Reuel Marc Gerecht demystifies the nature of CIA cover when agents work abroad and discusses the significance of Valerie Plame's outing by Robert Novak in an article about her husband Dennis Wilson's trip to Niger to investigate a possible attempt by Saddam Hussein's Iraq to acquire uranium. The value of cover is overstated and often blown on purpose.
CIA officers also often eschew their cover work because it can be quite time-consuming, offers little professional reward inside the Agency, and is frequently more mentally demanding than "operations" (foreign service officers actually have to think more in their cable-writing, note-taking, and demarching than case officers do in arranging clandestine meetings and regurgitating headquarters debriefing notes). Official cover, even when good, often simply doesn't allow a case officer access to a sufficient number of possible targets (believe it or not, most foreign officials and Islamic holy warriors can't be convinced, seduced, or blackmailed into betraying "their" side). Most chiefs of CIA stations would gladly have their officers demolish their cover if by so doing the operatives could have some chance of meeting a target that could conceivably be recruited. Indeed, depending on the foreign target and sensitivity and prowess of the local counterespionage services, case officers regularly jettison their cover entirely, hoping that gossip and the allure of American power and money will work to their advantage.
The Bush administration's critics in the Wilson affair should be commended for worrying about the possible "blowback" on foreign contacts when operatives like Valerie Plame are exposed. The odds that any of her contacts are suffering, however, are small: Casual, even constant, open association with CIA officers isn't necessarily damning even in countries that look dimly upon unauthorized CIA operational activity within their borders. The CIA is an intelligence arm of the United States, not the Soviet Union. The French, the Indians, the Turks, and the Pakistanis--at times troublesome foreigners with first-rate, often adversarial internal-security services--know the difference.
Gerecht says that it was a mistake by someone in the CIA to put Wilson on a mission that would attract public attention and that the spouses of agents should try to maintain a low profile. Gerecht also has some pretty pointed questions about what sorts of efforts the CIA made to run agents in Iraq after 1991 and also against Al Qaeda.
It is worth noting that Gerecht himself used to be a CIA case officer doing work that was in some fashion clandestine. So did he blow his own cover by becoming a public figure?
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 October 21 12:27 AM Politics American Domestic|