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Here we go again . . .

. . . Same old stuff again . . .

UPI reports that even during the “long war” recruiting intelligence officers isn’t a cake walk:

U.S.News & World Report said Saturday the CIA would not be able to meet a demand by members of Congress and President George W. Bush to expand its human intelligence force by that amount.

The magazine said there is a six-month-to-one-year backlog in processing of security clearances for CIA recruits, after the agency graduated its largest class ever of clandestine operatives in November.

U.S.News said many case officers in Iraq operate under tightly restrictive rules, and are preoccupied with mundane tactical intelligence gathering tasks. Because there are so many case officers assigned to Iraq, the CIA is unable to cover other trouble spots, and has been forced to use contractors to fill the gap, the magazine reported.

Many senior operatives are leaving because of morale issues and clashes with CIA Director Porter Goss and his staff, said U.S.News, and younger staff members are leaving for higher salaries offered by contractors.

I have no proof to back up this RUMINT, but I have heard that some new recruits at various IC agencies (not just CIA) are so appalled at the basic working conditions that they just flat out quit days (in one case hours) after being brought on board. Working in an office in DC is clearly much different than working out of what passes for an Embassy in East Bumphoquestan, but if your job is analysis and you don’t have a place to sit much less a way to access data, the whole “doing something for your country” enthusiasm tends to wane.

That one of the main problems is STILL backlogged security clearances is another indication that we’re not serious about beefing up our intelligence capabilities. All the fancy technology in the world is no good if we don’t have people to operate it, task it, and evaluate the output. The clearance backlog issue is decades old; in case anyone was wondering about the pace at which even the simplest fix can take.

More telling is the vicious cycle the article points out: Agencies can’t get the job done, so they hire contractors, who in turn hire away the disillusioned recruits (and old timers) to work the missions the agencies can’t get done. The only real difference between the blue and green (or yellow) badge is the compensation package. Contractors are supposed to address short term problems, but point out to me one intelligence program that has ever been cancelled, or the contractor who has lain off large portions of its cleared workforce.

Would the adoption of a new personnel system (now in some union-inspired limbo) help? Most assuredly, but such a move is still just a pressure bandage on a wound that requires a tourniquet. The conflicts between DCIA Goss and his staff, and the career senior staff of the Agency (find-replace with any other agency director and their agency), is reflective of something akin to: reform derangement syndrome.

If you believe nothing is wrong, that you didn’t fail, that everything is as it should be despite the fact that every post-mortem evaluation points to glaring holes in your thinking; then it stands to reason that you’ll fight attempts to change the status quo (that or you’ll quit). One need only read Bill Gertz’s latest in the Washington Times, which reinforces similar stories over the last few years:

One year after Congress authorized the creation of a czar to oversee and reform intelligence agencies, the CIA, the FBI and other services remain largely the same, bound by ingrained bureaucratic process and culture, intelligence officials say.

Interviews with numerous senior U.S. intelligence and security officials show a system that still lacks qualified personnel and resists new operating methods necessary to confront domestic and foreign security threats.

As cruel and haphazard as it sounds, I’m a fan of simply cleaning house at the GS-15 and above level. It is the only sure-fire way to ensure that the bureaucratic nonsense that is preventing reforms from taking place will not be fought simply because “that’s not the way we do it.” While they may have served honorably, no one is owed a job. If the focus of your job starts to become the defense of that job . . . well, I submit that you’ve lost sight of why you are in this business.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.