IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT! (Part 4)

Welcome to Part 4 of my 4-part series, Iran: They Think We’re Great! in which I look at the history of US-Iran relations and attempt to explain how we got where we are today: each on the other’s shit list.

It’s all part of my effort to bring history and geopolitics to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but find The Economist too uppity. I’ll be releasing a new segment each week, but if you’d like the whole essay now, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it to you! It’s that easy!

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

You also missed Part 2? Wtf is your problem? Read it here.

You didn’t seriously miss Part 3, too? Ugh, here.

Want more Finley? I aim to please. Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of the CIA and the war on terror. It’s been called “wickedly funny!” and “a delight!” And don’t miss my other series, including The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers and High Heels, Wigs, and Flamboyant Robes (or…Dictators). You can find all my writing here.

And now: Part 4


IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT!

(Part 4)

Last week, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, aka Scary Mullah With Beard, had successfully overthrown the autocratic Shah of Iran and un-ironically named himself Supreme Leader. Pretty quickly, Khomeini’s supporters wanted to give the Americans a nice thank you present for their help in their history. After all, they had just gotten rid of the Shah, and who had put the Shah in power in the first place?

I’m Only Holding You Captive Because I Love You

On February 14, 1979, a group of about 150 Islamist radicals stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage. The standoff ended a few hours later when Khomeini supporters intervened and called on the radicals to back off. The incident, known as the St. Valentine’s Day Open House, triggered a drawdown of embassy staff and led to the worst series of Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards ever (“I want you more than I want Death to America!” “You’ve captured my heart, and the rest of me. Seriously, are you ever going to let me go?” “You had met at ‘Salam, get on the floor, I’m taking you hostage.’”)

Unfortunately, Hallmark would have even less fun with the sequel.

On October 22, 1979, US President Jimmy Carter accepted the Shah into the United States for cancer treatment. The Iranian people were not pleased and thought maybe the US was once again planning to force him into power (seriously, guys, paranoia?). A large group began demonstrating outside the US Embassy in Tehran. Then a few decided to put their wall-scaling skills into practice.

On Novemer 4, 1979, students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. Given the relatively quick resolution of the February 14 incident, most people at the embassy thought the standoff would pass in a few days. With hindsight, of course, it’s easy to see that that outlook was, well, charitable. Even though the students themselves had planned to take over the compound for only a few days, their actions proved so popular (with people outside the embassy, that is) that they were emboldened. The students held 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days (we, the Great Satan, were already using the number 666).

Affleck Oscar

Ben Affleck won an Academy Award for his role rescuing American hostages in Iran.

In a big fuck you to Jimmy Carter, the hostages were released January 20, 1981, immediately after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. Six other American diplomats, who had managed to escape the embassy compound during the initial mayhem and hide out at the Canadian ambassador’s residence, had made it home a year earlier, thanks to Ben Affleck, who parlayed his success into superhero status.

So, to recap: we overthrew Mossadegh to install the Shah. Then Khomeini overthrew said Shah and his supporters took American diplomats hostage, fearing we were going to re-install the Shah, because we had done exactly that 26 years earlier.

For the next 30 years, the US and Iran acted kind of like two teenagers who wanted to hate-fuck each other. They passed notes through intermediaries, occasionally cooperated—quietly—on projects of mutual interest but then would spectacularly hurt the other just to get his attention or re-establish dominance. They’d have an occasional détente followed by playing really hard to get. Like any Good versus Evil dichotomy, each side needed the other to survive. What would the Jedis be without the Empire? The Allies without the Axis? Sam without Diane?

I know your next question: In the US-Iran dichotomy, which side is Good and which side is Evil? Depends where you begin.

Look at the Iran-Contra affair: In the 1980s, Hizballah, financed by Iran, kidnaps a bunch of Americans in Lebanon to protest American presence in that country’s civil war, thinking hey, this is Iran’s turf. The Reagan administration sells American weapons to Iran, which was under an arms embargo because Iran had taken American diplomats hostage in 1979 (because the US supported the Shah and had overthrown a legit government 26 years earlier to put the Shah in power), to get Iran to lean on Hizballah to release the American hostages who were taken hostage to discourage retaliation from the US for the bombing of the Marine barracks and US Embassy in Lebanon, which were bombed to keep the US from interfering in a civil war Iran believed was under its tutelage, not the US’s.

