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2005 January 03 Monday
Former CIA Agent Howard Hart On The Agency

Howard Hart, former CIA clandestine service officer, said on C-SPAN 2 that there are far far fewer clandestine service officers serving abroad than there are faculty members at the University of Virginia. He also said there are fewer than there are FBI agents serving at the FBI NYC office. He was speaking at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at University of Virginia on Dec. 3, 2004 for a seminar entitled Futre of CIA Espionage Operations.

Hart expects many more countries to develop nuclear weapons in the future.

Hart says it is extremely difficult to recruit people into the clandestine service of the CIA. It is hard to reach them to recruit them in the first place. The universities with the highest concentrations of talent are hostile toward the CIA.

CIA's intake of junior officers every year is low. 1995: 25 junior trainee case officers for the year. More died that year. Same happened during the Carter Administration. He said Stansfield Turner, DCI under Carter, was a disaster. He said it wasn't until the Iranian embassy seizure that Carter realized the world is full of bad people and that the CIA needed the capability to defend against those bad people.

The most interesting point Hart made: Because so few are taken in as clandestine agents lousy ones are retained. I didn't get the whole quote but in explaining the effects of this he said "And someone like Aldrich Ames which we already figured out was not an acceptable officer....". So if the clandestine service had recruited more people each year then a guy like Aldrich Ames would have been fired before he became a traitor who betrayed the United States to the Soviet Union.

The point he made about clandestine service staffing struck me as his most important point. The problem with the level of competence of CIA clandestine agents is two fold. First off, not enough talented people try to apply for jobs as agents. Also, there are so few openings that anyone who gets hired is unlikely to get fired. So the clandestine service has severe quality problems. How to address that problem?

Hart is not exactly optimistic: "Can CIA meet the on-going threat? and my answer is No".

He says to train someone to the point of being a journeyman case officer takes 6 to 7 years. So the CIA lacks the ability to scale up rapidly in response to a sudden crisis. If we need a bigger clandestine spy capability (and I think we do) then we must commit to a longer term project to make the CIA more capable. We need more people out there who are trying to recruit people in key positions in other governments and other kinds of organizations to provide information.

Hart thinks former CIA Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) John Deutch was an idiot as a CIA chief. You may remember that Deutch was discovered to be very careless with protecting a laptop that had secrets on it.

Hart has contempt for "the new crowd" that came in when Porter Goss recently replaced George Tenet as DCI. He says graduate business schools should study Porter Goss and his associates for a case study in how not to take over an organization. He says Goss's crowd is unnecessarily arrogant toward and insulting toward the people in the CIA. From my own reading of what is being said by people who are leaving the CIA and others in positions to know this sounds about right.

Hart says the 9/11 Commission gave a pass to the FBI and criticised the CIA more heavily even though the FBI was more culpable for letting 9/11 happen (and I agree). He does not understand why the FBI did not come in for more criticism. I don't either. Maybe it is because plenty of liberals and conservatives are loathe to admit that the FBI needs to have a stronger domestic surveillance capability. So no one is going to criticise the FBI for not doing enough spying on groups on the home front that are more likely to have hostiles in them.

Hart thinks the recent decision to turn the CIA's paramilitary operation over to the military is a mistake. The ability to avoid engaging American military personnel avoids the commission of an act of war. It avoids the level of legal and political flap that can come from the use and discovery of the use of soldiers. The spies are more expendable and deniable. His opinion on this seems wise. Since George W. Bush has demonstrated a tendency to make monumentally wrong decisions based on a gut instinct that ignores pertinent facts this particular decision is not particularly surprising.

Hart talked about how back in the 1960s the Ivy Leagues (and he is a Cornell grad from the mid 1960s) supplied a disproportionate number of CIA officers. Now recruits from the Ivies are rare. He sees this as a problem that is a result of the hostility of the liberal professors at those universities. People are being recruited from the Midwest, South and Southwest. But the CIA can't find enough good people. Lack of patriotism hinders recruitment. I agree. The Ivies have become too much the enemies of the rest of America. It is time the elite educational institutions were either restructured or their standings lowered by boosting up other universities with a big shift in money flows.

Nowadays a lot of applicants to the CIA clandestine service are rejected due to the drug issue. Also more are lost over theft, fraud, deceit. The CIA uses polygraphs (and I'm guessing some of the more effective methods) to question applicants.

