"A sophisticated, deeply informed account of real life in the real CIA that adds immeasurably to the public understanding of the espionage culturethe good and the bad." Bob Woodward
Jack Devine ran Charlie Wilson's War in Afghanistan. It was the largest covert action of the Cold War, and it was Devine who put the brand-new Stinger missile into the hands of the mujahideen during their war with the Soviets, paving the way to a decisive victory against the Russians. He also pushed the CIA's effort to run down the narcotics trafficker Pablo Escobar in Colombia. He tried to warn the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, that there was a bullet coming from Iraq with his name on it. He was in Chile when Allende fell, and he had too much to do with Iran-Contra for his own taste, though he tried to stop it. And he tangled with Rick Ames, the KGB spy inside the CIA, and hunted Robert Hanssen, the mole in the FBI.
Good Hunting: An American Spymaster's Story is the spellbinding memoir of Devine's time in the Central Intelligence Agency, where he served for more than thirty years, rising to become the acting deputy director of operations, responsible for all of the CIA's spying operations. This is a story of intrigue and high-stakes maneuvering, all the more gripping when the fate of our geopolitical order hangs in the balance. But this book also sounds a warning to our nation's decision makers: covert operations, not costly and devastating full-scale interventions, are the best safeguard of America's interests worldwide.
Part memoir, part historical redress, Good Hunting debunks outright some of the myths surrounding the Agency and cautions against its misuses. Beneath the exotic allureliving abroad with his wife and six children, running operations in seven countries, and serving successive presidents from Nixon to Clintonthis is a realist, gimlet-eyed account of the Agency. Now, as Devine sees it, the CIA is trapped within a larger bureaucracy, losing swaths of turf to the military, and, most ominous of all, is becoming overly weighted toward paramilitary operations after a decade of war. Its capacity to do what it does bestspying and covert actionhas been seriously degraded.
Good Hunting sheds light on some of the CIA's deepest secrets and spans an illustrious tenureand never before has an acting deputy director of operations come forth with such an account. With the historical acumen of Steve Coll's Ghost Wars and gripping scenarios that evoke the novels of John le Carré even as they hew closely to the facts on the ground, Devine offers a master class in spycraft.
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About the Author
Jack Devine is a thirty-two-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who served at the pinnacle of his career as the CIA's top spymasterhead of the CIA's operations outside the United States, in which capacity he had supervisory authority over thousands of CIA employees involved in sensitive missions throughout the world. He is also a founding partner and the president of The Arkin Group, an international risk consulting and intelligence firm. He lives in New York City with his wife, Pat.
Read an Excerpt
Inside the Invisible Government
The Farm, 1969
It never occurred to me growing up that I would someday join the Central Intelligence Agency. I was the son of an Irish-Catholic heating contractor. My forebears were weavers and farmers who immigrated to the United States in the wake of the potato famine of 1846, settling in South Philadelphia and joining the building trades and the police department. But somehow covert action was in my DNA, a fact I came to understand in 1966 when my wife, Pat, gave me a book for my twenty-sixth birthday.
The Invisible Government, by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, was intended as an exposé. The reader was supposed to be shocked and outraged by its revelations of a vast and secret intelligence bureaucracy, a CIA that had become so powerful that it threatened the very democracy it had been created to preserve. But a careful reading belied the book’s argument. In fact, rather than an out-of-control intelligence community engaged in clandestine operations that endangered the nation, the book revealed a system of safeguards put in place by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Reading it, I was struck by the sense of mission and vitality of the Agency, and I was so intrigued and energized by the covert operations described in its pages—not to mention the presumed adventure of living and working with foreigners in exotic places—that as soon as I finished the book, I sent off a letter to the Agency seeking employment.
At the time, I was a high school social studies teacher in suburban Philadelphia, and the CIA was the furthest thing from my mind. I supplemented teaching with summertime work loading and unloading trucks at a food distribution center in South Philly, where I got closer to the rock and rumble of life in dangerous foreign settings. I had to join the Teamsters union to work there, and heard Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa speak at the Philadelphia Convention Hall. He reminded me of Castro as he rambled on nonstop for over an hour, but his charisma was undeniable. The Teamsters were a tough lot. Once, I was let off work early to attend the wake of a coworker. When I asked what had happened, I was told in hushed tones that the man had organized a dissident labor group and ended up in a fight that included baseball bats.