Confused? Don’t be. Both the chicken and the egg came first. And they’ve both been broken and scrambled and cooked into the worst omelet you can imagine, complete with beard hairs and, now, highly enriched uranium, which complicates things and makes for a glowing omelet.

Affleck Iran crowd

Ben Affleck is taller than all Iranians.

I feel like maybe I got sidetracked for a moment.

Anyway, President George W. Bush lumped Iran in with North Korea and Iraq in his Axis of Evil speech. When the United States then invaded Iraq, Iran couldn’t be too sure they wouldn’t be next (again, paranoid?). President Barack Obama, on the other hand, aimed for engagement and worked with the UN Security Council plus Germany to negotiate a deal allowing some Iranian nuke shenanigans but not much in return for access to Western money. Yay! Capitalism! This Iran Deal is either the best negotiated deal ever or the beginning of the end that will leave us all dead in a glowing puddle of radioactivity, depending on who you ask.

But all of that is at the government level. In terms of the people of each country, the story is a little different. Most Americans conflate the Iranian government and the Iranian people, and they conflate all of them with terrorists (Islam and burkas and beards, oh my!). They look at Iran and see scary religious people who hate democracy and freedom and dancing, as if Footloose took over a whole country of non-white non-American people (totally not scary when white American people act that way). And don’t even bother trying to get most Americans to compare and contrast Khomeini and his successor as Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. There’s, like, a one letter difference and that’s it. They fail to recognize the Iranian population is very educated and balanced, and many Iranians really love the United States (oh, and many of them are already here, living among us! Shhhh!). Many also really like the idea of democracy and have been fighting for it in Iran.

Green movement

Iranian pro-democracy protesters were embarrassed to learn the color green was already being used by environmental groups for their revolution, but went ahead with the theme since the green flags, banners, and balloons had already been ordered from Oriental Trading.

The Iranian people made one of their biggest pushes to gain more say over their government in 2009, with the Green Movement, in which many people believed that the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was fraudulent. Iran saw some of the largest protests since the revolution. Many American politicians criticized President Barack Obama and wondered why the United States didn’t support the Green Movement to help it succeed in overthrowing the government. The general response from American foreign policy types was: Remember 1953? Because Iran certainly does.

Supporters of this latest push for regime change make clear their beef (and definitely not their pork) is not with the Iranian people. Indeed, they want to support the Iranian people and help them to overthrow their own government. Of course, this is what Kermit Roosevelt made it look like at the time he overthrew Mossadegh in 1953, so fair enough if some Iranians are wary (or again, paranoid?). Not sure they will like the outside influence in any case. They’ve had enough of it. But that might not stop the US. (Also, it is again rather ironic that we are discussing regime change and supporting influential groups in Iran, when our president refuses to acknowledge Russia just tried the same thing here.)

skeleton

This mural, painted on a wall of the former US Embassy in Tehran, depicts Iranians’ worry that America isn’t getting enough to eat.

So to recap: when discussing Iran, avoid the words “overthrow,” “regime change,” and “shave.”

It’s all just a game of brinksmanship, played out over and over again for the last four decades. Are we right or are they? Are they wrong or are we? The answer is simple: yes.

 

 

 

 

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IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT! (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of my 4-part series, Iran: They Think We’re Great! in which I look at the history of US-Iran relations and attempt to explain how we got where we are today: each on the other’s shit list.

It’s all part of my effort to bring history and geopolitics to people who want to sound thoughtful at dinner parties but find The Economist too uppity. I’ll be releasing a new segment each week, but if you’d like the whole essay now, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it to you! It’s that easy!

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Want more Finley? I aim to please. Check out my novel, Victor in the Rubble, a satire of the CIA and the war on terror. It’s been called “wickedly funny!” and “a delight!” And don’t miss my other series, including The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers and High Heels, Wigs, and Flamboyant Robes (or…Dictators). You can find all my writing here.

