Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Spy Guys

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If you are reading this in hopes of finding out the latest dirt on the Valerie Wilson/Plame/Joe Wilson/Joe Camel/Karl Rove/Darth Vader angle, you will be disappointed. Sort of, anyway. One thing which has been driving me nuts since this whole thing got running, was the immediate acceptance of the claim that Valerie Plame is, and I quote, an “undercover CIA operative”. Read this carefully, folks – there’s no such thing as an “undercover CIA operative”. Those words were used to make her sound exciting, and are no more grounded in fact than Saddam Hussein’s continuing claims that he is somehow still the rightful President of Iraq. The problem here, is that so many people judge reality by the movies, TV shows, and MainPain Media, that they have lost all real sense of what they’re talking about. So, even if it’s for no one but myself, I’m sorting out who’s who in the world of American spies.

There are fifteen major acknowledged Intelligence agencies and/or organizations in the United States Intelligence Community. They do different things and so hire and train their people in different ways, so for here and now I’m just going to address the Central Intelligence Agency, leaving you with just the quiet reminder that the NSA, DIA, and so on all have different programs and rosters.

So, let’s say you’re in the market for joining an Intelligence Agency, and you’ve settled on the CIA. There are somewhere between 12,000 and 19,000 employees of the Company (as it is known), depending on who you ask. The CIA, like all large companies, uses a standard process for selecting its new hires, and because it is a government office, also forces its applicants to endure the unique and excruciating torture of American Federal Bureaucracy (which may explain why the Communists never got very much success trying to break our guys through duress). And that’s both after and after the recruiters decide whom they want. That’s a point I want to explore further.

Like many corporations, the guy who brings you in from the outside may often have no real decision in where you land, exactly. The CIA likes to hire for three basic classes of employee, plus contractors (whom I will discuss in a moment): Support, Analysis, and Field Officers. What that means in English, is that far and away the largest number of people hired as employees for the CIA will work either at a desk or in a warehouse. That’s because the CIA works to gather, analyze, and report information, especially to and for the President. Officers in the field collect the information, analysts weigh it and report their findings to higher-ups, who package reports for the White House and other agencies. The bulk of the Company, in terms of staffing, resources, and preparation, gets the Field Officers ready with training, briefings, supplies, and support in the field.

Contractors are used by the Company for a number of purposes, including tasks the CIA does not want to be linked to, temporary needs, and for work by people who do not need to have connection to the permanent employees. At its worst, this practice led to contracts with the Mob to try to kill Castro and similar crimes, but also has allowed the Company to operate with a more efficient method. When the Company references Contractors, one of the words that gets used in their talk is ‘operative’. That’s because Contractors can be used in a single operation, but are not field officers. Whether or not Valerie Plame/Wilson was a contractor does not matter for here, because contractors do not have covert protection, nor are they granted special status by the government or by law.

For Valerie Plame/Wilson to have held the sort of protection noted in the press, she would have to have been a field officer, a very specific designation and a distinct minority in the Company. There are, again depending on who you ask, between 3,500 and 6,000 active field officers in the CIA. One reason for the range, is because field officers do not stay active all that long, and they transfer to other divisions of the CIA when they are no longer field officers; a field career of 5 years is long, and so many field officers will become analysts later in their career. From what I see, this appears to track with Ms. Plame/Wilson, especially given her clout to recommend her hubby be sent to Africa. Relatively young field agents have little such influence, and analysts who have never worked anything but a desk also lack that pull. A field officer-turned-analyst, however, would be in a position to call in markers, which is just what Wilson’s Africa trip looks like. And by 2003, remember, Plame/Wilson had already been established as a regular desk-sitter at CIA HQ, making her someone in the field, say, during the Clinton years but not anytime recently. Given the 5-year limit on cover protection, it looks less and less like the leaker broke any laws, no matter who it was.

So, why the frou-for-all? Well, Wilson and Plame/Wilson were both big-time Gore backers, and if anything is clear after the 2000 Presidential Election, it’s that the bigger one was on the Left, the more unhinged one became. I can easily see the Wilson/Plames looking for a way to get even with Dubya, explaining not only Joe Wilson’s lie-fest in 2003 and subsequent book deal, but Valerie Wilson/Plame’s acquiescence to pretending she was a spook in distress, uncovered by that mean old Karl Rove. Setting up enemies was a long-practiced tradition, and even if Valerie was never more than an analyst with connections to important friends, she wanted to play that game very badly. Also, since the CIA earned its reputation long ago as an office willing and eager to play politics to its gain, the Liberal character if the Wilson/Plames was a good fit for the trick intended for Rove, but which now looks likely to hurt no one except Judith Miller.

And diminish, of course, the reputation and security of the real field officers, doing their job while the Wilson/Plames play with cloaks and daggers.

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