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REFORMING CLANDESTINE OPERATIONS

A PDF by Reuel Marc Gerecht entitled ” A New Clandestine Service: The Case For Creative Destruction“. (Hat tip to Shloky )

I have just rapidly skimmed this but it looks very interesting. A critical review of the Cold War to Terror War performance of the CIA. Not pretty.

I caught a few breezy generalizations by Gerecht – Oleg Penkovskii, for example made a significant difference with the nuclear weaponry intelligence he provided in our not having had a nuclear war over Cuba with the Soviet Union. Without Penkovskii’s insight into the paper tiger state of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the temptation for JFK ‘s administration to strike first and hard would have been much stronger. That operation alone probably justified the CIA’s whole existence, warts and all.

Secondly, I have heard exceptionally bitter criticism from a senior CIA field veteran over the CIA DO being shackled in Iran by successive administrations of both parties, at the request of the Shah. So blindness in Teheran in 1979 cannot be laid entirely at the CIA’s door. The Carter administration, which was still dominated intellectually at the time on key foreign policy questions by Cyrus Vance, only wished to hear what it wanted to hear about Iran and disregarded everything else ( Iran and Afghanistan proved to be the eclipse of Vance’s influence with President Carter – and hardly a moment too soon. The man was a fountainhead of bad advice). Clearly they understood Ayatollah Khomeini not at all and prohibited the CIA from finding out much of anything.

Going to give it a closer look over lunch.

6 Responses to “”

  1. UK Says:

    Mark

    If memory serves, this was on AEI website a few months ago and presented as one chapter of a book on intel reform so you may find other chapters floating round the net / whole thing…

    Random intel story – I recently read that an Austrian agent provided details from map shops in Berlin of Moltke’s invasion plans in 1866 – but the dimwits in the AH Command ignored it!

    UK

  2. mark Says:

    Hi UK,

    “…- but the dimwits in the AH Command ignored it!”

    I have oftened pondered the need to write a History of Missed Opportunities where great events ended up being driven by chance incompetence, paranoia and lack of imagination.

    Thank you – I’ll look at AEI and Hoover for the rest. I print out a lot of these PDF’s to read during otherwise wasted time ( on the treadmill, meetings at work etc.)

  3. UK Says:

    We need your book on a History of Missed Opportunities!

    But you know what would happen – people would study it and draw up “lessons learned” – and the students wd then join organisations which constantly made the same mistakes.

    After all, we have had Thucydides for >2k years but that hasnt stopped most political individuals and systems failing… We have the example of Moltke’s General Staff but… We have Mao’s On Guerrilla War but… etc etc. Just on the campaigning front – the #1 lessons of communications is “you need a clear message,” but that didnt stop Kerry’s campaign…

    You are surely right that these things need to be studied – but perhaps you cd do a joint book with S Pinker or somebody on “Aspects of the Human Genome and Missed Opportunities: Why we make the same errors over and over…”

    Cheers
    UK

  4. The Lounsbury Says:

    It strikes me that with hindsight, some kinds and sources of information take on the appearance of being more convincing than they would actually be at the moment.

    That is, in retrospect one knows,e.g. such and such maps are true.

    At the time one may face a hard time indeed disproving the plausible thesis of red herring disinformation.

    Some caution then in beating up on decisionmakers and agents caught in the fog of the moment.

  5. J. Says:

    “The Carter administration, which was still dominated intellectually at the time on key foreign policy questions by Cyrus Vance, only wished to hear what it wanted to hear about Iran and disregarded everything else ( Iran and Afghanistan proved to be the eclipse of Vance’s influence with President Carter – and hardly a moment too soon. The man was a fountainhead of bad advice). Clearly they understood Ayatollah Khomeini not at all and prohibited the CIA from finding out much of anything.”

    So what you’re saying is, the more things change, the more they remain the same today?

  6. mark Says:

    Hey Col-

    You’re right. Hindsight bias is an important blind spot in these kinds of things. It’s an honest error that is very easy to make and then, subsequently, when the erroneous view becomes a political football, hard to back down from gracefully.

    Hey J.

    Well, yes.

    In regard to Iran – and this runs from Nixon through Carter – the S.O.P was to run all our intel requests through SAVAK and not do independent running of agents. Not even Iranian exiles in Europe. That basically neuters your intel flow, hence the bitterness. Nixon and Carter administration views of the Shah differed, naturally, but this prohibition on CIA activities was something which both enforced.


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