Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time to Bring Back the Dinosaurs

Bob Baer, of “Sleeping with the Devil” fame, beat me to it when he decried the apparent demise of incorporating tradecraft concepts into CIA operations today. Maybe it’s high time for CIA to consider bringing some dinosaurs back from the cold.
Let’s go back to the rendition of an al Qaeda agent living in Italy. CIA sent off its best rendition officers to “conduct” the target to CIA-controlled lodgings. The whole business set up a hullabaloo in Italian government circles. It appeared that the rendition specialists had lived like kings while awaiting the initiation of the operation. They bought everything using their personal (true-name) credit cards. It didn’t take too long for the Italian security services to identify every CIA rendition officer. A quick check of the telephone records of this witless bunch and the Italian services identified the CIA base chief, the officer nominally supervising the rendition. The violation of tradecraft principles in this operation was appalling.
We aren’t done yet. Hizballah is now claiming to have identified a number of CIA officers as well as their agents. If you’ve identified a CIA officer, it doesn’t take too long to uncover his agents. This is especially true when the officer fails to practice his tradecraft. It would appear CIA isn’t the only service to have fallen by the wayside, The Syrians, Iranians and Hizballah would appear to have identified a number of Mossad undercover officers and their agents.
Welcome to the age of high-tech. We may champion this age in our daily lives but intelligence officers should eschew this development if, for no other reason than it would appear to have supplanted the practice of tradecraft. Worst of all, one wonders if tradecraft principles are even taught to new officers. Ah, the new wonders of the world of high tech spycraft. We have unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that permit an operator thousands of miles away to send a missile into a speeding pickup truck. We have any number of different sensors that can distinguish between the foot tread of a human and a waterbuck and send the message tens of thousands of miles away, bouncing signals off satellites. We have ultraviolet and infrared gadgets. Our devices can look through solid brick walls and determine how many individuals are in a given room. We can do all these things, but we can’t keep secret the identities of our officers or our agents.
It’s time to bring back the dinosaurs. I am such a dinosaur. In my days as an active CIA officer, we had precious few such high tech devices. We were pleased to get a simple recording device that fit into a shirt pocket. What an advancement it was when we moved from spring-loaded robot cameras to motor drives. And who in CIA today would know how to prepare and conceal a microdot? Yes, high tech has, in many ways made our operational lives simpler, but they have not—repeat—not made our operational lives more secure. All right, give your agent a cell phone instead of more involved ways of communicating with him. Look out! He will be tracked hither and yon by the counterintelligence offices of the local service thanks to the locating devices built into cell phones today. And when he’s caught red-handed, the record of all calls made from that cellphone will be available. Will his case officer’s name and number appear? You bet it will!
So I end my plea; can we please go back to the dinosaur days when we worried about who might be following us? The dinosaur days when we worried about our agent communications falling into the wrong hands? The dinosaur days when we took nothing for granted and every agent was bad until proven good? Just that alone would have prevented the Khost massacre.