“You wanna be a spy? How good are you at jigsaw puzzles without the box to tell you what the picture is, or the shape, or the number of pieces?”

Spy-Turned-Author Looks Back At a CIA Mired in Bureaucracy

By Steve Coll

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, January 14, 2005; Page A17

 

 

"Look at me," Melissa Boyle Mahle said, her blue eyes shining, her short blond hair cropped in place as she leaned across her desk. "This is who we recruit to run against the Arab target."

 

She does appear a more likely infiltrator of Belfast than Beirut. Yet for 14 years after she joined the CIA's clandestine service as an operations officer in 1988, Mahle belonged to that cadre whose small numbers were often lamented after Sept. 11, 2001 -- American spies who spoke fluent Arabic and liked working the street.

 

She served five tours in the Arab world, running operations and recruiting agents. But now, after departing unhappily from the CIA in 2002 over "a mistake" in the field "to which I admitted freely," Mahle is the latest in a parade of disillusioned spies to write a memoir, pitching herself into the debate over what is wrong with American intelligence.

 

 Like several of her CIA predecessors in print -- Robert Baer, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Michael F. Scheuer, who published two books as "Anonymous" -- Mahle sees her former agency as too often mired in process, averse to risk and poorly managed.

Her new book, "Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA From Iran-Contra to 9/11," is measured in tone and often generous to former colleagues and CIA leaders. But she also declares that the CIA became "totally focused on its own innards" in the 1990s and then proved unwilling to hold itself accountable after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Too often, Mahle writes, the agency has been hamstrung by "the rise of the committee, the anointing of bureaucracy, and the crowning of process."

She praises former CIA director George J. Tenet's management vision but denounces what she describes as his "total denial of failure" after Sept. 11.

 

Mahle writes that she and her colleagues at first thought that when Tenet defended himself in public after the attacks, he was just following "our mantra, 'Deny Everything.' " But as time passed, Mahle came to believe "[o]bviously something went wrong: why could the CIA not admit this?"

 

She concluded that Tenet "played it safe and played politics" and failed "to take the actions necessary to wage a real war on terrorism."

 

Her criticism echoes the recently reported findings of the CIA's inspector general. The IG's unpublished draft report on CIA leadership failures during the run-up to Sept. 11 is threatening to reopen debate about individual blame at Langley -- issues that congressional investigators had avoided, arguing that the failures were systemic.

 

Tenet, who is writing his own book, remains adamant that his record will be vindicated by investigators and by history. "Even a casual reading of the public testimony George Tenet gave before Congress, going back to the mid-1990s, would demonstrate that his was the loudest and clearest voice on the threat that al Qaeda presented to the United States," said his spokesman, Bill Harlow.

 

Mahle said she began her book project initially with far less pointed questions in mind. There were no good, recent guides for new CIA employees. After serving a tour in the hiring center, Mahle said, she feared recruits might labor under the mistaken belief that their new office would be like those depicted on television shows such as the Fox Network hit "24," where glamorous intelligence officers equipped with matchless technology make crisp, bold decisions to take down terrorists.

 

Reality, Mahle said, too often resembled her own experience at a West Bank restaurant in the mid-1990s. Eating at the next table was convicted terrorist planner Abu Abbas, mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, from which hijackers killed and pushed overboard wheelchair-bound, 69-year-old American tourist Leon Klinghoffer.

 

"You should go arrest him," Mahle recalled her Palestinian lunch companion urging. But Mahle had no authority to do so. Instead, she wrote a cable to headquarters and touched off a months-long interagency debate in Washington about whether Abbas had been granted amnesty under Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, and whether the United States had sound legal and foreign policy reasons to indict him.

 

Abbas later found refuge in Baghdad. U.S. forces arrested him after the 2003 invasion of Iraq but had still not resolved his legal status when he died of natural causes last year.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7714-2005Jan13.html

 

Agent Provocateur

By DEBORAH SOLOMON

APRIL 17, 2005

New York Times Magazine

 

Q: As a former C.I.A. spy stationed in the Middle East, are you surprised by the new Robb-Silberman report faulting the C.I.A. for being "dead wrong" about weapons in Iraq?

