CIA to cut back ‘unsuccessful’ non-official-cover program

The United States Central Intelligence Agency is scaling down an ambitious human intelligence program that places case officers in non-diplomatic cover jobs, because it has been ineffective, according to media reports. When stationed abroad, the vast majority of CIA case officers pose as American diplomats. This type of cover allows them to mingle with —and attempt to recruit— foreign officials. It also offers them the added benefit of diplomatic immunity, which minimizes the possibility of their long-term imprisonment or even execution in the hands of adversaries. The pressures of the post-9/11 security environment, however, pushed the Agency to deploy case officers that are not associated with American embassies and consulates abroad. The reason is that members of non-state groups like al-Qaeda cannot be recruited on the diplomatic circuit. To penetrate these groups, CIA case officers must hit the streets of cities like Sana’a, Peshawar, Basra or Mogadishu. These case officers, who operate without diplomatic immunity, are known at the CIA as non-official-cover, or NOCs. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers, among other covers. The idea is that working outside of American embassies and consulates, they can be more successful in recruiting members of non-state terrorist entities. In the past decade, the CIA has spent over $3 billion on its NOC program, and has increased the number of active NOCs from several dozen to several hundred. Agency NOCs have been deployed all over the world, using elaborate fake ‘legends’ (identities and supporting information) connected with CIA front companies. Their job is considered one of the most risky at the CIA, because they cannot invoke diplomatic immunity if arrested in a foreign country. However, an article published last weekend in The Los Angeles Times alleges that the CIA’s NOC program, known officially as the Global Deployment Initiative, is now being scaled down. The paper cites “a dozen […] current and former US officials”, who say that the effort “has been a disappointment”. The unnamed sources say that the NOC program was hampered from its very start by lack of experience and critical language skills, bureaucratic barriers, and other administrative problems. One source tells the paper that only a few handfuls of NOCs are currently able to speak target languages like Pashto or Urdu, and that NOCs have found it difficult to blend into non-Western cultures. Additionally, they say that the unorthodox payment requirements of NOC assignments have turned the program into an “absolute nightmare” for the CIA’s administration. Some NOCs were even caught over-billing the Agency, and were allegedly forced to return some of the funds given to them. For these and other reasons, just a few of these deep-cover case officers were able to recruit useful assets, says The Times. The paper spoke to CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz, who declined to comment on the story.

2 Responses to CIA to cut back ‘unsuccessful’ non-official-cover program

  1. Back in the mid-seventies the US had 150 NOC’s while we in Britain had only a dozen. Culturally largely Caucasian in appearance, too. Most of us back then spoke fluent Russian and/or Mandarin + one or two other European languages. The backdrop has changed markedly over the past two decades to today. Urdu, Pashto, Arabic in its different regional accents are more important. To find these people willing to do the job wass to recruit from the first-born of immigrants from those shores. SIS and the Security Service, even GCHQ and the BBC actively did and still do – about 20 years on this initiative. Moved well away from the main five universities, including Oxbridge, and select officers from the armed forces. I don’t think the US agencies went with the shift and stuck rigidly to the Ivy League system and it is quite obvious why the GDI programme would no longer be feasible.

  2. CIA never had the management skills to make NOC program work properly . Needed to be run totally separate and with a lot more patience .

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