And now: Part 2


IRAN: THEY THINK WE’RE GREAT!

(Part 2)

Rise of the (Pea)Cock

When we left off last week, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had convinced US President Dwight Eisenhower that Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, needed to be overthrown because he was a raging communist (oh, and because of the minor detail that he wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry). Eisenhower called on the CIA, which called on Kermit the Frog Roosevelt to boot Mossadegh without anyone knowing who was doing the booting.

Kermit the Spy launched TPAJAX, an operation that was a mix of covert influence and propaganda, with false flag operatives and dissidents and paid protestors and a lot of cash, all thrown together to create massive chaos. The plan consisted of choosing a replacement for Mossadegh—one who would, of course, be more amenable to American demands—building support for the would-be new prime minister and the Shah, and whipping up protests and anger against Mossadegh. Basically, it was a giant mind fuck on the Iranian people: False news stories directed at strategically targeted groups, coordinated talking points from high-level US officials bashing Mossadegh, and planned and coordinated protests among anti-Mossadegh factions. (Years later, when Russia would launch a similar influence campaign to affect US elections, the United States would remember AJAX and have a good laugh at the irony of history.)

In an effort to be fair and balanced, Kermit gave the Shah a choice: participate in the coup or be deposed. Being such a strong leader, ready to fight for the rights of his people—even if it meant enormous sacrifice on his part—he pretty damn quickly agreed to cooperate and signed the agreement that would replace Mossadegh with a CIA-chosen military leader. That’s what was best for the Iranian people, or something like that.

On August 15, 1953, Mossadegh received the Shah’s decree dismissing him as prime minister. But Mossadegh was obstinate and refused to accept the order. His supporters flooded the streets, giving the Shah one big “Bye, Felicia!” The coup had failed. The Shah fled to Baghdad and then to Rome, because eating pasta and gelato is a great way to sooth yourself after a failed coup. Washington sent a message telling Kermit to come home. And that was it.

Or so it seemed. Remember, these were the beautiful days before instant communications, before Washington could micromanage every aspect of an operation.

As it turns out, Kermit decided to ignore the cable from CIA headquarters telling him to stand down. On his own volition, the little frog kept pushing. On August 19, Mossadegh turned himself in. A new, pro-American government was now in charge in Iran.

The Iranian people were thrilled that foreigners had yet again come to show them the light, this time by removing the very person they had democratically voted for. That was very kind of the democratic United States to remove him, they all thought.

Shah coronation

It’s hard to believe it now, but Shah Pahlavi, seen here crowning his wife Empress of Iran, had trouble relating to most people in his country.

The Shah—who took the CIA-engineered coup to overthrow an elected and popular prime minister as a sign that the Iranian people really loved him—preened atop the Peacock Throne. He began implementing a number of modernization programs, including giving women the right to vote. He was the first regional leader to recognize Israel (spoiler alert: this Iranian sentiment would eventually change). He also released his not-so-delicate intelligence services, known as SAVAK, on anyone who dared voice dissent, or anyone who even stood next to someone who voiced dissent. Or even that person’s neighbor. Or even that neighbor’s cousin across town. Or even that neighbor’s cousin in another country. Basically, everyone. Everyone was oppressed.

But the US was happy because the oil was flowing again. Hooray! Sure, the Shah was a dictator, but he was our dictator. Plus, he had really spiffy uniforms. We propped him up with tons of weapons, figuring he would stabilize the region on our behalf. The Shah felt empowered, however, figuring the US needed him more than he needed them. He controlled the oil, after all. As world leaders courted him and Iran’s economy boomed, the Shah’s ego got a little big for his pantaloons.

Peacock throne

Despite being covered in rubies and emeralds, the Peacock Throne is remarkably buoyant.

Turns out, all the SAVAK oppression was hiding the fact that many Iranians viewed the Shah as a puppet of the West. They also really didn’t like SAVAK. Distaste for the monarch grew, even though peacock, when prepared just right, is actually quite delicious. His subjects began to see him as corrupt—a $100 million celebration to mark the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire, complete with chefs from Paris’s famous Maxim’s restaurant, didn’t help—and it seemed nobody was benefiting from all those reforms he had launched.