This was far from my rather parochial upbringing. My sisters, Anna Mae and Mary Lou, and I grew up in an Ozzie and Harriet world. After World War II, our parents moved to the suburbs in Delaware County. Ours was a blue-collar family, and wonderfully loving and secure. I naïvely felt that nearly everyone in America shared this experience.
I met my future wife, Pat, on the beach in North Wildwood, New Jersey, when she and her friend Nancy Paul strolled past my lifeguard stand. After my career in intelligence, that was the best job I ever had. I still spend my summers and weekends at a shore home in nearby Ocean City, and recently I represented the Ocean City Beach Patrol Alumni in the National Lifeguard Rowing Championships with my former CIA colleague Jim Campbell. With the support of fellow guards Joe Grimes and Jack Brooks, we survived the competition. In 2012 I won the championship in the over-seventy age group with the Ocean City legend Joe Schmitt. Pat and I didn’t hit it off at first, but when I removed a splinter from her friend’s foot, she was taken with this act of gallantry. We were married at Good Shepherd Church in Philadelphia in November 1962. From the moment we met, Pat knew me better than I thought anyone could. It is not surprising that four years later she would give me the book that would change our lives.
Some time passed before I received a response to my handwritten letter to the CIA, directing me to an office in Center City Philadelphia for an interview. I was impressed with the Ivy League–looking CIA officer with excellent diction in a tweed suit and wing-tip shoes. Truth be told, the Agency was always more egalitarian than its high-profile cadre of Yale and Princeton men led many to believe. Still, I was relieved when the interview went well, and I was given an entry examination that measured intelligence, writing skills, and psychological stability. This was followed weeks later by much more comprehensive testing in Washington, D.C., including a polygraph examination and extensive interviews. Drugs were not an issue among middle-class America in the early 1960s. Instead, the polygrapher seemed to have a special interest in how much beer I had drunk as a college student and lifeguard. After two grueling days trying to convince the CIA that I was right for them, I returned to teaching. Finally, weeks later, I received a letter inviting me to return to Washington on February 7, 1967, to become a member of the Central Intelligence Agency.
My first assignment was to the Clandestine Service’s Records Integration Office, to become a “documents analyst,” until it was time for me to be sent off to the “Farm” for training as a clandestine operator. In the windowless basement vault of CIA headquarters, I reviewed cables for retrievable data sent back to Langley, Virginia, from officers in Eastern Europe, while ten feet away, my new colleague did the same for those from the Soviet Union. His name was Aldrich Ames. He would go on to become one of the greatest traitors in CIA history.
While I couldn’t believe I was now working inside the invisible government, my colleague was blasé about it. He had followed a different path to the secret vaulted room. Rick, as we called him, was a CIA brat. He’d spent his early teens hanging around a proper British yacht club in Rangoon, Burma, where his father worked from 1953 to 1955 as a CIA operative undercover. After flunking out of the University of Chicago and setting off on his own as a theater hand in the Windy City, Rick had come back home to McLean, in Northern Virginia. His father, Carleton Ames, then holding down a desk job after his foreign assignment, immediately helped his son land a position at the Agency.
When I met him in the fall of 1967, Ames was just finishing up his degree as a night student at George Washington University. My colleague lacked the savoir faire I associated with spies. He was unkempt, with stringy dark hair and bad teeth stained by the Camels he practically chain-smoked, and his clothes could have been charitably described as thrift shop specials. Still, he was arguably the best-read among us on intelligence, and had already cultivated an abiding interest in Soviet operations and counterintelligence.
In the claustrophobic, fluorescent-lit basement of CIA headquarters, my worldly, cynical office mate and I spent hours in earnest debate over the great issues of our time. Our conversations were worthy of graduate school dialectics. The more I talked on about covert action and Agency derring-do, the harder Ames would shake his head and flash a wry smile. “Jack, the core of the business is counterintelligence,” he said. How ironic.
