Interesting Article on Counter Intelligence
Sorry that this is really long but it is pretty interesting.
The New Spy Game
The events of September 11 provoked a revolution in the way U.S. intelligence approaches espionage. But is it enough? Can we ever win this war?
Maxim, October 2003
By Paul Bibeau
Remember how the war started?
“We have an unidentified, very fast moving aircraft inbound to your vicinity,” an air-traffic controller at Dulles International Airport says into the phone. On the other end of the line, down in the White House’s Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), is Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
The plane is moving at 500 mph—so fast that on the control center’s radar screen it’s a jumping blip. It’s just after 9 A.M. on September 11, 2001. In New York City, the Twin Towers have already been hit. The nation is watching itself go to war on live TV, while Mineta is desperately trying to account for the 4,500 planes in the air. That quick blip is headed right for the White House, straight for Mineta himself.
“[It’s] eight miles west,” the controller says over the line.
Just before three the blip turns away. Relief washes over them. They take a breath. Then the blip vanishes.
Frantic voices come over the speakers. One of them is an air-traffic controller from nearby Reagan National Airport, breaking in with a request to Dulles.
“Dulles, hold all our inbound traffic. The Pentagon’s been hit.”
President George W. Bush contacts the PEOC several times as he’s being flown from air base to air base. At a videoconference with his national security advisers, he promises, “We’re going to find out who did this. We’re going to seek them out, and we’re going to destroy them.” Later, as he sits in Marine One with Karl Rove as it choppers toward Washington, D.C., they see the Pentagon still smoldering in the distance.
“Take a close look,” says Bush. “You are looking at the face of war in the 21st century.”
As the beginnings of war go, this one was unusual in one important respect: The loss of thousands of civilian lives and the destruction of huge buildings had nothing at all to do with a military defeat. All the tanks and bombers in the world wouldn’t have mattered that morning. Instead, the first battle of the new war was lost to a few gung-ho fanatics because of a failure of intelligence.
In response President Bush ordered a quick and complete intelligence revolution, and within 72 hours Congress allocated some $10 billion for counterterrorism. By the following February, the budget for intelligence alone was approaching $40 billion—with more than $5 billion set aside for the CIA. Now, two years, two major conflicts, and billions of taxpayer dollars into that war, it’s worth asking: What has all the money bought us? And, more important, has our renewed interest in the spy game brought us any closer to preventing another September 11…or worse?
Rule 1: Play dirty.
“The agency is on a hiring binge,” an anonymous source recently told the Los Angeles Times. Gone are the cautious methods of the late ’90s, when, sensitive to bad publicity, the CIA was ordered not to give money to thugs and burnoose-wearing, stubble-bearded characters in low places. Instead of hiring bad people who knew other bad people, all our spies were being scrutinized for employment by pencil-pushing bureaucrats—the type of people who “wouldn’t drive to a D.C. restaurant at night because they were afraid of the crime problem,” one former intelligence officer told The New Yorker. CIA stations throughout the Middle East, Al Qaeda’s center of operations, had been stripped of staff. We no longer knew what we didn’t know—the hallmark of an intelligence collapse.
“[The CIA] became risk-averse,” says Ronald Kessler, author of The CIA at War. “They almost closed up shop.” For many agents it was easier to work from home. One ex-CIA officer, Bob Baer, said all he had to do to file reports was watch CNN.
All that had to change. Days after the attacks, President Bush called for a briefing with legendary counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black—the man credited with bringing down Carlos the Jackal, the infamous Venezuelan terrorist blamed for more than 80 deaths. Black asked for teams of CIA paramilitaries to hit the ground, first in Afghanistan. Bush agreed. Shortly after that the new CIA director, George Tenet, recommended similar action worldwide, using diplomacy, bribery, threats—whatever worked—to force foreign intel agencies to roll back terror cells in 80 countries. This would be combined with psyops broadcasts and authorization to arm Predator surveillance drones with missiles for assassination.
At about the same time, the CIA’s Special Operations Group was put back in business. In near-hibernation since the late 1970s and early ’80s, when it was blamed for years of organizing coups in Latin America and Asia—and spying on thousands of Americans who opposed the Vietnam War—the SOG had become a small group numbering in the hundreds. Composed mostly of former Special Forces members, they’re well-trained, not nice, and according to one former paramilitary, frighteningly motivated: “Islamic terrorists aren’t the only ones willing to drive a truckload of explosives into their enemy.” They’re armed with the most cutting-edge weaponry available as well as their own fleet of boats and aircraft.
