Ok, with all this talk about
the Plame affair
, people are tossing around words like undercover, agent, analyst and whatnot like goddamn hand-grenades in a china shop. I wanted to take a moment to lay out some of the groundwork on this whole matter.
The CIA has four Directorates. We’re concerned here about the three non-administrative Directorates – all the other administrative divisions which are beyond the scope of this post fall into the fourth administrative directorate. The Directorates are the Directorate of Operations, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the Directorate of Science and Technology. The duties of these three Directorates are as follows
The Directorate of Operations:
The Directorate of Operations (DO) is the clandestine arm of the CIA. Its core mission is to support our country’s security and foreign policy interests by conducting clandestine activities to collect information that is not obtainable through other means. The information the DO collects is screened for reliability before its dissemination to policymakers. Although the primary focus of the DO is the collection and dissemination of foreign intelligence, it also conducts counterintelligence activities abroad and special activities as authorized by the President.
The Directorate of Intelligence
The Directorate of Intelligence (DI) analyzes and interprets information collected through clandestine and other means, including open sources. The DI integrates this information and produces a variety of finished intelligence products emphasizing immediate and long-term implications of US interest. The substantive scope of the DI is worldwide and covers functional as well as regional issues; its products range from quick-reaction, informal oral briefings to complex, long-term research studies. The DI supports the President, administration policymakers, the Congress, Pentagon planners and warfighters, law enforcement agencies, and negotiators with timely, comprehensive intelligence analysis about a wide range of national security issues. The DI also provides Congressional members and staff with several hundred intelligence briefings and papers each year. It works closely with the other parts of CIA and the Intelligence Community to make sure intelligence consumers get the products they need.
The Directorate of Science and Technology
The Directorate of Science & Technology (DS&T) attacks national intelligence problems with bold technical operations and tradecraft. The DS&T engages in all phases of the intelligence process. It develops technologies and analytical tools to close gaps in access, processing, and exploitation of information. The DS&T expands the sense of what’s possible, infusing collection operations with innovative technologies. It partners with DI and other Agency all-source centers to exploit the revolution in information technology. The DS&T is always ready to provide technical support to the DO whenever and wherever needed. It ensures that the Agency’s investment resources are targeted against the highest intelligence priorities. The DS&T also fulfills a leadership role in R&D for the Intelligence Community. The DS&T is expanding its partnerships with other US Government organizations, academia, and private industry to keep pace with the demands posed by the changing intelligence environment and the global information revolution
Now, as a matter of general policy, the CIA tends to be rather secretive on just about anything relating to the CIA. By default the CIA tends to classify anything. For a number of years there was some internal controversy about whether or not the CIA would sell CIA coffee mugs – even though retailers and folks all over the DC area were selling the same sort of novelty items. As a result of this culture, the CIA doesn’t like information about itself to creep out into the world. Not because they’re necessarily doing anything that interesting, it’s just the way they do business – in private.
Now the business of espionage has to, by its very nature, be conducted in secret. How do you get secrets if every time somebody slips you some microfiche, you publish their name on the front page of the Washington Post? Now much of the CIA’s behavior during the mid-Cold War was, on occasion, a bit dubious and cowboy-esque – behaviors that were permitted to thrive in a culture of secrecy. This, and the subsequent revelations about the activities of the CIA have allowed people to believe that secrecy is axiomatically synonymous with skullduggery. However, after the Church Committee
in 1975-6, much of the adventurous behavior that got the CIA into so much of the stuff that had historically gotten the agency into trouble has been absolutely halted.
But the culture of secrecy persisted. In any environment which involves collection of closed-source material, there’s really never a way to call ‘time-out’ because you’re having some sort of domestic issues and you’ve got to indulge in a complete bearing of the heart. You can’t tell the KGB to plug their ears because you’re cleaning house.
So, even with the ongoing evolution and developments in the mission of the CIA over the last half-century, some fundamentals have remained the same. For starters, the CIA won’t confirm or deny that you work for them. Full stop. Even the janitor. It doesn’t matter if the closest you might get to a Chinese agent passing secrets to the CIA is free egg rolls with your Chinese takeout. It doesn’t matter if the most classified paperwork you see is toilet paper. The CIA doesn’t spill beans about this (or anything else if they can help it.)
Now going back to the Directorate of Operations (DO) description, I leave it to the reader to figure out what “…by conducting clandestine activities to collect information that is not obtainable through other means” means, particularly when compared with the listing for the Directorate of Science and Technology description. Clearly, it’s not a good thing when the folks working for the DO get outed. But how bad exactly? Well, the CIA is not in the habit of engaging in any of the nonsense you see in the Tailor of Panama
, the Agency
, or Alias
. In other words, not so many guys wearing masks using secret laser-decoder rings and doing other James Bond stuff. So if somebody drops the dime and says “So-and-so works for the CIA” it doesn’t always mean that they’re going to be treated to the North Korean hospitality seen in Die Another Day
. The odds of that are dependent on where they’re working, how long they’ve been there, to what extent the host government has kind of sussed out the person in question (and they all do eventually), whether or not they feel a need to expel an American and so on. More significantly, however, outing someone in the field (particularly if they’ve been under surveillance long enough for the local cops to know who they’re meeting with and whatnot) can create a rough situation for the locals working with the US. [ed. – the CIA guys crashing around in seedy bars and dark alleys are known as Operations Officers, not agents, not undercover this, or secret that, so get off all the cheap novel terminology, folks, will ya]. And that’s a pretty bad can of juju.
