- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

The CIA's espionage branch lacks leadership and personnel with language skills who can recruit agents in foreign countries, a CIA veteran says.
Robert Baer, who spent 21 years as a CIA spy working against terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia, said in an interview that the CIA directorate of operations needs to be restructured to better fight in the war against terrorism.
"A lot of people did some very good work and I'm sure they still do, but you've really got to revamp the system," Mr. Baer said of the CIA's directorate of operations, the elite espionage branch. Mr. Baer left the CIA in 1997.
"You have to have a strong director of operations who understands operations, who can separate good intelligence from bad intelligence, knows what a source is, knows how to vet a source and knows when someone is taking unnecessary risk and what's a necessary risk," Mr. Baer said.
Mr. Baer discussed his CIA experiences that are contained in his new book, "See No Evil," published last month.
The key to defeating terrorists, he writes in the book, is to "go out and start talking to people" who can see and hear what the CIA cannot.
The CIA needs to let its spies "perform their jobs, no matter how murky the swamp is," he wrote.
Mr. Baer said that in 1995 he became the focus of a FBI criminal investigation after a false Iranian intelligence report reached the White House. It stated that the CIA was plotting to assassinate Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
White House National Security Adviser Anthony Lake ordered the FBI probe at the time, and it focused on Mr. Baer, who was in charge of Iraqi operations and who was accused under a federal murder-for-hire law.
Eventually the Justice Department cleared Mr. Baer of the accusations. But the damage to the CIA's spying division caused by the investigation lingers, Mr. Baer said, because of "the message that sent through the CIA."
Mr. Baer said the incident has hampered spies' efforts to track down Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Baer said he was viewed by agency spies as "a bit of wild man who basically did his accountings and didn't break the law."
But after the FBI probe, other case officers were left saying that "if he can be hauled up on murder-for-hire charges, are you going to tell me to go out and assassinate bin Laden if I see him? I say no," Mr. Baer said.
Mr. Baer said all CIA officers are required to sign a statement saying they will abide by a ban on assassinations contained in a presidential executive order.
He said the CIA's foreign-agent recruitment system discourages field officers from hiring or running agents, and the entire intelligence collection system relies too much on electronic spying and information provided by foreign intelligence services.
The agency also is hampered by management practices that discourage risk-taking and focus on non-intelligence issues, he said. "You have too much of the CIA going after touchy-feely things," Mr. Baer said.
Mr. Baer said that in numerous cases risk-averse CIA managers refused to take action that could have stopped terrorist attacks.
Case officers often are sent to staff colleges instead of foreign posts, he said, and those who speak foreign languages fluently a vital skill for recruiting agents have been sent to regions where the langages can't be used, simply because CIA managers felt they had become too close to one region.
"It's so cumbersome the bureaucracy, the personnel review boards, the promotion system, security, the counterintelligence center, the counterespionage group that people are just totally and completely frustrated," Mr. Baer said.

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