One guy in particular was especially pissed. Ruhollah Khomeini, who would become the first Scary Mullah With A Beard with whom we Westerners would become acquainted.

Puppy

This is a picture of an adorable puppy, because no way am I risking a fatwa by putting an image of Scary Mullah With A Beard.

Next Week: The Last To Know

 

Re-Up: Are Management Consultants Ruining CIA?

In light of this recent story in the Washington Post, which says the CIA has paid $10 million to the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. for helping the Agency draw up its reorganization plans, I figured I would re-up this article I wrote about management consultants ruining CIA.

From March 13, 2015:

When John Brennan announced his reorganization plans for the CIA last week, his unclassified press release revealed a big secret: CIA is going corporate.

From the get go, Brennan’s announcement oozed the corporate speak of management consultants. The press release was to outline the Agency’s “Blueprint for the Future,” creating a “Talent Development Center of Excellence” and developing “systemic methods” for “integrating activities” and “developing leaders” and “accelerating” the integration of those activities and leaders.

It seems management consultants have invaded the very gray area of intelligence collection and analysis, and I fear it does not bode well for the future of CIA.

Metrics

First, a short history lesson.

This is not the first time management consultants have taken over the Intelligence Community (IC). The IC had a feeding frenzy in the early post-9/11 years, facing unprecedented expansion in a very short period of time. As the Directorate of Operations, where I worked, became the National Clandestine Service, President Bush ordered a 50 percent increase in the number of CIA officers in certain intelligence jobs.

Besides absorbing huge numbers of new employees, the Agency also faced an expanded mission. With two wars to fight and other threats lurking elsewhere around the globe, the Agency came to focus on paramilitary operations while heeding the call to stop being stuck in a Cold War mindset.

As the IC expanded, managers and policymakers alike began to see it could quickly become unwieldy. Where were the checks and balances? How could we be sure we were all communicating so we would not once again miss connecting the dots?

Along came management consultants to insert themselves into this chaos, promising to streamline operations, implement value added changes, and highlight key fundamentals for achieving mission success. Those of us on the inside noticed gradual changes. Emails started having words like “human capital” in them. When we had too few slots for all the new people, it was considered an “overstrength” issue. Managers, fresh out of Leadership Training, started checking in to make sure we felt motivated, asking about our kids at the most random times, and giving us fist bumps in an effort to really connect with us.

But the biggest corporate culture that was placed on us was the implementation of metrics. For years the IC has struggled with how to measure success. Number of plots foiled? Amount of money spent? Amount of information collected? Number of reports written? Just as Bush thought hiring more people was the solution after 9/11, quantity became the driver behind how we would define and achieve mission success. More information was the goal. The value of the information was secondary.

The metrics put in place created short-term incentives that work against long-term goals. Employees, out of self-interest, will meet the metrics imposed on them. They want to get promoted, and they can only do that by demonstrating their performance against these metrics that measure quantity. But this often precludes achieving the goals of the community as a whole, since these require longer investments with fewer payoffs along the way. It was a risk the IC took, bringing consultants who had never been operators and lacked knowledge about the subtleties of intelligence work, which is, at its core, a very human and creative process.

Imagine an intelligence officer up for review. She can go after an easy target who will likely provide decent, but not excellent, information and check that metrics box. Or, she can go after a hard target, who might not produce anything for years but may one day land in a position that provides access to our top collection priorities. Metrics have assured that risk will not be taken, limiting our chances of getting the hardest but most important intelligence.

The result has been a lot of paper pushing. Intelligence officers are increasingly stuck at their desks filing paperwork. We engage in process to make it look like a lot is happening, since that is what the metrics measure.

One of the main metrics over the past decade has been the number of people in the war zones. Filling slots in Iraq and Afghanistan became a priority, even if the officer never left her desk. It was important to show we had a lot of people there.

Then we built huge new offices to house all these employees. Now, we need to send people to fill the offices we built. How else can we justify the money we spent to build them? That’s metrics.

