Spook Stories

I don’t agree with everything my colleague Jay posts at Wizbang. I, for example, give a lot more credit to the Bush White House for competency than he does, although I have to admit that on the subject of Immigration, Dubya’s mental acuity is far less than optimal or his usual standard. Jay has mentioned that recently we have been thinking along the same lines, so much so at times that it is eerie. In this case, his article about the CIA operations in Iran gave me a nudge to think about past performances.

It is somehow not commonly understood about Intelligence people, that they like to be thought of as ‘incompetent’ and ‘stupid’. As in, ‘That guy? He’s not smart enough to have figured out what we’re doing, much less be part of any group which could do something about it’. The Intelligence Community is counter-intuitive that way, preferring to avoid stories which raise awareness of their successes, even choosing to embrace stories which make them look like they could not possibly do the job. The image of the suave and brilliant spy makes for good movies, but such people are always watched too closely to be truly effective as operatives. In the actual case the ideal spy, whether collecting information or performing an operation, wants to be nondescript, impossible to remember or identify with any specificity, and so common that he or she is taken for granted. Like a janitor or a clerk, like some ordinary schmoe who attracts no attention. Ordinary, casual, nobody.

I could point to obvious works of impressive effort and brilliance, which are to often taken for granted. It is understood that the National Security Agency can monitor and track thousands of international telephone calls and radio transmissions. A large reason for this is the network of cables laid in oceans and tapping into foreign telecom lines. Few people think about how we did that. Or for that matter, how the United States anticipates, then thwarts online warfare efforts, such as the repeated efforts to crash the NYSE transaction records or the Treasury Department internal servers. Yes folks, there are fed-geeks protecting America’s data infrastructure. And what about multi-lateral data mining for referent decisioning by crisis managers? The integration of universities into the national infrastructure predates FDR, but has been radically reformed in recent years. The image of cloak and dagger has been obsolete since before you were born, and the ubiquitous black helicopter is so last-Century.

Personal stories do come out from the field, though. They tend to be anecdotal, so that verification is impossible, but every so often you hear one which reminds you that the spooks may be invisible, but not inactive. I try to be somewhat careful with the stories I hear, because I have friends in the business, and so nothing new or particularly detailed can be relayed, even if someone scrubs a story before I hear it. But I can remind the reader of some of the older stories, classics if you will, which convey a sense of what’s going on. Like the incident where the crew of a Soviet submarine in the Pacific killed their political officer and captain, and radioed the U.S. Navy about defecting to the West – after surfacing in the middle of San Diego Bay. Like the defection of the Soviet Ambassador to the United Nations in 1979 after denouncing the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, which required the armed assistance of the United States BDS and a helicopter rescue. Like the steal-and-switch of a nuclear warhead which Hussein tried to buy in 1994, replacing a small plutonium warhead from a Warsaw Pact device with radioactive waste. Like the Chinese couple given ten million dollars for the purpose of setting up a network in the United States, who chose instead to go on the run and live off the money, neither defecting to the West nor serving their Communist paymaster. Like the field technicians who “repaired” countless Soviet ICBMs with weak wire connections which would be likely to fail if they were ever actually launched. Some of those stories are bound to be garbage, some true but unverifiable, but the emphasis here is that there are many brave and hard-working people in the Intelligence Community, whose anonymous efforts have saved the world many times over.

Have you hugged your spook today?

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