Now the folks working in the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) do all the pointy-headed thinking about things - the analysis, prognostication, prediction and production of finished product that gets shipped out the door. The CIA doesn’t like to spill the beans about those guys either. Not because they know the name of the blind man with the three-legged dog at the train station who has the keys to the locker with the microfilm (and they don’t because they don’t have a need to know). But because if you get in the habit of saying yes/no to some questions about who works for the Christians In Action, but not others, it doesn’t take the sharpest tool in the shed to figure out who works for what Directorate.
However, on the practical side, what happens is that neighbors quite often figure out who works for what. Girls in the sewing circles talk. People get sloppy and it’s not uncommon for a leak here or there to occur. Does the CIA get itself in a bind every time that happens? Not really. You want to try crucifying the janitor because his neighbor happened to see him turn into the front entrance at Langley one day? If nothing else, you gotta figure that the other guy’s counterintel folks aren’t complete lackwits. They’ll figure out you’re a funny fellow after the first couple of decades. Heck, even if you aren’t a spook, they’ll shine the bright light of suspicion on you, because they do it to everybody.
Where this gets to be a real issue of National Security is not whether Miss Plame was outed. The first question is what exactly she did for the Christians In Action. If she was a spookette (or ‘case officeress
,’ as they’re sometimes known), then this could be a big issue. If she was relatively fresh off the boat (before all the chatter and cross-talk among intel agencies had more or less figured her deal out) then you may have jeopardized some lives. If Miss Plame is a case officeress and has been around for 4.2 bazillion years and is hitting the career sunset years then it might have been widely known but not widely talked about information that really couldn’t hurt much of anyone. I mean really, is it a big surprise if someone sidles up next to you and tells you George Tenet is involved with the CIA? Third case is that Miss Plame is not a denizen of the DO at all. Well then, we’re on trickier ground – at the end it’s still an operational security and counterintelligence matter and still serious, but we’ve migrated away from life-endangering serious down to merely serious. The distinction between life-endangering serious and serious is an important one. Just ask a surgeon about that. Or someone who’s just had a heart attack, tumor, or whatnot. The difference also drives, in my opinion, whether or not this is a breach of national security that requires us to take up arms and storm the Bastille, so to speak.
Personally, I don’t think it is. Based on the tidbits and the way this was reported, it was common insider knowledge in the circles in which the Ambassador Wilson and his wife traveled. I don’t think anyone outed anyone. After that many years on the circuit, in the remarkably tiny community that these people are a part of I think people just kind of knew, I don’t think anyone sought out an attempt to spill the beans to endanger Miss Plame’s life. Why not? Because it would be stupid, messy, and a horribly ineffectual way of “getting revenge.” Why have two people call around? Why quadruple the exposure? Why senior White House officials? Why leak through people that offer no plausible deniability and failure to preserve a firewall between the pigeon and the roost? Why shop it around to six reporters? Why tell your chosen leak-mobile that you’ve shopped it around to six reporters?
I do think, however, Novak may have possibly engaged in some creative interviewing. Leading questions and a quick pull along the lines of “Why do you think that they sent Amb. Wilson to Niger? Did he have any long-term intimate acquaintance with anyone who would give him any insights into investigation or WMD?” Damnedfool might reply (this is all off record, of course) “Well sure, I thought you knew that that his wife Valerie has done a lot of work in that area. Jeeze, she and the Ambassador were at the CIA Christmas party.”
The other thing I’ve been noodling on was how this ties in to the to the chronology of Uraniumgate or whatever the hell it was called. Let’s say, for sake of argument, that the person spilling the beans (such as they were) back in July wanted to hurt the administration’s case for war. Wilson was scooted off to Niger to go suss out this whole yellowcake gig. He said “Nope – none here.” Now imagine that’s not getting the coverage someone thinks it deserves. How about if they can make the whole thing look like a CIA investigation that turned up zilch? Yeah, how about focusing on the fact that the CIA “sent” someone (who would then, presumably, be from the CIA who), found nothing? Lends some weight to Amb. Wilson’s findings?
NOTE: All information in this post is open-source. For further reading I would recommend Ronald Kessler's "Inside the CIA
" and Bob Baer's "See No Evil
" as a couple of really good intros to the CIA.
UPDATE: Or you could just read what Novak himself has to say
about the whole matter (and another reason you should review the blogosphere before you post). Crap. If I had posted this when I finished writing it, I would be all vindicated and everything.