The longer-term consequences are becoming apparent as the nature of the threat changes. While we were measuring success based on how many people we sent to Iraq and operators checked the war tour box, we churned out young officers who can wear a flak jacket in Baghdad but can’t run a Surveillance Detection Route anywhere else. But who ever thought Cold War countries would be relevant intelligence targets again?

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It, Is to Create More Systematic Methods to Better Develop Leaders and to Integrate Activities Across the Agency, Creating Multi-Disciplined Intelligence Officers

Now, in an attempt to address the deficiencies we ourselves created, Brennan is doubling down on the corporate approach.

The main thrust of the reorganization is to create centers where intelligence officers with all kinds of backgrounds—analysts, operators, techies—can come together to achieve mission success. It sounds great. And it can work, if applied well and with flexibility. But the corporate speak does not instill confidence. It sounds like more boxes to check.

In his press release, Brennan discusses integrating different intelligence disciplines, “starting with a plan to make multi-disciplinary exposure and experience the ‘new normal’ at CIA.”

Based on how I have seen corporate speak implemented in the past, this sounds like, in order to get promoted, an officer will now have to take courses outside of his or her normal discipline and have to serve a tour in another discipline.

It is important to understand, analysts and operators have very different jobs that require very different skill sets. As such, they have very different personalities. Analysts love footnotes and using the word “paradigm.” Operators most often cannot be bothered to worry about subject-verb correlation. Analysts can tell you the minutest details about the tensile strength of a particular component of a bomb built in a certain country in 1986, and will talk enthusiastically about it for hours. An operator can find you a copy of the November issue of Playboy in a Middle Eastern country on a Friday during prayers.

Does that analyst now have to take operational training courses to get promoted? And does that operator have to learn how to write a finished intelligence report to move up? The risk is creating generalists and further diluting our collection capabilities, which are already suffering from the last round of box checking forced upon them.

Yes, there are advantages to having analysts and operators work together. But creating “multi-disciplined officers” risks developing officers who can do everything mediocre but nothing well.

The biggest concern for operators, I believe, is how this will be applied in a station. Can an analyst have a management position in the field? Presumably, yes, given the corporate speak about “integration,” “well-rounded intelligence officers,” and “building a culture in which we are all intelligence officers first, regardless of our Directorate, position, or area of expertise.”

There are many reasons analysts should not have decision making authority over operations. First and foremost because they have never done operations (nor should they; again, analysis and operations require very different personalities to be successful. A few intro courses on how to run operations does not a case officer make). Operations are inherently creative and take place in a gray area. Developing and running operations requires bouncing ideas off people. The newly re-renamed DO (the NCS is now once again known as the Directorate of Operations) also has a great tradition of senior officers mentoring junior officers. This usually happens in a very informal manner, shooting the shit over a glass of whiskey and hashing out the challenges of an operation and suggesting even the most ludicrous solutions because who the hell knows what other idea it might lead to. How does this happen if management in a station is made up of analysts who have never run an operation?

On the other side of the coin, I would not want a case officer leading the drive to write a long-form finished intelligence product on strategic analysis of a topic. A case officer stopped reading that last sentence about halfway through.

The key is: operations must be flexible. If more “streamlining” is going to create other boxes to check—namely, operators forced into other training and answering to analysts in management positions—this reorganization will be a failure. It is folly to try to make analysts and operators “multi-disciplined.” It is already hard enough, with so many restraints, for case officers to collect intelligence. And in the end, if they don’t collect intelligence, no one else has a job because there is nothing to analyze.

Are Management Consultants Ruining CIA?

When John Brennan announced his reorganization plans for the CIA last week, his unclassified press release revealed a big secret: CIA is going corporate.

From the get go, Brennan’s announcement oozed the corporate speak of management consultants. The press release was to outline the Agency’s “Blueprint for the Future,” creating a “Talent Development Center of Excellence” and developing “systemic methods” for “integrating activities” and “developing leaders” and “accelerating” the integration of those activities and leaders.

It seems management consultants have invaded the very gray area of intelligence collection and analysis, and I fear it does not bode well for the future of CIA.