No. We're talking about an organization in desperate need of visionary reform.

Why is the C.I.A. so ineffectual?

The problem is structural. We don't talk to one another. There's too much possessiveness. It's a me-against-you mentality in terms of information. The C.I.A. needs an out-of-the-box thinker and leader.

Whom would you suggest?

We need Bill Gates.

What do you think of Porter Goss, the new head of the C.I.A.?

He has not been able to articulate a vision or capture the imagination of the agency. He thinks he can rule by memo from the seventh floor of Langley.

You're referring to C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia, where agents have recently screened a flurry of critical books written by former officers, including yours, "Denial and Deception."

Talk about a mysterious process. It took them more than a year to get back to me with comments, and about 20 percent of my manuscript did not make it into the book. There is no editorial standard at all.

It's whatever Joe Blow Spy thinks that day.

I still don't understand why the C.I.A. would have put a California-bred blonde like yourself in the middle of East Jerusalem to monitor Palestinian extremist groups. Didn't you stick out?

When I wanted to be in the clandestine mode, I would use disguise. It's easy in the Mideast, because you put on a veil and the traditional black tent dress, and you look like everyone else.

What was your main strategy for spying on terrorist groups?

You rent recruits.

You rent people? Do you mean for a weekend, like a car?

It can be a one-off, or it can be a continuing relationship.

Did you send informants gifts?

All the time. It might be medicine, or some cool tool like a fishing rod or a hunting knife. I have bought sources a computer. I've bought people Viagra.

Would you go as far as having a love affair to get a source to spill his secrets?

That's against the guidelines of the agency. That's James Bond. Actually, James Bond would have been fired on the first day if he worked for the C.I.A.

In light of its fallen prestige, how will the C.I.A. recruit a new generation of competent spies?

It's their own fault. Their standards are crippling and paranoid. They don't want to hire any American citizens who have foreign-based families. Then they wonder why we can't recruit Arab-Americans. And how many North Korea experts do we have in the United States? I have never met one. That's not a good sign.

Do you think we will ever find Osama bin Laden?

I do. But if we are smart, we will never announce his capture, because if he suddenly went missing, it would disrupt Al Qaeda's operations. They would all be busy trying to re-establish communication with him.

But the White House would want to capitalize on the news. They could never keep that quiet.

Sure they could. Washington has a history of keeping secrets.

Did you find it hard to be a female spook in the masculine realm of espionage?

No. The same skills you learned as a little girl can be modified and used when you are working overseas as a spy. A C.I.A. officer has to be a good manipulator.

That's such a regressive idea of feminine wiles. Don't you think men lie more than women do?

Probably, but women do have a bit of an edge as manipulators, because we are taught early on to get what we want without showing our cards.

How do I know you're not lying to me now?

You don't know. I've lied for a living. This is what we call the wilderness of mirrors. Deborah Solomon

Q: As a former C.I.A. spy stationed in the Middle East, are you surprised by the new Robb-Silberman report faulting the C.I.A. for being "dead wrong" about weapons in Iraq?

No. We're talking about an organization in desperate need of visionary reform.

Why is the C.I.A. so ineffectual?

The problem is structural. We don't talk to one another. There's too much possessiveness. It's a me-against-you mentality in terms of information. The C.I.A. needs an out-of-the-box thinker and leader.

Whom would you suggest?

We need Bill Gates.

What do you think of Porter Goss, the new head of the C.I.A.?

He has not been able to articulate a vision or capture the imagination of the agency. He thinks he can rule by memo from the seventh floor of Langley.

You're referring to C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia, where agents have recently screened a flurry of critical books written by former officers, including yours, "Denial and Deception."

Talk about a mysterious process. It took them more than a year to get back to me with comments, and about 20 percent of my manuscript did not make it into the book. There is no editorial standard at all.

It's whatever Joe Blow Spy thinks that day.

I still don't understand why the C.I.A. would have put a California-bred blonde like yourself in the middle of East Jerusalem to monitor Palestinian extremist groups. Didn't you stick out?

When I wanted to be in the clandestine mode, I would use disguise. It's easy in the Mideast, because you put on a veil and the traditional black tent dress, and you look like everyone else.