Hart says that Bush wants to boost the clandestine service intake by 50% but that this can not be done without lowering quality. He says that as recently as 5 years ago the clandestine service was recruiting only 25 people per year. So the clandiestine service really is small. On top of that it suffers quality problems.

Also, I just saw Newt Gingrich on C-SPAN 2 Book TV being interviewed by Norm Ornstein about Gingrich's new book Winning The Future: A 21st Century Contract with America. Gingrich commented that the intelligence budget needs to be about 3 times bigger than it currently is. My guess is that Gingrich is correct and that the balance of money flowing to improve military capability versus intelligence capability is out of whack. We have more military capability than we have intelligence to direct it or to stave off a threat at an earlier stage so it never becomes a military threat.

Update: Here is some background information on Hart's years of CIA service.

Howard Hart spent 25 years in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. He was the operations officer in both Calcutta and New Delhi, India; chief of station in Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Bonn, Germany, among other assignments. He also served as chief of the Paramilitary Division at the CIA’s headquarters. He was awarded one of the CIA’s 50 “Trailblazer” Awards and has received numerous intelligence medals from the Agency.

Hart correctly called the fall of the Shah of Iran and he was ignored.

Some of Hart's reports in the spring of 1978 were so pessimistic that the CIA's chief of station refused to send them on to Washington, where he knew they would arouse fury in the White House. For more than three months during the summer of 1978 the CIA labored to write up a special National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the strength of the Shah's government. But the estimators could never agree on what was increasingly obvious: the Ayatollah had won control of the streets and the royal palace was next. Eventually the CIA's director, Admiral Stansfield Turner, shelved the NIE because it was politically too divisive. The result: official shock when the Shah's government collapsed, and bitter enmity for the United States from the Islamic activists who seized power in Iran.

It is no wonder he speaks poorly of Stansfield Turner.

Back in 2002 he was forecasting the eventual overthrow of the Arab oil regimes in the Persian Gulf.

Having seen the fall of one regime built on sand, Hart is convinced that bin Laden, following a strategy similar to Khomeini's in the 1970s, can do it again. Whatever happens in the current American effort to hunt him down, he says, bin Laden has now been transformed into a hero of the Arab world. If he lives his charisma will shine all the brighter; if he is imprisoned or killed, others in the al-Queda network will carry on in his name. "The governments of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are also built on sand," he says.

Does Hart still believe this analysis?

Update: The Miller Center has a viewable video of Hart's presentation in Real Player format. I will update this post with more dialog from Hart. The presentation is 1 hour and 6 minutes.

Excerpts:

"You may all remember the CIA experienced a terrible spy case internally, a guy named Aldrich Ames turned out to be a spy working for the Russians. Aldrich Ames who we should have sorted out because he had all manner of personal deficiencies that we did pick up. For some reason the system let him get thru and all of a sudden he had access to our most sensitive Soviet operations. I was chief of station in Germany based in Bonn at that time and all of a sudden because we were running 3 of these most sensitive operations those operations started going bad. How can this happen? No one in my station knew about the operations, knew the identity of this man except two of us. Anyway, we did not know this. We went to every kind of precaution, we said is this our fault? Have we done something here to compromise this man? It turned out it was Aldrich back in Washington passing stuff along in empty beer cans to a guy in the Soviet residentura downtown in Washginton Soviet embassy. That man, one of those cases, the man who was compromised, had been working for us for almost 14 years. He was Russian employed in the Mikhoyan Design Bureau. Mig 21, Mig 27, that's Mikhoyan Design Bureau. He handed us every one of those 11 years the Soviet's complete test results of all their fancy new airplanes, the status of all of their research, on and on and on and this information enabled us, us US government, to not have the Air Force discover fleets that are in the skies are black with Soviet bombers went there weren't any bombers, etc etc. Saved us umpteen billions of dollars. I mean more, and gave us a very serious sense of confidence because we knew precisely what they could do."

...

"And I want to make this clear. I didn't join the CIA after getting out of college. I joined the clandestine service. There are all those other folks who are in the CIA. But the service was my business.

"There are far far fewer clandestine service personnel serving overseas as I speak now than are on the payroll of the faculty of the University of Virgina. Lets get it in perspective. Far far fewer. The New York field station of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is bigger than our entire overseas world wide presence."

By Randall Parker    2005 January 03 03:28 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (31)
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