- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

A consensus is forming in Washington around the proposition that much more needs to be done to increase U.S. intelligence capabilities. Human intelligence has been neglected and is critical in countering terrorist threats. A decades-old, self-imposed prohibition on assassination must be reviewed and intelligence collection guidelines limiting recruitment of human rights violators should be revised. The growing conventional wisdom is correct - but it misses the central point.
More resources will be needed to support intelligence operations. Human intelligence - that is, the spotting, assessing, recruiting and running of agents - has been relatively neglected. It makes no sense to regularly target "command and control" nodes with precision- guided munitions, while denying highly capable sniper teams the ability to attack individual targets. As for the 1995 Clinton-Deutch-Tenet guidelines, we would never expect Drug Enforcement Administration officers to refrain from using drug dealers as informants. It is nothing short of ludicrous to expect critically placed potential agents to pass a CIA human rights questionnaire.
The Washington Times is right to say "End the assassination ban" [Sept. 17] and "Kill the Clinton guidelines" [Sept. 13]. But these are peripheral issues. Addressing them will not result in a CIA able to conduct a serious campaign against terrorist networks and their state sponsors. The decline of our clandestine capabilities has been decades in the making.
The Carter-Turner purges of the 1970s seriously damaged the CIA's covert capabilities. While recovering from the wounds, the Reagan Doctrine's "overt-covert" crusades of the 1980s witnessed both successes and failures. But it was in the signature operations of the 1990s that CIA's flaws became abundantly clear. The efforts to undermine Saddam Hussein's terrorist regime in Iraq were a dismal display of ineptitude, timidity and failure. Coup plots were uncovered. Assets were killed. Sensitive equipment was lost. The most promising venture - an umbrella coalition under the Iraqi National Congress (INC) -was first supported, then undermined and, ultimately, abandoned by the CIA. Even today, CIA personnel spend more energy criticizing the INC than they do subverting Saddam Hussein.
The CIA's failures cannot be blamed on a lack of resources especially since the (unforeseen) 1998 attack against U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Osama bin Laden. In the wake of the issuance of the now-criticized recruitment guidelines, I personally asked many CIA chiefs of station and operations officers if the rules harmed their efforts - hoping and expecting to argue their case in a congressional context. Not one would say the guidelines inhibited their recruitment operations.
The CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO) contains many dedicated men and women. But they work in a system locked in its Cold War past, unwilling and unable to adapt to fighting the forces behind last week's heinous attacks. Running operations in the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact was exceedingly difficult. But the task of implementing operations that will disrupt and destroy terrorist networks and undermine their state sponsors is far more daunting.
The CIA's DO rewards those who play the game at headquarters, not those who show innovation in the field. Today, it is little more than a semi-secret version of the State Department, relying on dinners with host country intelligence services, passing out specialized equipment and rewarding favorites with free trips to the United States. The messy business of back-alley tradecraft has taken a back seat to the much simpler business of "liaison" with foreign intelligence services.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former senior DO operative, has written eloquently of the CIA's inability to operate in the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa - this war's battlefields. In a prophetic Atlantic Monthly article two months ago, Mr. Gerecht noted, "Unless one of bin Laden's foot soldiers walks through the door of a U.S. consulate or embassy, the odds that a CIA counterterrorist officer will ever see one are extremely poor."
I witnessed the DO in action shortly after a major intelligence failure. I accompanied what was described as two of the most savvy "street-smart" operators in U.S. service with extensive Cold War experience to witness their surveillance tradecraft. After barely more than an hour of night-time driving through the dimly-lit streets of a large Third World capital, we pulled over on the side of the road, a CIA veteran using a penlight to examine a map - because we were lost.
The criticism is harsh and will, no doubt, be disputed by some in the CIA. To those fashioning the American response to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks - and those with oversight of American intelligence - I suggest asking the following questions:
When is the last time a CIA officer crossed a border without a passport and an escort?
How many CIA field agents have fluency in Farsi or Arabic - or Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Kurdish or Baluch?
How does the CIA propose to penetrate cells made up of individuals that forged their ties over decades in the dust of Palestinian refugee camps, the chaos of Beirut or the killing fields of Afghanistan?
It will take a major effort over many years to reform our clandestine capabilities. Even near-term options for a U.S. response will have to overcome entrenched CIA opposition. For example, if we are interested in undermining a premier state sponsor of terror such as Saddam Hussein, there are Iraqis willing to fight and die for our shared interests. But the CIA is dead set against aiding them.
If we are interested in driving terrorists out of Afghanistan we should arm Afghanistan's Northern Alliance - the only surviving opposition to the Taliban regime. But don't expect enthusiasm from the CIA. They did little to support these forces in their fight against the Soviets in the 1980s. Instead, they funneled arms to the extremists favored by Pakistan, the precursors of those who now harbor Osama bin Laden.

Randy Scheunemann, president of Orion Strategies LLC, served as foreign policy and intelligence adviser to Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Trent Lott from 1993 -1998.

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