Analysis: Former CIA clandestine officer paints bleak picture of Agency

In a brutally honest exposé, a 25-year veteran of the CIA has publicly described the Agency as an organization mired in failure, mediocrity and incompetence. Art Brown, who headed the Asia division of the CIA’s Clandestine Service from 2003 to 2005, has called the Agency’s seven-year, multi-billion operation to find Osama bin Laden a “failure” that “no amount of ‘rendition’ of bin Laden lieutenants can mask”. Writing in The New York Times, the CIA veteran has revealed that Syria’s alleged construction of a nuclear reactor in the country’s eastern desert came “as a surprise” to the Agency. He also disclosed that, following 9/11, “CIA spies reported on several occasions that al Qaeda had plans to attack American military [overseas] bases […] in countries that a quick Web search would have shown had no such bases”. In addressing the causes of CIA’s incompetence, Brown criticizes the Agency’s insular culture, which prompts its spies to “live in a cocoon of secrecy that breeds distrust of outsiders”. He also points to the CIA’s technological backwardness and characteristically reveals that “[d]espite their reputation as plugged-in experts on other countries, many CIA officers do not even have Internet access at their desks. Worse yet, they don’t think they need it”. The retired official also reproaches the lack at the CIA of a mechanism of institutional punishment for mediocre or substandard performance, as well as the Agency’s “ladder-climbing” ethos, which explains why “newly minted CIA managers, six months into their assignments, [routinely plan] how they might climb that next run”. Brown’s editorial stops short of calling for a radical shake-up of CIA leadership by the incoming Barack Obama Administration. In recent weeks, a rift has developed between the CIA and the Obama transition team, while several Democratic politicians with ties to the intelligence community have been enlisted by the CIA to urge the US President Elect to retain the current intelligence leadership. [JF]

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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