What was your main strategy for spying on terrorist groups?

You rent recruits.

You rent people? Do you mean for a weekend, like a car?

It can be a one-off, or it can be a continuing relationship.

Did you send informants gifts?

All the time. It might be medicine, or some cool tool like a fishing rod or a hunting knife. I have bought sources a computer. I've bought people Viagra.

Would you go as far as having a love affair to get a source to spill his secrets?

That's against the guidelines of the agency. That's James Bond. Actually, James Bond would have been fired on the first day if he worked for the C.I.A.

In light of its fallen prestige, how will the C.I.A. recruit a new generation of competent spies?

It's their own fault. Their standards are crippling and paranoid. They don't want to hire any American citizens who have foreign-based families. Then they wonder why we can't recruit Arab-Americans. And how many North Korea experts do we have in the United States? I have never met one. That's not a good sign.

Do you think we will ever find Osama bin Laden?

I do. But if we are smart, we will never announce his capture, because if he suddenly went missing, it would disrupt Al Qaeda's operations. They would all be busy trying to re-establish communication with him.

But the White House would want to capitalize on the news. They could never keep that quiet.

Sure they could. Washington has a history of keeping secrets.

Did you find it hard to be a female spook in the masculine realm of espionage?

No. The same skills you learned as a little girl can be modified and used when you are working overseas as a spy. A C.I.A. officer has to be a good manipulator.

That's such a regressive idea of feminine wiles. Don't you think men lie more than women do?

Probably, but women do have a bit of an edge as manipulators, because we are taught early on to get what we want without showing our cards.

How do I know you're not lying to me now?

You don't know. I've lied for a living. This is what we call the wilderness of mirrors. Deborah Solomon

 

Intelligence Design 

By MELISSA BOYLE MAHLE

Op-Ed Contributor

Published: May 14, 2006

 

THE nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency is good news. Placing "his man" at the C.I.A. signals that John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, is bringing the agency fully into the new intelligence structure and helping to strengthen its integration.

 

The concern that General Hayden's military background portends a Pentagon takeover of the agency is misplaced. During my 14 years at the C.I.A., I served under two uniformed deputy directors and a director who was a former deputy secretary of defense. The C.I.A. never lost its civilian and independent culture.

 

The real question is what General Hayden and Mr. Negroponte will do with the C.I.A. The agency's human intelligence collection capacities are weak, as the public learned from the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraqi weapons fiasco. We insiders have long known it, having watched our ability to recruit agents and analyze intelligence disintegrate during a decade of poor leadership, downsizing, mission confusion and eroding morale.

 

A year and a half ago, Porter Goss was sent to lead the C.I.A. with an explicit mandate to strengthen human intelligence collection and analysis. Mr. Goss made some important progress on the latter, but the Clandestine Services, which specializes in collecting intelligence from foreign agents, resisted his reforms, partly because they resented his confrontational style. More important, the professional spies disagreed with Mr. Goss's vision of a C.I.A. integrated into a larger intelligence system in which the agency would be just one of many players. They preferred the old system, perhaps with some minor tweaks, which preserved their absolute control over spy operations, the spies who run them and the secrets resulting from them.

 

When Mr. Goss failed to get his arms around the agency and redirect it along the lines of his vision, some insiders argued that the C.I.A.'s structure was at fault, not Mr. Goss's leadership. The C.I.A. cannot easily be managed because it has too many different tasks: human intelligence collection, all-source analysis, technical collection and science and technology development. Senior outside advisers suggested splitting the Clandestine Services off from the analytical arm to fix the focus problem.

 

Splitting up the C.I.A. at this time is unwise. In trying to fix the weaknesses of human intelligence collection, we will make integration problems more complicated and probably worse in the short and medium term. Rather than having one insular agency, the intelligence world will be populated by mini-agencies with diminished capacities but all the same instincts to protect turf. Human intelligence collection will still be scattered among agencies, as will technical collection and analysis. To get a net benefit from splitting up the C.I.A., agencies under the control of the Pentagon would have to be merged with the mini-agencies so that there would be just one body devoted to each kind of intelligence work.

