« Le blog drzz » is a French website promoting pro-american and pro-israeli views.
Previous guests for interview included William Kristol (READ KRISTOL’S INTERVIEW), Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes, Laurie Mylroie, Bat Ye’or, and a Minister of the State of Israel, Effi Eitam, and others…
Ishmael Jones (pseudonym) is a former member of the Central Intelligence Agency. He joined the agency in the 1980s, where he served as a case officer focusing on human sources with access to intelligence on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. His assignments included more than fifteen years of continuous overseas service in numerous exotic countries and several rogue nations. He resigned from the CIA in good standing. He is the author of the new book, The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture (Encounter Books, July 2008). It is the first book written by a deep cover CIA case officer. All author book profits are donated to veterans’ groups.
(interview made on November 9, 2008)
DRZZ : You are the first deep cover CIA case officer to have ever written a book. Why did you choose to speak to the public and what was the reaction of the CIA ?
JONES : The CIA’s clandestine service is broken and the false and poor quality intelligence it produces poses a risk to free people everywhere. Terrorists and rogue states are prepared to kill free people regardless of nationality, and accurate CIA intelligence to prevent that is vital.
I needed to speak to the public because the CIA has no internal mechanism to address its problems. I met CIA managers throughout the chain of command to try to improve performance. But the CIA’s chain of command is byzantine, octopus-like, evasive, looping back upon itself, and it is not possible to pin down who has responsibility.
I also visited the office of the CIA’s Inspector General but found it to be structured only to handle employee personnel complaints, such as complaints about promotion or discrimination. The Inspector General had no mechanism to solve the CIA’s inability to perform its fundamental mission or to investigate fraud and waste.
When I visited the office of the Inspector General, they at first mistook me for an FBI agent who had come to investigate them. At the time they were under investigation by the FBI for leaking anti-Bush information to the press.
I sent my book to the CIA as required, for their review, prior to publication. The book contained no classified information, but I repeatedly asked them to tell me what they wanted removed from the book. After a year, they simply returned the book to me as a stack of blank pages.
DRZZ : You were raised in the Middle East, Africa and East Asia. Were those worldwide experiences decisive for your choice to join the CIA ?
JONES : I enjoyed living in those places and had wanted to travel and work there again. I was able to compare life in free countries and in dictatorships and kleptocracies, and resolved that I would do what I could to advance freedom and to fight the enemies of freedom.
The CIA tries to hire people with experience in foreign countries. The quality of the people the CIA hires is high, though it tends to waste their talents.
DRZZ : How is it to work as a CIA deep cover agent?
JONES : Family life was great because although I was away from home a great deal, I controlled my time. Because the CIA is a broken organization, working within it can be hard on the soul. It would have been more difficult to work within a CIA office, sitting through endless meetings, watching the clock. I was fortunate to be outside the CIA’s official system of offices, and to spend most of my career in foreign lands
The toughest part, the challenge to my survivability, was always CIA Headquarters itself. The assignments of nearly all of my colleagues ended unhappily because of internal exposures, such as in the Ames and Nicholson spy cases, and the constant pressure of reassignment to offices in the United States. I was fortunate to serve for such a long period of time. I could have continued indefinitely, but finally decided that further service was pointless, and I began working on intelligence reform.
DRZZ : Let’s talk about 9/11. Were you working at the CIA at the time? Could you tell us how the Agency, and you, reacted?
JONES : When those airplanes hit the World Trade Center I thought we would see reform and house-cleaning within the CIA. CIA bureaucrats were quite frightened. During the six months after 9/11, every operation I proposed was approved, and I could travel anywhere and do anything. Bureaucrats were afraid to say no. But then, when the CIA realized there would be no accountability, no change, and in fact the CIA was rewarded for its failure with unlimited billions of dollars, the CIA bureaucracy roared back with enormous strength. Before 9/11 the CIA had been merely bureaucratic; after 9/11 it became viciously more so, and aggressively defensive of its dysfunctional way of life.
DRZZ : Questions remain about the 9/11 attacks. Michael Ross, the former Mossad combattant, talked about the relationships between Al-Qaeda and Iran prior to 9/11. Others quote relationships between Khalid Cheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, and Iraq. Some still believe in a Pakistan‘s ISI involvement. Isn’t Al-Qaeda a patsy organization created by one or many states, like other terrorist organizations sponsored by the USSR during the Cold War?
JONES : My friend Mossad’s Michael Ross knows a great deal about these relationships and I enjoyed his book, The Volunteer, an excellent memoir of clandestine service.
Good human sources of intelligence would help us understand these relationships and this understanding can lead to solutions for the root causes of terrorism, in addition to the immediate need to stop terrorist attacks and to capture or kill the terrorists. But we simply don’t have this intelligence. We need better intelligence for this understanding, and the American CIA, with its massive funding and its potentially worldwide scope, can do this, if it is systemically reformed. But with a dysfunctional CIA, these linkages are unknown, and our lack of knowledge puts free people at risk.
I know that the phrase “capture or kill” sounds undiplomatic, but it is a relative term. If Paris or Geneva is destroyed by a terrorist’s nuclear weapon, then the phrase will not seem harsh.
DRZZ : President Bush created the NCS to promote reform inside the CIA. Do you think the NCS achieved its task ?
JONES : The NCS has been a failure. It has merely added more layers of bureaucrats on top of the CIA, which was already overburdened with layers, all fighting over turf and money in Washington DC. The NCS staff continues to grow and now numbers in the thousands, all people located within the United States. Many of the people on the NCS staff could make valuable contributions to intelligence collection if they were deployed in foreign assignments as intelligence officers.