Metrics

First, a short history lesson.

This is not the first time management consultants have taken over the Intelligence Community (IC). The IC had a feeding frenzy in the early post-9/11 years, facing unprecedented expansion in a very short period of time. As the Directorate of Operations, where I worked, became the National Clandestine Service, President Bush ordered a 50 percent increase in the number of CIA officers in certain intelligence jobs.

Besides absorbing huge numbers of new employees, the Agency also faced an expanded mission. With two wars to fight and other threats lurking elsewhere around the globe, the Agency came to focus on paramilitary operations while heeding the call to stop being stuck in a Cold War mindset.

As the IC expanded, managers and policymakers alike began to see it could quickly become unwieldy. Where were the checks and balances? How could we be sure we were all communicating so we would not once again miss connecting the dots?

Along came management consultants to insert themselves into this chaos, promising to streamline operations, implement value added changes, and highlight key fundamentals for achieving mission success. Those of us on the inside noticed gradual changes. Emails started having words like “human capital” in them. When we had too few slots for all the new people, it was considered an “overstrength” issue. Managers, fresh out of Leadership Training, started checking in to make sure we felt motivated, asking about our kids at the most random times, and giving us fist bumps in an effort to really connect with us.

But the biggest corporate culture that was placed on us was the implementation of metrics. For years the IC has struggled with how to measure success. Number of plots foiled? Amount of money spent? Amount of information collected? Number of reports written? Just as Bush thought hiring more people was the solution after 9/11, quantity became the driver behind how we would define and achieve mission success. More information was the goal. The value of the information was secondary.

The metrics put in place created short-term incentives that work against long-term goals. Employees, out of self-interest, will meet the metrics imposed on them. They want to get promoted, and they can only do that by demonstrating their performance against these metrics that measure quantity. But this often precludes achieving the goals of the community as a whole, since these require longer investments with fewer payoffs along the way. It was a risk the IC took, bringing consultants who had never been operators and lacked knowledge about the subtleties of intelligence work, which is, at its core, a very human and creative process.

Imagine an intelligence officer up for review. She can go after an easy target who will likely provide decent, but not excellent, information and check that metrics box. Or, she can go after a hard target, who might not produce anything for years but may one day land in a position that provides access to our top collection priorities. Metrics have assured that risk will not be taken, limiting our chances of getting the hardest but most important intelligence.

The result has been a lot of paper pushing. Intelligence officers are increasingly stuck at their desks filing paperwork. We engage in process to make it look like a lot is happening, since that is what the metrics measure.

One of the main metrics over the past decade has been the number of people in the war zones. Filling slots in Iraq and Afghanistan became a priority, even if the officer never left her desk. It was important to show we had a lot of people there.

Then we built huge new offices to house all these employees. Now, we need to send people to fill the offices we built. How else can we justify the money we spent to build them? That’s metrics.

The longer-term consequences are becoming apparent as the nature of the threat changes. While we were measuring success based on how many people we sent to Iraq and operators checked the war tour box, we churned out young officers who can wear a flak jacket in Baghdad but can’t run a Surveillance Detection Route anywhere else. But who ever thought Cold War countries would be relevant intelligence targets again?

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It, Is to Create More Systematic Methods to Better Develop Leaders and to Integrate Activities Across the Agency, Creating Multi-Disciplined Intelligence Officers

Now, in an attempt to address the deficiencies we ourselves created, Brennan is doubling down on the corporate approach.

The main thrust of the reorganization is to create centers where intelligence officers with all kinds of backgrounds—analysts, operators, techies—can come together to achieve mission success. It sounds great. And it can work, if applied well and with flexibility. But the corporate speak does not instill confidence. It sounds like more boxes to check.

In his press release, Brennan discusses integrating different intelligence disciplines, “starting with a plan to make multi-disciplinary exposure and experience the ‘new normal’ at CIA.”

Based on how I have seen corporate speak implemented in the past, this sounds like, in order to get promoted, an officer will now have to take courses outside of his or her normal discipline and have to serve a tour in another discipline.