Ames was several months ahead of me in pre-career training, but we became friendly, finding common ground living on our meager GS-8 salaries. One evening, Pat and I met Ames’s girlfriend, Nancy Segebarth, a pleasant, intelligent young woman working on the analytical side of the Agency, the Directorate of Intelligence, and in May 1969 we attended their wedding, at a Unitarian church in Northern Virginia. There I met Ames’s father, Carleton, who was just retiring after spending fifteen years with the CIA. I could sense that there was some distance between him and his son, which Ames had spoken about in the past. In any case, Ames was about to depart for his first assignment as a case officer in Ankara, Turkey, working for the Soviet/Eastern Europe (SE) Division.
Before he left, and we went our separate ways, we exchanged books. Ames gave me A Coffin for Dimitrios, a spy novel by Eric Ambler whose narrator, a mystery writer, descends into a netherworld of double agents and espionage and becomes indistinguishable from the subjects of his fiction. I gave him Psychopathology and Politics by Harold Lasswell, about how political behavior is basically predetermined by our Freudian nature. I got the book back many years later. I was surprised Ames remembered who gave it to him, and now wonder how much it applied to him.
Years later, I raised this with Sandy Grimes shortly after her book on Ames, Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed, was published in mid-November 2012. She and I met for breakfast at the Palace Hotel in New York and spent an hour over tea puzzling over him. Sandy had spent her career supporting the Agency’s recruited Soviet assets. She joined her coauthor and counter-intelligence officer, the late Jeanne Vertefeuille, on the Ames mole hunt team in 1991. They were the two officers most responsible for finally unmasking Ames in 1994, nine years after he began spying for the Soviet Union. He gave the Soviets the names of our best Russian agents, all of whom were executed after Ames’s betrayal. In Circle of Treason, Sandy describes how Ames came into her office as she was beginning the investigation that would ultimately lead to his capture and lectured her on counterintelligence. She and I spent our breakfast that day trying to figure out why he’d done that.
We talked about the impact his second wife, María del Rosario Casas Dupuy, had had on his behavior. She was high-maintenance and clearly liked to present a bella figura, requiring that Ames support her in high style. She had come from a family of some standing and wealth in Colombia. Apparently, the family’s net worth had diminished substantially over the years, but Rosario’s self-image had not. Interestingly enough, the initial investigation into Ames erroneously concluded that Rosario came from money and therefore this provided the explanation for Rick’s expenditures. Sandy and I also talked about how Ames had attempted to mask the millions the Russians paid him by buying a used Jaguar, only to pay cash when he bought his home. This would have been a red flag if CIA investigators had been allowed to look more carefully at his personal finances. This limitation has been lifted since then.
In the end, Sandy and I shared the view, over the last sip of tea, that Ames had been the perfect storm waiting to happen: family issues, financial pressure, excessive drinking, underperformance at work, and an inflated ego accompanied by a gravely exaggerated evaluation of his superior intellect. Still, he might not have volunteered himself to the Russians if his job had not provided a pretext for regular contact with them. To their credit, they played him like a violin and appealed to his psychic needs.
* * *
As you enter CIA headquarters at Langley, there are two statues, each commemorating spies. One, outdoors, is a fairly inconspicuous tribute to Nathan Hale, the first American spy to give up his life for his country, during the American Revolution. (We shouldn’t dwell on the fact that he met this fate due to poor preparation and shoddy tradecraft.) The other, depicting General William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, looms large in the lobby, and large in CIA history. When World War II broke out, the U.S. government decided it needed a professional intelligence service, which became known as the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services. It was led by Donovan, a Wall Street lawyer whom the journalist Thomas Powers has described as “a man of enormous crude energy and the open, adventurous mind which was to characterize American intelligence until the Bay of Pigs.”1 Donovan is still held in great esteem by the employees of the CIA.
Across the lobby, also etched in marble, are stars representing CIA officers who have fallen in the line of duty. Sadly, I have watched these stars increase in number each year. Many remain anonymous because of their covert status.
Because secrecy is so critical to everything the CIA does, the people who work there become obsessed with betrayal. At its worst, this obsession can lead to paranoia, like that demonstrated by the Agency’s legendary spy hunter James Jesus Angleton, who came to believe that nearly all our agents were “moles” penetrating the CIA. Angleton himself had fallen victim to betrayal by the infamous British defector Kim Philby. The two had worked and lived together in Italy and had shared many confidences through the years. Philby’s defection to the Russians hit Angleton hard and probably distorted his view of mankind and the intelligence business.
