- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

If and when Stephen R. Kappes becomes deputy director of the CIA, as is expected shortly, the aftermath of Somalia’s fall to Islamists will be the immediate test of his mettle. Mr. Kappes must take steps to build a genuinely effective “unilateral” CIA operation in a region that now hosts a possible Taliban clone. This means he must stop relying on weak foreign intelligence services. And he must end the type of damaging leaks that compromised the CIA’s Somali operations earlier this month. The other option is to fall back on the business-as-usual thinking that left the government blind-sided by the victory of the so-called Islamic Courts Union, the Somali Islamist force now consolidating power over the country.

That, at least, is how the intelligence insiders we know are viewing things, and with good reason. The truth about the CIA’s Nairobi-based operations to fund Somali warlords appears to be more complicated than the leakers who gave the New York Times its June 8 story “Efforts by C.I.A. Fail in Somalia, Officials Charge” would suggest. The CIA handled Somalia wrongly, but not because of some supposedly buccaneering or anti-diplomat mind-set. To the contrary, it sounds like the CIA was not nearly buccaneering enough.

As our sources point out, CIA activities in Nairobi tend to be “liaison” operations run in conjunction with — often even in deference to — Britain’s MI6 and Kenyan intelligence. For that reason, whatever buccaneering exclusion there was of the State Department and other agencies probably reflects the CIA’s own dependence on outsiders more than any desire to keep people in the dark. In this case, the Kenyans are said to be unreliable and are thought by some to be penetrated by elements hostile to the embattled Somali government headed by Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. This type of undue dependence on foreign spy agencies leaves the CIA hamstrung frequently in the Horn of Africa, we are told.

Not that we would blame the CIA if it were proven that it intentionally shut out the State Department and other agencies. The highly damaging June 8 leaks to the New York Times are only the latest in a string of incidents that leave career CIA officers wondering when the leaks will start costing lives. State Department officials are one possible source; they were manifestly unhappy with the CIA’s Nairobi-based warlord-funding operations. At times like these, we wish the State Department would remind itself that its role in these operations is by necessity a secondary one.

Somalia is now a critical test for the CIA. The agency must develop independent or unilateral operations there, or at the very least reduce its dependency on foreign intelligence agencies. So far, both have proven exceedingly difficult. The problem isn’t limited to Somalia, obviously. The CIA’s network is said to be exceedingly thin in Iran and other countries of significance in the war on terror. Insofar as Mr. Kappes can take steps in that direction in Somalia, he will be moving in the right direction on a global problem.

Mr. Kappes’ record under former CIA Director Porter Goss disappoints many conservatives because he resigned in protest of Mr. Goss’s attempts to remove an incompetent subordinate. He is thought by some to be a liege to hidebound careerists who oppose difficult but necessary changes. On the other hand, Mr. Kappes is also reportedly the man who convinced Moammar Gadhafi to give up his nuclear program. He is viewed with respect by many in the Clandestine Service.

The mess in Somalia exemplifies many of the agency’s key operational problems: an inability to build a strong unilateral operation; undue dependence on foreign intelligence agencies; and the hampering effects of damaging leaks. We’ll see whether Mr. Kappes is up to the task.

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