- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

Ted Shackley has a bias which he states in the very first sentence of his memoir, Spymaster: My Life in the CIA (Potomac, $27.95, 295 pages), written with Richard A. Finney: “I make no secret of the fact that I am a strong believer in HUMINT, collection of intelligence by a human source, in other words, by a spy.” Shackley was at once “best of breed” and probably also the “last of breed” in the CIA’s Clandestine Services, which he served for 28 years. Sadly, HUMINT has been shoved into the shadows by a generation which chooses to rely on overhead satellites and communications intercepts, rather than on-the-ground case officers who ferret out secrets.

The first part of Shackley’s memoir is a sort of casebook on how to become an Agency case officer. He tells how he learned “the business” from one of the more masterful CIA operatives of all time, Bill Harvey, with whom he served in Berlin. An example: Shackley soon realized the futility of trying to run agents behind the Iron Curtain because of stringent security by the KGB and its adjuncts. So, at the advice of an Austrian friend, he began utilizing commercial travelers, chiefly German, who had free access to East Europe. The intelligence they garnered was invaluable in assessing Soviet activities.

Shackley also learned the dark and dirty side of his profession. Intelligence literature is replete with tales of KGB utilizing forgeries to discredit U. S. officials. He gave the communists tit-for-tat when he ran operations against Czechoslovakia. Shackley and colleague Warren Frank decided to ruffle the feathers of a “senior communist official” who was a hard-liner for the Soviets. He had been arrested by the Gestapo in 1941. CIA’s Technical Services Division (TSD) fabricated two letters: one from a Gestapo chief to headquarters stating that the man had volunteered to serve as an informant in the Slovakian underground; the other accepting his services. TSD used papers, inks and “all the cachets, formats and bureaucratic language” from the period. The package was given to the Vienna newspaper Wochenpresse, ostensibly by a Slovak patriot who found the letters in postwar turmoil. “I don’t believe that this operation was the sole cause of our victim’s eventual fall from grace,” Shackley writes, “but I do think it was one more dab of grease that helped set the skids for him.”

The bulk of the book describes Shackley’s role in what Congress and the media still persist in calling “the CIA’s secret war in Laos.” He takes particular umbrage at the late Sen. Stuart Symington (D, Mo.) for piously professing ignorance of activities he had witnessed personally. He also deals with his stints in Vietnam and as head of the Kennedy-directed CIA task force that worked from Miami in a futile attempt to oust Fidel Castro.

Oddly, Shackley chose to remain silent on the last part of his career, the years he spent running CIA’s Southeast Asia division. Shackley, who died in December 2002, griped to me for months before his final illness that the CIA’s Publications Review Board “is giving me a … fit” over some things he wished to include in the book.

Presumably no one at Langley is prepared to reveal past operations concerning a Chinese regime which it is cautiously courting. A pity, for colleagues who worked with Shackley on the China brief said he was an extraordinarily capable director. To be sure, he was not universally loved. He was better at the spook business than most other persons, and he did not always bother to conceal his superiority. Nonetheless, this is a good read that deserves four cloaks and as many daggers.

A few weeks back, I heard former CIA case officer Melissa Boyle Mahle speak to a group of some 220 persons, chiefly Old Boys from or friendly to CIA. The topic was her book, Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the CIA From Iran-Contra to 9/1 (Nation Books, $26, 403 pages), a sharply critical view of how the Agency became “anorexic” because of inept leadership and political correctness. Among other things, her scorn extended to the odd-ball environmental requirements imposed on CIA during the Clinton-Gore years; at one point, she said in effect, “I will risk my life to fight terrorists, but I will not die for a rain forest.”

So how did the CIA-friendly crowd react? Seven persons sat at my table; six of them went to the lobby and bought her book. (I was the seventh; I already had a review copy). To me, the lesson was clear: Discontent with the intelligence community runs dangerously deep.

If your eyes flickered over a crowd, Ms. Mahle — a slender and rather pretty blonde in her early 40s — would be the last person to stand out as an intelligence operative. However could this woman function in the Middle East? Well, most importantly, she is fluent in Arabic, and, during her 14 years in the Agency’s Clandestine Services, she had five tours in the Middle East, working the streets and running agents. Wearing local clothes and draping a veil across her face enabled her to walk freely through markets.

Much of Ms. Mahle’s work, understandably, was directed against terrorism. One episode, among many, reflects her frustration. In 1995 a “tidbit” of information located Khalid Shaykh Muhammad in Qatar. He was wanted for masterminding a Philippines-based operation aimed at seizing dozens of airliners. Ms. Mahle argued for a “snatch operation,” to lure Mr. Muhammad out of Qatar and capture him as he traveled. But the FBI insisted on making a formal request to the Qatar government; during the dithering that followed, the man disappeared. He was finally caught in Pakistan in 2003 and handed over to the United States — years after a plot similar to the one he planned resulted in September 11.

Sadly, at the very time the Agency needed Arabic-speaking street operatives, Ms. Mahle was forced out. Because of secrecy requirements, all she can say is that she made “an unauthorized contact” that was “not reported in a timely manner.” Despite determined snooping, I could find no details. But one of her former colleagues told me, “For a male, this would have been a parking ticket, not a capital case.” She and her husband and daughter now live in Fairfax, where she works as a consultant on Middle East affairs.

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

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