DRZZ : You wrote that the CIA is wasting America‘s wealth (tax dollars) on secret and useless programs. Is there no power within Congress to prevent this from happening? Is the CIA lobby in Congress too strong to fight it?
JONES : Secrecy is of course necessary to protect agents and operations, but unfortunately the CIA uses secrecy to hide fraud and waste. In order to obtain a CIA contract it is necessary to have a security clearance, which usually means the person is a former CIA manager. The former CIA managers obtain the contracts from their friends and colleagues who are current CIA managers.
There are no systems designed to prevent fraud and waste at the CIA. If I see a bank being robbed, for example, I can call the FBI or the police and be assured that they will investigate. With CIA fraud and theft, there is no system, no FBI or police who can be contacted.
In a well-known example from years ago, the US Army paid $436 for a hammer worth about $5. But because of the greater transparency of the military budget, these examples can be discovered and exposed. The CIA’s budget is secret and its waste cannot be discovered. In one program alone, meant to place CIA officers in foreign countries, the CIA spent $3 billion without placing a single additional effective officer.
Congress has lost the ability to oversee the CIA because it has been locked into political disputes over wiretapping and the interrogation of prisoners. The political strife has prevented Congress from taking a unified approach to CIA reform. The CIA fuels these disputes with illegal leaks of secret material, especially about prisoner interrogation.
The CIA’s use of press leaks is an excellent example of a covert action operation. The CIA gives the leaks to selected journalists in exchange for favorable articles about the CIA. The journalists build their careers on these leaked stories, and they are careful not to offend the CIA for fear of losing their access to these leaks. The CIA has been especially effective in controlling the Washington Post and to a lesser extent, the New York Times. The Washington Post has always considered itself the home of great investigative journalists, but today, on CIA issues, it is a mouthpiece for the CIA.
DRZZ : « The Human factor » has been written to improve CIA’s weaknesses. One of them, often quoted, is the use of SIGINT instead of HUMINT. Has the CIA clandestine service evolved on this matter since 9/11?
JONES : Most intelligence professionals agree that both SIGINT and HUMINT are important. SIGINT is easier to measure and the SIGINT I’ve seen has been good quality. HUMINT is harder to measure and is more difficult to conduct. HUMINT means lonely meetings in bad hotel rooms, in dysfunctional countries, in often dangerous conditions, so many CIA officers naturally avoid HUMINT in favor of careers at Headquarters and within embassies.
DRZZ : Let’s talk about the relationship between Israel and the CIA. You said that the ability of American supporters of Israel to influence intelligence reform has been hurt by the AIPAC intelligence scandal. Is the historic link between Mossad and CIA broken, or at least severely damaged?
JONES : The Mossad and CIA have a good liaison relationship. What concerns me is that whether or not one is a supporter of Israel, it is in the interest of all free countries that Israel not be obliterated in a nuclear attack. I am not suggesting that Israel’s policies are correct, just that I do not want Israel wiped out in a new genocide. The CIA is the largest, wealthiest intelligence organization in the world and it has the potential to be the early warning system for nuclear attack upon any country, but it is broken.
AIPAC is a political organization which represents American supporters of Israel. The AIPAC scandal occurred when employees of AIPAC gave classified American documents to the government of Israel. Because AIPAC does not want to be perceived as disloyal to the US, it avoids any further connection to American classified information, and it avoids the issue of intelligence reform.
I think this is unfortunate because American intelligence reform may be crucial for Israel’s survival. Israel today is invulnerable to conventional military invasion, but it is very vulnerable to nuclear attack, and it may well be the first target of a terrorist nuclear weapon. AIPAC is one of the most influential political organizations in the US, but it appears to be powerless to do what would be most effective in protecting Israel.
If the CIA is reformed and made to function properly, it can be a worldwide system that can defend people, anywhere, from nuclear attack. The logical connection is very clear – nuclear weapons rely upon 1930’s technology and will become increasingly available. Israel is a primary target of any terrorist who obtains a nuclear weapon. The CIA has the potential to prevent these attacks, but it must be reformed in order to be effective.
DRZZ : The creation of the DNI has broken fifty years of CIA’s domination over the American intelligence community. How did the Agency react to this, and has the DNI helped the CIA’s work in any way?
JONES : The CIA’s clandestine service still controls most human intelligence collection turf and through its embassies it controls the geographical turf of embassy operations. The CIA is still in full control of most HUMINT operations. The DNI simply added additional layers of bureaucrats on top of the CIA structure. The DNI engages in turf and power battles with the CIA in Washington, DC. It’s unfortunate to have all of these people scurrying around offices in Washington when their talents could be employed in gathering intelligence. Bureaucrats are bureaucrats; whether it is the CIA or the DNI, there is no difference.
DRZZ : Many intelligence experts around the world, especially the French, Israelis and British, were shocked by last year’s NIE on Iran. Many saw this as a political offensive led by the CIA against the White House, like the Plame affair. Is the Agency doing more politics than intelligence and clandestine work?
JONES : Last year’s NIE on Iran was dangerous because it was not based on good human intelligence. This is the crux of my entire push for reform. Human source intelligence is simply not being collected. The NIE was based on guesses and opinions. Part of the reason for this NIE was that its writers are opponents of the Bush administration, but another reason was that they did not want to suffer the criticism they suffered over their reports on Iraqi WMD, another document based on guesses. This time, they reckoned, they’d avoid that criticism by stating that Iran was not a WMD threat. Of course, the report drew a great deal of criticism anyway.