 

The goal of creating an integrated intelligence community is the right one, but we risk generating bureaucratic chaos in the process. We don't want to destroy existing capacities in the name of progress or idealized organization charts. Trying to break up the C.I.A. and integrate it at the same time is too much for one structure to bear — especially one that is already weak, demoralized and paranoid about hostile takeover by the Pentagon.

 

Back in the 1990's, under the directorship of John Deutch, the C.I.A. suffered from similar organizational angst. There were unending process reviews, turf battles with the F.B.I. and Pentagon, and a Congressional review that debated the merits of breaking up the agency, which was then called a cold war dinosaur. A sense of paralysis engulfed us. Assigned to an important country in the Persian Gulf, I went to work each day not knowing what I was supposed to do, what secrets to steal or whether anyone remembered I was there, since my mail went unanswered. These were the days when Osama bin Laden first declared war on the United States from his new base in the mountains of Afghanistan — an act that went largely unnoticed by a distracted and demoralized C.I.A.

 

Rather than breaking up the agency, General Hayden and Mr. Negroponte should focus on integrating it in its current form. Strengthening the direct relationship between Mr. Negroponte's office and the C.I.A.'s deputy directors for analysis and operations will tighten command and control without the chaos caused by breaking structures. At the moment, the director of national intelligence does not have access to information about how the C.I.A.'s clandestine and analytical resources are distributed. This makes it impossible to evaluate, for example, whether the C.I.A.'s Iran program duplicates or adds to efforts elsewhere in the community, or whether resource allocations reflect the director's priorities.

 

Once General Hayden is confirmed, his first challenge will be to select a new leadership team. The general should be wary of those who simply advocate the status quo. These forces might be popular with the professional spies, but they will resist real transformation. General Hayden should not shy away from reaching deep down or even outside to bring together a diverse group of leaders who are capable and committed to changing the organization. Furthermore, it is imperative that General Hayden assume the role of a hands-on leader who will deal decisively with festering concerns that might seem trivial but have led to an unhealthy rift between staff officers and senior management.

 

General Hayden's independent thinking, strong leadership skills, and knowledge and respect for the intelligence business will serve him well as he navigates these challenges, which proved too much for Mr. Goss. It is for this reason that other former insiders and I feel that he is the right man for the job.

 

But the vision has also got to be right. So rather than debating the type of suit General Hayden should wear, we should be asking him about his vision for C.I.A. integration, his plans for the agency and his priorities. The details are important because the stakes are high, not just for the men and women of the C.I.A., but for a nation at war.

 

Melissa Boyle Mahle, a former C.I.A. operations officer, is the author of "Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the C.I.A. From Iran-Contra to 9/11."

We Can’t Kill an Ideology 

By MELISSA BOYLE MAHLE

 Published: September 10, 2006

New York Times Opinion

 

THOUGH it may not be immediately apparent to the casual viewer, Al Qaeda is attacking when and where it chooses. It is an ideology-driven global insurgency on the march. It has not hit America because it has chosen not to. Whether it lacks on-the-ground capacity for a spectacular attack, is still in the planning stages or is busy elsewhere is under debate within our intelligence community. The point is that five years out, Al Qaeda is as dangerous as, if not more than, it was on 9/11.

 

Yes, our intelligence agencies have struck the terrorist group hard, detaining or killing many of its founding leaders. But these are not death blows — because you cannot decapitate an ideology. Although the majority of Muslims reject the political vision of a Taliban-style Islamic caliphate, many agree with Al Qaeda that the Western-imposed political order is the source of their political and economic woes. Moreover, militant resistance to the current order is gaining acceptance and prestige, aptly demonstrated by the groundswell of popular support for Hamas and Hezbollah in the Muslim world.

 

During the last five years, our priority has been to beef up defenses and take the war to the terrorists. It’s time to start discrediting Al Qaeda’s ideology and offering Muslims nonviolent alternatives. The first step is to acknowledge that their grievances are legitimate and center on issues of dignity, economic disparity, border disputes and power alignment. The second is to acknowledge that our current approach is only helping Al Qaeda go mainstream. — MELISSA BOYLE MAHLE, a former C.I.A. operations officer and the author of “Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the C.I.A. from Iran-Contra to 9/11.”