The Wall Street Journal has an excellent op-ed by former CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht addressing Al Qaeda's successful use of a double agent to execute a devastating suicide bombing at a forward operating base in Afghanistan base last week. The article, a must read, highlights several strategic and tactical errors made by the CIA. While not shy to criticize, the werewolf gets the sense that the CIA has become everyone's favorite punching bag(mostly warranted, but not always), and he'll save his direct critical thoughts for another time. However, in terms of structural failures this paragraph was rather shocking:
"Indeed, al Qaeda did to us exactly what we intended to do to them: use a mole for a lethal strike against high-value targets. In the case of al-Balawi, it appears the target was Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Ladin's top deputy. During the Cold War, the CIA completely dropped its guard in the pursuit of much-desired Cuban and East German agents. The result? Most of our assets were plants given to us by Cuban and East German intelligence. With al-Balawi supposedly providing "good" information about al Zawahiri and al Qaeda's terrorist planning, a salivating CIA and the GID proved inattentive to counterintelligence concerns."
As a devoted student of the Cold War, the werewolf is keenly aware of some of the intelligence legacies from that storied era. One of the starkest lessons, was the Soviet Union's ability to manage human intelligence assets better than the West. While the West usually enjoyed a degree of technical superiority, and despite the moral abyss that communism embodied, there was an allure that made prominent double agents working for Moscow a theme of that conflict. One only need recall the infamous Cambridge Five, Kim Philby in particular, the Rosenbergs, Aldrich Aimes, and the post-conflict mercenary actions of Robert Hanson. These are the most infamous examples, however, they only reflect a skimming of the surface, especially in light of the manipulation via low level double agent's that the Warsaw Pact deliberately deployed to flood the West. The problem has manifested itself differently in the modern conflict, as one only need examine the internal Jihad executed at Ft. Hood last November.
While he detests communism on all levels, and celebrates its collapse, the werewolf recognizes the false Utopian allure that could appeal the to the fragile minds of intellectuals, or those seeking shelter in collectivism through their own profound individual insecurities. While this lesson is indirectly linked to the current conflict, because it is just unfeasible for a non-Muslim senior intelligence official to spontaneously convert, he feels that the detachment from Islam in the higher ranks, makes identifying double agents nearly impossible, as highlighted by the article and recent events. What is both alarming and impressive is the cleverness of Al Qaeda, to exploit this highlighted historical weakness of Western intelligence to their own advantage. Just when we think we've got the upper hand our enemies show a resilience and adaptability that is frightening.
This raises several concerns for the long term prospects of how this conflict is waged. The werewolf is certainly no expert in the field. But if we want to win(as the werewolf badly does). playing tunes from the historical playbook and fighting yesterday's wars is not the right path. The werewolf wonders, for all of their bravery, dedication, and impressive service to our country, if the intelligence services as currently constructed, suffer from inherent structural biases and political handicaps that make prosecuting this war to a successful conclusion more difficult than it needs to be. He doesn't have any answers, but thinks now, more than ever, changing the beat and tempo, could be decisive.
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