It is important to understand, analysts and operators have very different jobs that require very different skill sets. As such, they have very different personalities. Analysts love footnotes and using the word “paradigm.” Operators most often cannot be bothered to worry about subject-verb correlation. Analysts can tell you the minutest details about the tensile strength of a particular component of a bomb built in a certain country in 1986, and will talk enthusiastically about it for hours. An operator can find you a copy of the November issue of Playboy in a Middle Eastern country on a Friday during prayers.

Does that analyst now have to take operational training courses to get promoted? And does that operator have to learn how to write a finished intelligence report to move up? The risk is creating generalists and further diluting our collection capabilities, which are already suffering from the last round of box checking forced upon them.

Yes, there are advantages to having analysts and operators work together. But creating “multi-disciplined officers” risks developing officers who can do everything mediocre but nothing well.

The biggest concern for operators, I believe, is how this will be applied in a station. Can an analyst have a management position in the field? Presumably, yes, given the corporate speak about “integration,” “well-rounded intelligence officers,” and “building a culture in which we are all intelligence officers first, regardless of our Directorate, position, or area of expertise.”

There are many reasons analysts should not have decision making authority over operations. First and foremost because they have never done operations (nor should they; again, analysis and operations require very different personalities to be successful. A few intro courses on how to run operations does not a case officer make). Operations are inherently creative and take place in a gray area. Developing and running operations requires bouncing ideas off people. The newly re-renamed DO (the NCS is now once again known as the Directorate of Operations) also has a great tradition of senior officers mentoring junior officers. This usually happens in a very informal manner, shooting the shit over a glass of whiskey and hashing out the challenges of an operation and suggesting even the most ludicrous solutions because who the hell knows what other idea it might lead to. How does this happen if management in a station is made up of analysts who have never run an operation?

On the other side of the coin, I would not want a case officer leading the drive to write a long-form finished intelligence product on strategic analysis of a topic. A case officer stopped reading that last sentence about halfway through.

The key is: operations must be flexible. If more “streamlining” is going to create other boxes to check—namely, operators forced into other training and answering to analysts in management positions—this reorganization will be a failure. It is folly to try to make analysts and operators “multi-disciplined.” It is already hard enough, with so many restraints, for case officers to collect intelligence. And in the end, if they don’t collect intelligence, no one else has a job because there is nothing to analyze.

I stand by my last post

I am sticking with my compliments to the FBI, despite what a number of idiots on Capitol Hill have to say about the organization’s performance in Boston. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) recently commented that 12 years after 9/11, we are still unable to connect the dots and that the system “is still not working.”

He is right that it is not working, but not because no one can connect the dots. It’s because Congress has overburdened both the FBI and CIA with so much unnecessary process that it is impossible to keep up with the volume of boxes that need to be checked and at the same time to find anything meaningful in the information. 

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was included in three different databases, all of which were created in the flurry of post-9/11 intelligence reforms: a Guardian file, maintained by the FBI; the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), maintained by the Department of Homeland Security; and the Terrorist Identities Datamart Enviroment system, maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center. 

Each database contained a different spelling of Tsarnaev’s name. And they each contain way too many names to make any of them meaningful.

These databases are only one example of the redundancies that have been put in place since 9/11. 

The FBI and CIA officers involved in this case didn’t drop the ball. They knew who Tsarnaev was. My guess is that officers from both organizations feel angry that they couldn’t do more because they were so busy filling out required forms in triplicate and reporting through various different channels exactly what they were up to and waiting for permission to proceed from a 30-person operational committee (some of whose members were on flex-time, thus precluding the quorum necessary to take a final vote). They were probably also told by management that chasing a radical Chechen wouldn’t get anyone promoted.

Some redundancy is good. But when FBI and CIA officers become so entrenched responding to Congressional mandates (usually written, by the way, in a manner that demonstrates how little members understand about the collection of intelligence), such redundancy becomes not just bad, but a liability. 

I hope Congress does not overreact and add ever more regulations after the Boston experience. We can and should always look for ways to improve, but additional bureaucracy is not the answer.

What do you think?? Send me a comment!