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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?

Comments (8)

I think Bush's competency o... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

I think Bush's competency on the matter is perfectly in keeping with his goals. I believe he wants a homogeneous North American economy consisting of Mexico, the U.S. and Canada - the sooner the better. Other considerations are trumped by this goal. This may one day happen naturally, but I think Bush is far too aggressive in his approach. Mexico needs much political and social reform. Perhaps Bush believes that will happen of its own accord once the borders are broken down.

DJ, didn't you see my "Sync... (Below threshold)

DJ, didn't you see my "Synchronicity" piece last night? We're supposed to be in lockstep to the point where we write practically the same pieces!

I am gravely disappointed in this posting. I might even have to write a memo.


Well Jay, sometimes it's Po... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Well Jay, sometimes it's Polka time!

Since when is a defecting s... (Below threshold)

Since when is a defecting sub and Ambassador a intellegence coup ? They leave there ,come here. And the Chinese couple just took the money and ran. The CIA missed the invasion of S Korea ,The fall of the berlin wall ,Many terror plots , and 9-11. But wait there's more ,the CIA is routinly leaking our most closely held secrets for personal political gain !! I'm sure there are many brave men in the Intel business but some hacks too

DJ,How would I kno... (Below threshold)
Sheik Yur Bouty:


How would I know whether I've hugged my spook today or not?

People who are shocked at t... (Below threshold)

People who are shocked at the immigration proposal must not have been paying attention during the 2004 campaign. The proposal is pretty close to what Bush proposed then.

DJYour post reminds ... (Below threshold)

Your post reminds me of an unamed gentleman who played tennis with my dad every year we went on vacation to the beach in South Carolina. This was in the late 1960's and very early 1970's.
He was a WWII vet, Italian American (first generation) w/ Swiss wife, and member of the OSS. My Dad was Third Army officer, so they hit it off very quickly. Plus they were tennis foes and teamates on the court so there was a bond.
For years every summer, my brothers and I listened to late night dinner table discussions that were captivating. Without compromising confidences and security, our friend told us how the U S won the espionage war in WWII and later in the then ongoing Cold War. His descriptions of what happened made it clear to all of us that both were Wars that hinged on heroic work and lucky breaks. He ended every evening conversation, looking us in the eye, with the admonition that"there are men out there tonight, right now(fist pounding the table!), risking their lives for you."
Sadly, that generation is passing fast. I wish my son and daughters could hear this oral history firsthand.

If poor old Joe Wilson can'... (Below threshold)

If poor old Joe Wilson can't perform
Not in the night, or in the morn
I'd hug that spook called Valerie Plame
But how would how would I know
That was really her name?

I can think of other last lines, but I'm keeping it clean.






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