- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

What ails the American newspaper? Statistics show slumps in circulation resembling the flight pattern of a set of falling car keys. Even the lofty Washington Post admitted in print (on Nov. 19) to a 10 percent drop in circulation the last two years. Why is this so? A public disdain for liberal bias? Competition from television? A younger generation that is not print-oriented? Oh, perhaps. But I sense a deeper reason among serious adults, to wit, that despite all the space given to reporting “what” happened, often at tedious length, newspapers in large part fail to put events into context and explain the “why” of what is going on in the world.

For the past two or so years, my understanding of foreign affairs has been shaped largely through the reportage of an extraordinary on-line service named www.Stratfor.com, which lays a rightful claim to being “the world’s leading private intelligence firm.” The fee for its daily service is peanuts; Stratfor makes its real money through detailed private analyses for corporations whose fortunes depend on knowing how events might affect their coffers. As a writer who has read an uncountable number of intelligence briefing papers over the years (the bulk of them in a historical context) what strikes me about Stratfor is the absence of either-or waffling when it comes to drawing conclusions.

Stratfor is the creation of George Friedman, a sometime political science professor and consultant to the intelligence community, and the author of America’sSecretWar:InsidetheHiddenWorldwideStruggleBetweenAmericaandItsEnemies (Doubleday, $24.95, 353 pages). As is true of many Americans, my feelings about the Iraq war — Was it necessary? Is it being waged properly? — have vacillated the past month.

Mr. Friedman does much to put my mind to rest. In his view, forget the debate over whether weapons of mass destruction ever existed, and whether they were a proper pretext for war. In his view, al Qaeda’s goal was to create an uprising in the Islamic world and overthrow secular governments, Saudi Arabia in particular. The invasion ordered by President George W. Bush was intended to isolate and frighten the Saudi government into cracking down on the flow of money to al Qaeda. He succeeded. Further, the invasion created a climate in which it has proven too dangerous for Islamic governments to work with al Qaeda or remain neutral.

Which is not to say that Mr. Friedman gives Bush & Company high praise. He faults the administration for failing to put the military and intelligence communities on a wartime immediately after September 11, and charges that “lying about why we were invading Iraq was a massive error.” Nonetheless, he feels that Iraq is “manageable, even though violence will continue for years. Like Northern Ireland, it will be a generation before it calms down.” And he repeats a forecast first made by Stratfor in December 2003: that the American military eventually must invade northwestern Pakistan to root out the al Qaeda command structure.

Most of us perhaps feel satiated by books on Iraq and the Middle East. Mr. Friedman’s work warrants the investment of an evening of careful reading.

• • •

To put it charitably, George Kiesvalter was a mess of a man physically. A closer companion of John Barleycorn than either medical science or common sense would dictate, he seemed in perpetual danger of setting himself aflame with falling cigarette ashes. He often dressed as if he had just stepped out of a rummage sale. But beneath this rumpled exterior (I sometimes wondered if it was deliberate camouflage) lurked one of the more skilled case officers in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency. His exploits are now retold through a longtime friend and agency veteran, Clarence Ashley, in CIASpymaster (Pelican, $26.95, 288 pages, illus.).

Many previous spook writers have told of Kiesvalter’s seminal role in handling the debriefing of two major in-place Soviet defectors: Pyror Popov, of Red Army intelligence, and Col. Oleg Penkovsky, who has been dubbed “the spy who saved the world” because of information giving insight that helped resolve the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Through Mr. Ashley, Kiesvalter retells these exploits in his own words.

Kiesvalter was adept at dealing with Popov and Penkovsky because he was Russian himself, born in St. Petersburg in 1910 into a wealthy and influential family (they fled the Bolsheviks in 1921). After military service and so-so business ventures, Kiesvalter joined CIA in 1951. But his skills as a case officer surpassed linguistic ability. Through charm and sincerity, he convinced Popov and Penkovsky to supply intelligence over a period of years despite the considerable personal risks they ran. (Both were eventually detected and executed.) He also was able to deflect one of Penkovsky’s goofier proposals — to smuggle miniature nuclear bombs into Moscow and obliterate the Kremlin and environs.

Although the book provides keen insight into what a CIA case officer actually does in the field, Mr. Ashley’s prose takes the reader down some irrelevant rabbit holes that would have best been left unexplored. But “hearing” Kiesvalter’s story in his own voice is a remarkable memento of a remarkable man.

• • •

As is well known, President Harry Truman dissolved the Office of Strategic Services within weeks after World War II ended, reacting to pressure from rival agencies. What is not generally known is that persons who worked for OSS continued doing the same work, albeit with different name tags on the office door. OSS/CIA veteran John H. Waller, who died in November, once told me, “For two years after OSS was disbanded, I did the exact same job, although I was not sure who I was working for. But the same checks came in.” Another such officer was Richard W. Cutler, who writes of his experiences in Counterspy:MemoirsofaCounterintelligenceOfficerinWorldWarIIandtheColdWar (Brassey’s, $25.95, 172 pages, illus.).

Mr. Cutler tells of how his service in X-2, the counterintelligence arm of OSS, segued neatly into the successor organization, the Strategic Services Unit, or SSU. He served as chief of counterintelligence in the American Zone of Berlin. With textbook clarity, he describes an operation that well illustrates the devilish nature of counterintelligence. He suspected that the Soviets had an agent in the office of Gen. Lucius Clay, head of the Office of Military Government for the United States (OMGUS).

Mr. Cutler devised an intricate scheme to plant a secretary in OMGUS as a decoy to attract the Soviet agent’s attentions. Now the kicker: If anyone in OMGUS knew of the woman’s dual role, her mission might be inadvertently discovered. So Mr. Cutler had to trump up a cover story that would pass scrutiny by the army’s Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) which did security clearances for OMGUS — in essence, to deceive a friendly yet rival intelligence service.

The ploy succeeded, and the woman got a high-level secretarial job. But an attempt to entrap the chief Soviet target went awry, for one reason or another, and the woman had to relocate. Mr. Cutler writes that she “later became a first-rate journalist in West Germany,” and understandably says no more about her. A fascinating story, even with the unsuccessful outcome.

Now a lawyer in Milwaukee, Mr. Cutler ends with a recurring plea that one hears from many Old Boys these days: to rid our intelligence establishment of political correctness, and build a core of competent officers who are not afraid to take risks.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is [email protected]aol.com.

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