I was a CIA spy from 1979 to 1988, leaving when invited to be a co-creator of the Marine Corps Intelligence Center from 1988 to 1993. Since 1993, I have been one of the more persistent published proponents of intelligence reform around the world.
In 2010, I was among those interviewed for the position of defense intelligence senior leader for human intelligence (HUMINT). I made two points during that interview: First, in a declining fiscal environment, the best way to pay for a defense spy program would be by cutting in half the Measurements and Signatures Analysis Intelligence program, which is under the oversight of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) director. It is the most over-hyped and underperforming national collection program.
Second, micro-pockets of excellence notwithstanding, no one serving in the Pentagon (or CIA) was qualified by mindset or experience to create the Defense Clandestine Service (DCS). I was particularly pointed about the complacency and ineptitude of the entrenched civilian cadre, and the inexperience and uncertainty of their constantly changing uniformed counterparts.
Here are my observations on whether there should be a DCS, and if so, how it should be trained, equipped and organized.
First, we need a DCS because CIA is ineffective at the business of spying, and inattentive to defense needs for strategic, acquisition, policy and operations decision-support. In fairness, it must be said that the Defense Department is ineffective at articulating its needs for intelligence support. The reality is that our political and budgetary process determines what DoD will buy and how it spends money, without reference to intelligence.
Second, we need a DCS, but only in the context of a full-spectrum HUMINT and open-source intelligence (OSINT) program. Here are two graphics I created in the aftermath of my interview at DIA, when I published Human Intelligence: All Humans, All Minds, All the Time (Strategic Studies Institute, 2010). For 25 years now, I have been saying, “Do not send a spy where a schoolboy can go.”
More recently, I have stressed that it is not possible to “do” clandestine intelligence effectively if one chooses to follow the CIA’s twin incompetencies: the use of official cover, and a refusal to harvest OSINT as part of HUMINT. The CIA and DIA are inept at non-official cover. Both make the mistake of treating OSINT as a digital surfing challenge, when it is actually almost 100 percent human in nature.
Third, there are three ways of creating a DCS capable of spotting, recruiting and handling foreign national traitors able to betray their own national militaries without being caught:
■ Get OSINT right. Until DIA gets OSINT right, it will not be positioned to move beyond overt HUMINT/OSINT into clandestine HUMINT. OSINT is how we get to precision HUMINT (overt and clandestine) and away from the CIA’s faux HUMINT (foreign liaison hand-outs, legal traveler debriefs in the US, random access).
■ Develop a new cadre of non-official cover officers, both US and foreign, who are recruited at mid-career or later based on their unwitting prior establishment of cultural, historical and linguistic competencies and direct access to high-value targets for which OSINT is not enough.
■ Create multinational clandestine stations in which we provide the money and the processing power, while sharing the two sides of the human challenge: on the street (operations) and behind the desk (analysis).
CIA’s clandestine training program is bureaucratic in nature and unsuited for the modern world. Training case officers to move around with bodyguards is the latest idiocy (a great case officer can go anywhere, always alone and be invisible). The military’s clandestine program is, in the graphic terms of a colonel who inspected the program, “push-ups done silently.”
As I testified to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his Commission on Protecting and Reducing Secrecy, the CIA loves immunity rather than cover because of its reliance on official cover. Its primary use of secrecy is to enable lies to Congress about matters that are obvious to foreign intelligence services.
DIA relies on a mix of CIA and contractor training in the HUMINT arena. In this context, DIA’s chances of success with its existing mindset, established training patterns and traditional personnel sources, are near zero.
DIA Director Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has had one shining moment, his co-authored report, “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan.” Since then, he appears to have been assimilated and perhaps neutralized. We need a DCS. Flynn needs someone who knows how to get the job done. ■
Robert David Steele, CEO of Earth Intelligence Network, a 501c3 group, and publisher of Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.
Editors Note: we have included two of the author’s most popular HUMINT graphics developed by the author.