So after two years and billions of dollars, what do we have? Basically, more boys and more toys. According to Brig. Gen. Michael E. Ennis, director of intelligence for the Marine Corps, our spies and their new gadgets allow us to hit targets with unimaginable speed. “Imagery intelligence has gone digital and to near real time,” he says. “We used to use a calendar to measure the time it took to get satellite imagery to front-line forces. Now we use a stopwatch.”
Rule 2: Know your weaknesses.
To play the new spy game well, we have to know much more about our enemies than they want us to know. Simple? Si. But now we face more difficulties than ever. Experts say that for U.S. intelligence, precision-drilling distant bull’s-eyes is nothing compared to the following ongoing problems.
Right-hand, left-hand disconnect. A Congressional inquiry found that bad communications between and within intelligence organizations failed to provide the FBI with information that could’ve stymied the 9/11 attacks. While there has been improvement, coordination between spy agencies is still a huge problem. After all, spies are bureaucrats, too. Recently, the CIA has put officers in every FBI domestic field office, and according to Bureau spokesman Bill Carter, 25 additional CIA analysts at FBI headquarters are crunching data from counterterrorism investigations worldwide. But Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, believes we still have a long way to go. “The intelligence community must evolve into a centralized system,” he says, adding that they still act like 15 separate agencies. Which they are.
Lack of assets. Spies are never around when you need them. A former intelligence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says we don’t even have enough spies to confirm the info coming from our allies, like Britain’s claim that Saddam was shopping for uranium in Niger.
In Afghanistan, according to one former analyst with extensive contacts in the Northern Alliance, “We were being led around by the nose” by wily locals.
In Yemen, according to a retired CIA officer, local security allows us to hunt down only the terrorists they want us to get. We don’t have the assets to know when the people we really want are getting away.
In the Iraq war, we had targeting precision that bordered on science fiction—but we still can’t find the WMDs that the coalition governments swore were there. It took us months just to find Saddam’s two killer kids—and even then, we got the information not from spies but from a guy who cost us $30 million.
Mushroom clouds on the horizon. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are hundreds of civilian research facilities around the globe where highly enriched uranium (HEU) is stored under low levels of security. Although plutonium is deadlier, HEU is easier to use for a terrorist group making a small nuclear bomb. So it isn’t surprising that terrorist groups and Iranian intelligence have already attempted to buy or steal HEU. Those are the deals that fell through. Of course, we don’t yet know about the ones that worked out.
Time is against us. “It takes about four years before a CIA officer starts recruiting,” says Kessler, “and recruitment may take three years before you get a spy in the right position to pay off.” Paying unsavory people for dangerous information takes patience. “The thing people don’t understand is that intelligence is not like turning on the TV and seeing everything in living color,” he says.
Rule 3: Don’t try to play catch-up in the field.
The following anecdote helps illustrate just how far behind the U.S. is in the spy game. September 26, 2001: An old Soviet-made Mi-17 lumbers over stark Afghan mountain ridges headed for the mouth of the Panjshir Valley. The helicopter deliberately looks like it belongs to the rusting fleet of Northern Alliance aircraft—Mi-8s and Mi-17s bought for a million or two from Russian surplus traders. But it belongs to American intelligence and carries a team of 10, including CIA officers. They bought the hulk in Central Asia or floated it into the region on a U.S. military ship.
The agents are what’s called a “pickup team,” assembled in the area, trained, and sent in. Their leader is a veteran former CIA Kabul station chief. There’s also a case officer from Pakistan, a few SOG guys, a medic, pilots, and a mechanic. They’re dressed like Boy Scouts in camping clothes. But they carry encrypted communications links through their own satellite to Langley…and a large metal case with $3 million in nonsequential $100 bills.
