- - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

By Jack Devine (with Vernon Loeb)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, 325 pages

When an expert such as Jack Devine, a three-decades-plus veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, warns about myriad world troubles stretching into the foreseeable future, serious citizens should take heed — and those now running the agency, both in-house and as elected officials, should give “Good Hunting” a careful read in light of what can be done to protect the country.

In Mr. Devine’s expert opinion, the solution should be the wide — and intelligent — use of covert action. As do many CIA veterans, he decries the militarization of the agency in recent years, and its subordination to the post of Director of National Intelligence, created in the do-something fever that inflamed Congress after Sept. 11, 2001. He feels that the result has been a “muddled new intelligence bureaucracy with less coherence and more fractured leadership.” He urges that “Congress should revisit its utility and perhaps curtail its staffing and tasking.”

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The capstone of Mr. Devine‘ career was overseeing the largest CIA covert operation ever, to run the Soviet military out of Afghanistan, a venture inaccurately termed “Charlie Wilson’s War” by the media. Although he and other agency officials praise the now-deceased Texas congressman’s tenacity in obtaining money and arms for the war, Mr. Devine’s colleague Milton Bearden is quoted as quipping, that it was “‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ only in Charlie Wilson’s mind.” In any event, the operation drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan.

Although denounced by the nut-left as dirty tricks unbefitting the United States, Mr. Devine notes that covert action is authorized under Title 50 of the U.S. Code, which defines it as “an activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the [government] will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly in a country while deliberately obscuring the role of the [government].” Such actions must be authorized, in writing, by the president, and be made known to congressional intelligence committees.

Mr. Devine lists six “principles” that should be followed in planning a covert action: “Identify a legitimate enemy. Determine on-the-ground conditions. Ensure adequate funding and staff. Find legitimate local partners. Determine proportionality. Acquire bipartisan political support.”

One historical problem has been that the president, or someone supposedly acting for him, steers CIA into unwise operations; when they fail, the intelligence community is stuck with the blame.

As Mr. Devine writes, “In over thirty years, I never saw or participated in a ‘rogue operation’ — something the CIA executed on its own without explicit approval from the White House . It is true that the CIA’s biggest mistakes involved covert action. But it is also true that these mistakes, without exception, also involved operations carried out at the behest of presidents pursuing flawed policies. And for every covert action that failed spectacularly, there have been others that enabled presidents and policymakers to achieve ends in the nation’s interest with an unseen hand, which is almost always preferable to a heavy footprint.”

Mr. Devine takes special exception to the Church Committee’s broad attacks on the intelligence community in the 1970s, especially its accusation that “[t]here is no doubt that the U. S. government sought a military coup in Chile” in 1970. Mr. Devine, who was assigned to the CIA station in Santiago at the time, states flatly that the CIA “did not plot with the military to overthrow [Chilean President Salvador] Allende . It’s important for the sake of history: the CIA should not be blamed for things it did not do.”

The son of a heating contractor, Mr. Devine was teaching high school in suburban Philadelphia when he read an intended “expose” of the CIA, “The Invisible Government” by journalists David Wise and Thomas Ross. Rather than being “shocked and outraged,” Mr. Devine was struck by the “sense of mission and vitality of the agency.” He joined the CIA in 1967, serving in its Clandestine Service — formally, the directorate of operations, or DO. As to the title of his book, Mr. Devine writes, “We ended many of our cables with the phrase ‘Good Hunting,’ which referred to the covert, relentless pursuit of our enemies and sources of intelligence.”

According to several individuals who served with him, Mr. Devine had the personality of a born intelligence officer — self-confident but with no trace of an ego, and an outgoing manner that helped when he made recruiting pitches to intended sources.

In overseeing the operation in Afghanistan, Mr. Devine found himself scouring world arms dealers and Pentagon stockpiles for weaponry that could be used by Afghan fighters. One key source was the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which “wanted to be helpful in the fight against the Russians.”

One invaluable acquisition, put together by a CIA arms specialist, was a global positioning system that rained devastating mortar attacks on a Soviet Spetsnaz battalion. “The Russians had no idea what hit them,” Mr. Devine writes. Additionally, French-made anti-tank missiles “did to tank formations what the Stinger had done to helicopter squadrons.” Eventually, Milton Bearden, the station chief in Islamabad, could send an exuberant cable, “We won.”

In retirement, Mr. Devine is the principal in a private intelligence firm that does a wide range of chores for lawyers and corporations. However, much of his heart still resides in Langley. As he writes, “Riding down from the seventh floor in the DO’s elevator after my last meeting with the [director of central intelligence], its trim still colored with tiny red squares, I felt a surge of pride, confident that the CIA would, to paraphrase William Faulkner, not just endure, but prevail.”

Joseph Goulden’s 1982 book, “Korea: The Untold Story of the War,” was published in a Chinese-language edition this summer by Beijing Xiron Books.

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