information.  The contacts are foreigners, and not always beautiful Russian runway models (unless you're James Bond).  The process can take as long as six months (or more), and it takes place overseas, not in the United States.  Case Officers cannot decide spontaneously to put on a Burka and fly to Iran to attend a funeral and infiltrate a terrorist cell.  The CIA is a professionally run organization, and everyone has a boss.  Each Case Officer has his or her file of contacts and cases to handle, but before operations can proceed, plans have to be passed up the chain of command for approval.  The Agency employs tremendous oversight to ensure as few mistakes as possible.  It was tedious at times, waiting for approvals, but I always understood the process.  This type of business can and has gotten people killed.  Every operation must be thoroughly scrutinized and the potential gain must be weighed against the risk.  The CIA always crosses its "t's" and dots its "i's", which is why it is the best at what it does.

I've noticed that many people believe that the CIA directs foreign policy for the United States, or at least decides what intelligence should and shouldn't be targeted.  These assertions are absolutely false.  The Central Intelligence Agency is a branch of the U.S. government, just like the Department of Commerce and the Food and Drug Administration.  The Agency collects confidential intelligence on targets that are decided upon and provided by whatever Administration is sitting in the Oval Office.  For instance, in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president, we can assume that the CIA was trying to collect confidential intelligence about the revolutionary Iranian government and the American Embassy hostages.  Every Administration will formulate its own foreign policy, and this goes a long way to determining the direction of Agency efforts.  I can assure you that as I write these words, the CIA is working overtime to collect the intelligence necessary to disrupt the intentions of the numerous terrorist groups that presently pollute our planet.  Once that information is collected, it is shared with the Administration and whoever else has been authorized.  It is up to the Administration to decide how to appropriately craft policy to effectively respond to the information that has been collected.

What secrets did you learn today?  CIA officers do not normally career weapons, especially not stateside; CIA Case Officers do not spontaneously determine operational activity, and buy a first-class ticket to Tehran wearing a Burka.  Also, the CIA is a functioning tool of the U.S. government and is responsible to the President and the American people.  Whatever Administration sitting in the Oval Office will decide how (and if) collected intelligence is used.  If (God forbid) the world suffers another terrible terrorist attack, it is more likely that it occurred not because of a lack of intelligence, but because of how that intelligence was utilized.

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