Their helicopter touches down midafternoon about 70 miles north of Kabul. “The NA had been jumping at the chance to work with us for some time,” says Julie Sirrs, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer. Until now coordination with the Northern Alliance has been haphazard. But on this night things change. The head of the team sits down at a table with an NA chief, stacks $500,000 on the table, and promises more to come, in exchange for intelligence and bodies. By the time the war in Afghanistan winds down, he will have doled out $10 million to locals. Grand total CIA cash giveaways in the area so far: $70 million.
The next couple of weeks bring about 100 more CIA guys setting up landing sites for Special Forces, following NA commanders, and launching Predator unmanned drones to shadow the Taliban. Just before dawn on November 13, right after the Taliban fled, a CIA team sneaks into Kabul to seize documents from Al Qaeda bases—and runs into a group of 100 Russian intelligence officers who’ve gotten there first. During the years of Soviet occupation, the KGB trained 30,000 Afghani security personnel, many of whom became loyal informants, attended Moscow schools, and married Russian women. Former KGB officer Oleg Kalugin, who worked with the old Communist Afghan regime, says these KGB-trained personnel were primed to slip into Afghanistan to become part of a ready-made network of spies.
“Right before September 11,” explains Kalugin, “the Russian foreign intelligence service was asked, ‘How will you continue to recruit spies without the Communist ideology?’ ‘No problem,’ they said. ‘We’ll just look for people who hate America.’”
Rule 4: Bad information = ugly consequences.
Your average Third World resident isn’t eager to help us out: A happy history of collaborating with America isn’t yet on our side. In the early part of the Iraq campaign, for example, would-be collaborators learned that while Americans are very nice, it doesn’t ease the pain of having your tongue cut out. That happened to one of three Iraqi spies who provided the location of Dora Farms, the supposed underground bunker where Saddam was allegedly hiding on the first night of the war. He bled to death; the other two were shot dead by the Mukhabarat, Saddam’s feared intelligence service.
According to Capt. Joe Della Vedova, spokesman for the Air Force, “During the first attacks, there was definitely a lot of work going on on the ground.” Unfortunately, some of it was bad work. And without good information, all you get is a precise hit on the wrong target. We now know, for example, that we almost certainly did not hit Saddam at Dora Farms. In fact, investigators who went in later couldn’t even locate a bunker. The three Iraqi informers died for nothing.
Knowing when to act and when to wait for further confirmation is a complex, deadly game, says Brigadier General Ennis. “We hear a lot about the lack of ‘actionable’ intelligence—as though the only reason we can’t go out and whack the bad guys is that we don’t have good intelligence,” he says. “That’s a lot of garbage. In Operation Enduring Freedom, there was a lot of intelligence that, if acted upon in a timely manner, would have resulted in a lot more terrorist casualties.” But acting always puts informants at risk: According to several CIA officers who worked in the then–Soviet Union, having “assets” die is part of the cost of doing business. In the new spy game, rebuilding espionage networks doesn’t necessarily mean less death. Sometimes it means more.
Rule 5: We have to get it right—and we have to do it fast.
Tehran, 2005: a warm night in October. Yellow security lights wash over a warehouse. Outside, guards carry German submachine guns. They’re not wearing uniforms.
A CIA officer in a nearby safe house scans the area with binoculars. With a laptop, he taps into a chat room where three Iranian dissidents log on using Triangle Boy, a software program that encrypts their identities. They detail entrances and stairwells. In moments a team of Delta Force troopers has downloaded the information as a three-dimensional map.
Meanwhile, across town in the Czech embassy, an intelligence officer points a small dish scanner out a window and, reading the screen for a flux in gamma radiation, finds what might be a small nuclear bomb.
Screaming in low from the west, an F-117A Nighthawk passes over. Thirty Delta troopers—inserted months ago with help from the new network of spies—come in from all angles carrying silenced HK MP5s. Two are already in the building.
The three Iranian guards walk to the back door just in time to hear disappearing footsteps on the other side. A sheet of explosive paper splinters the door, knocking down the guards. Others rush in. Most of them are killed quickly with a Delta double-tap.
The team closes in on the device and fast-hauls it to the exit. Outside, four Pave Low helicopters with silenced rotors come out of the night. They touch down, load up—and disappear into the night.
A scene like this may play out soon. After all, $40 billion a year ought to buy you something, and counter-proliferation is the growth industry in the intelligence business. Iranian intelligence has been casing nuclear research facilities intermittently over the past 10 years, looking to get HEU. Shortly after September 11, Special Forces started drilling with Israeli Special Ops Unit 262, preparing to secure nuclear bombs and loose nuke fuel.
