COLLOUNSBURY ON GERECHT
The cortisol charged timespace that I call ” last week” has left me behind on blogging and there are a number of good pieces I need to attend to, including posts like the one by Collounsbury on the Gerecht piece advocating reform of clandestine ops. Col had a number of observations that I wanted to highlight and remark upon ( my comments will be in normal text).
“First, as an outsider with contact with US diplos for business for various reasons (US firm, US client firms, etc.), I have long remarked that the American rotation system, which seems to effectively cycle in MENA virtually on a 2 yr basis although I believe the normal rotation is 3 yrs seems to be designed for maximum ineffectiveness on the part of the US diplos. Most Euros are around longer, and seem to cycle back through their region. US diplos seem to get sucked off hither and thither, willy nilly.
As such, first, one is just starting to get a working relationship going when they have to fuck off. It takes at least a year to be cogniscent of a country’s working environment. Second, of course, in the long term if they are depending on the long term “foreign service nationals” – and certainly I have seen that they do to an amazing extent, as in MENA the US diplos rarely have the language skills to be effective in my experience, never mind they are there for such a short time as to make your head spin, and they never seem to come back – then much of the supposed purpose (avoiding corruption, making sure the information they generate is independent, etc) is completely defeated, as they are deaf and dumb….
It amases me that the American foreign presence is so …. badly designed and executed”
First off, regarding both State and CIA folks operating out of diplomatic postings, Col is exactly right. It takes a great deal of time to acquire linguistic fluency and cultural intelligence in the operative sense so that you can move about in a radically different culture effectively as well as without attracting undue attention. This requires considerable ” in country ” experience that, unfortunately for reasons related to Cold War CI security policies, that the USG does a good job of preventing its personnel from ever acquiring.
If the analytical division at the CIA could use a healthy dose of diversity in methodological approaches and multidisiplinarity, then the field personnel need deeper regional specialization. If you want CIA and State personnel who talk like native speakers and intuitively grasp how a person from the target culture is going to react, then a long-term investment is required. Nothing else will do.
All the moreso for those CIA or DIA people who operate without benefit of diplomatic cover. Their only safety net is their knowledge base. Is it impossible to infiltrate Islamist groups ? No, but you must effectively become an “Islamist” – not only be perceived as but really be a serious student of Islam – as the ” American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, a mere kid from California, was accepted as a brother by Yemeni and Pakistani madrassas, the Taliban and two Islamist terrorist groups, al Qaida and Harakat-ul Mujahedeen-Al Almi.
“Finally with respect to the advice, it strikes me as well-conceived. I have only listened to diplos and spies talk, but the mention, as Gerecht does of the personnel system and of such incentivises on way of approach (as well as his emphasis on the non-official cover) strikes me as exactely the right thinking. Within an organisation one has to look at what the actual performance incentives are – incentive structure and how it actually will operate when it comes into contact with reality are the keys to understanding how to make an organisation work. “
Very true. If there seems to be a theme that runs across the military, foreign service and IC community bureaucracies it is the need to serious reform the personnel system and incentives for promotion or careeer advancement. While I do not have a good overview of the CIA personnel system, the current military promotion system originated in the 1890’s. The State Department’s stretches back to the 1920’s. Both were, in their day, radical and effective administrative reforms but the era in which they were created long ago passed into history.
Our eye should be on 2030, not 1930 or 1949 or even 1991.