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Musings of a former spook

By John Gallagher
web posted September 17, 2001

Those who are blaming the events of last week on "an intelligence failure" are partially right, but not for the reasons that they are citing. In recent years, the intelligence community has been riven with personnel who are at best amateurs and political hacks. At worst, they are seekers of the "fun", glory and excitement thought to be attached to intelligence work.

Sadly, this last category has been the largest segment of the problem personnel. Add to this the fact that there are those in the intelligence community who are convinced that they must tell their superiors only what is "safe" and, to a large extent, what they expecting to hear. Those who try to offer alternate scenarios or to propose that other data be considered (which may speak against the "approved" report), have increasingly been subjected to threats and harassment by their superiors.

In truth, the real workers in the intelligence community are hard working, dedicated, people who seek no glory and who are content (and eager) to remain anonymous. They are an army of people doing the drudgework that involves surfacing important data and developing incisive interpretations amidst a mass of statistics and ordinary events. None consider themselves to be James Bond. They only ask that the results of their careful, dedicated, work be given careful analysis, even when the results of that analysis may be outside the "approved" result.

Another cancer that has infected the intelligence community is the idea that it is un-American to keep any secrets from the public. For example, just a few days ago, I saw one of the female commentators on CNN expressing anger that they had not been told sooner that Air Force One was believed to be one of the primary targets. It did not seem to occur to her that one of the most important efforts in intelligence is to protect sources and methods. There was a time when the community would employ journalists to bulk out intelligence projects, and would ask the press to sit on data that might compromise an operation, and the press would cooperate. Would that happen today?

On the subject of HUMINT, (human intelligence, informants on the ground in the field) this often requires doing business with smarmy people. As a result of this, after about 1995, it became semi-official policy to cut back severely on dealing with such persons. Some of the long-existing field agents were, in fact, compromised and killed as a direct result of these policies. Technical intelligence, such as satellites and SIGINT (Signals Intelligence), are powerful tools, but they cannot replace an infiltrator into a group bent on evil. No amount of overhead surveillance or Signals Intelligence will reveal a plot coordinated by means of personal couriers, or ordinary mail.

Finally, people who are not close to intelligence (this is most of the public) must be taught to understand that good intelligence work requires careful collection, collation, and analysis of information before a coherent picture emerges. All of this takes time. To react hastily, or in passion, most likely would lead to events which will do great harm to many of the wrong people, and which will, in fact, reinforce the ends of the evildoers.

I ask you to resist efforts to 'Do something, anything, NOW' and to speak out when you hear this type of rhetoric. Further, please speak to the point regarding the idea that 'the public has a right to know (everything and right now).'

Finally, help to defuse the idea the intelligence is dirty work and somewhat less than moral. Remember that the Vatican has what is regarded as one of the most efficient agencies in the world. Israel is no slouch either. Why do we applaud garbage collectors as performing a 'public good' yet treat the spooks as bad guys? ESR

John Gallagher performed intelligence work for 34 years.

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