We’re willing to pull off risky missions around the world—in the Philippines, Pakistan, Chechnya, the Middle East—that never would have been green-lighted five years ago. But we’re spying on our own like never before. In 2002 the National Security Agency spent $282 million on a program called Trailblazer that’s designed to tap phone calls and e-mails more effectively. From 2001 to 2002, the number of requests for domestic surveillance of intel targets rose 33 percent. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with a mandate to create new technologies to defeat terrorism, is also creating a surveillance system that allows the government to track every car in a major urban area using cameras and computer technology.
As we spend more and more to develop the means to defeat the kind of rogue governments that monitor their citizens, we increase monitoring of our own. And though our money, tools, and tactics give us the edge, if we don’t have good human resources with good common sense, they’re useless.
Obviously, an effective espionage program takes more than money. For instance, the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (OSP), a brainchild of Donald Rumsfeld, was intended to collect and spin information from the CIA and elsewhere and feed it to those who need it for political purposes. One of its missions was to help build the case for war in Iraq. The OSP supposedly repurposed bad information the British had collected and used it to convince Bush to claim, in his State of the Union address, that the Iraqis were trying to find uranium in Africa. The CIA had told White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley more than once that the information about uranium sucked, but Hadley, who must’ve been getting his information from the OSP, apparently completely disregarded the CIA objections.
In all wars screwups are commonplace. But in this war, with these weapons and these enemies, mistakes can cost the lives not only of soldiers, but of civilians, in this country and abroad. In the ongoing war against terrorism, the U.S. and its allies can win all the battles—which is what the Iraqi campaign was supposed to be—and still lose the war unless we can fine-tune this new intelligence machine in time to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.
This unmanned aircraft, used by the CIA to hunt down terrorists, is outfitted with two real-time color video cameras, an infrared camera, and a laser-guided missile that hits Mach 1.2 in two seconds.
Eat your heart out, Superman. This lightweight personal radar generates an accurate picture of enemy movements through up to 30 feet of wood, concrete, even human bodies.
Laser Range Finder
These 12-pound, 10-inch-long handheld binoculars use laser technology linked to a global positioning system to pinpoint air and ground attack targets within a 16-foot range from up to 6.2 miles away. Used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
REMUS (Remote Environmental Monitoring UNIT System)
An unmanned 63-inch sub, REMUS is easy to program and deploy. It uses side-scan sonar to detect minefields and image the ocean floor.
Used to scout urban battlefields, this rugged nine-pound vehicle has motion detectors, a video camera, microphones, and infrared cameras for night use.
Worn by U.S. troops during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, this computer, video camera scope, and head-mounted display enables soldiers to peer around corners, send and receive messages from the battlefield, and broadcast images during combat. You will be assimilated.
Former CIA case officer Peter Earnest on spy recruiting basics.
Spot. Find someone with access to info and “a motive for working with us,” says Earnest, now executive director of the International Spy Museum. Need the goods on Chinese rocket forces? Pose as a State Department flunky and befriend a disgruntled attaché from the Chinese consulate.
Assess. “There are a lot of phonies trying to peddle false information,” says Earnest, so check out your mark. Has Langley ID’d him as a double agent? Get his bio to an agency shrink, who can even meet your potential spy in disguise.
Develop. Informants know they’re risking a firing squad (or worse), so developing trust is crucial. The quickest and easiest way to bond, explains Earnest, “is by boning up on their interests.” Does he collect antique dolls? You’ve got a new hobby.
Recruit. Now make your pitch: info in exchange for something they want—money, the promise of U.S. citizenship, major wiring from the orthodontist. “A lot of ’em ask for medical care,” says Earnest.
Handle. Your recruit is your responsibility. “You are now his father, confessor, wife, and mentor,” says Earnest. It’s up to you to give him lessons in avoiding tails and handling equipment, all the while persuading him to keep risking his ass.
Terminate. If your guy gets busted or retires, you need to make sure he’s taken care of. The company will even keep money in escrow for agents who’ve been arrested. “We don’t just drop them off the planet,” assures Earnest.—PB