Hunting for moles is a staple of the business, and the counterintelligence staff has to be directed at carefully observing where cases go wrong. However, you can’t allow this to paralyze your initiative. As with many aspects of spying, you need to keep at least two compartmentalized disciplines in your mind simultaneously, operations and counterintelligence. To emphasize only counterintelligence can lead to a form of paranoia that can be very debilitating to an aggressive intelligence service such as the CIA. We spend a great deal of time training at the knee of experienced officers, learning the proper balance between valuing our agents and command alertness when looking at issues of betrayal.
* * *
My early training was a mix of classroom study and fieldwork. It lasted nine months and was split between spying and paramilitary instruction. It included agent targeting and recruiting, surveillance, technical operations, clandestine meeting preparation, and communications programs. In the second half, we underwent paramilitary training in arms use, jungle survival, jump training, and demolitions. While the training was rigorous, it had its comic moments.
One of the more embarrassing occurred when I was attempting to make a brush pass, which is handing over a document to an agent in an undercover manner, a quick walk-by scenario. From my perspective, I had selected a particularly clever spot for the pass, which involved brushing past the agent as he entered a revolving door in a downtown hotel near the training center. It would have been virtually impossible to see the handoff from any angle. I executed it without a flaw, but the agent, one of our instructors, refused to put out his hand to complete the pass, which meant that I would have to repeat the exercise at a different time and location. In my annoyance, when I reached the bottom of the steps outside the hotel, I turned and directed an obscene hand gesture toward the instructor’s back.
That night back at camp, the trainees were assembled for a critique of the day’s performance. The commentator announced that they had a special treat for us: they had secretly videotaped selected meetings throughout the day, a viewing of which would prove entertaining and instructive to the entire class. We were all caught off guard. This was the early days of clandestine video; we had not been exposed to it before. My graphic gesture was first on the docket, and it looked even worse than I remembered. The room howled—at my expense. I learned an unforgettable lesson that night: all my operational activities in the future could be videotaped. And I learned this, too: if you’re trying to go unnoticed and maintain your cool, obscene gestures in public won’t cut it.
The operational aspects of the clandestine training course finished up with a field exercise designed to bring together all we had learned. The class was divided into several teams, each sent to a different location in a major northeastern city. My team ended up at one of the most prestigious hotels in town. I assume our CIA instructors had chosen it because the Agency had ties to the hotel’s security office and would be able to ensure that none of us would be scooped up by the police if our strange behavior were reported. My team passed with flying colors its debriefing and surveillance exercises against multiple targets, role-played by our instructors. The rub came when we had to surreptitiously place an audio device in a hotel room. The placement went well enough, and our team transcribers diligently waited for the surveillance team to report the arrival of the target. The large reel-to-reels were running; earphones were on. Everything was going smoothly—until a maid walked in without knocking to turn down the bed. The transcriber had forgotten to lock the door! The maid, startled, beat a hasty retreat to the security office. The room was soon visited by hotel security—and our instructors. The embarrassing lesson was etched in my memory forever: when performing a clandestine act, lock the door behind you.
Finally, after working for months on tradecraft, we headed off to a special, still-secret facility for paramilitary training and courses on explosives and bomb making. (You can’t do this work in just any neighborhood without upsetting the locals.) The program began with a briefing by an instructor straight out of Central Casting. When he took to the podium, we held back a collective gasp. A jagged V-shaped scar covered a good part of his forehead. If that wasn’t enough, he was missing a couple of fingers. He extolled the excitement of working with explosives. He also stressed the need for caution when handling such materials. Looking at him, I didn’t need convincing. After that presentation, I was determined to leave the course with head and fingers intact.
One of the exercises involved blowing up telephone poles. Half a dozen students would line up, and each would walk slowly to his individual pole, where he would plant an explosive, ignite the charge (which burned at a specific rate per second), and walk briskly back to the starting position. You were told not to run, because if you ran, there was a chance you’d fall and get hit by the detonation. While that sounded reasonable enough, I decided I wouldn’t take any chances and added several extra inches of detonating cord for each of my charges, which allowed me more time to return to my starting spot. The explosives should have detonated sequentially. But because I’d lengthened my detonating cord, my telephone pole was the last to fall. My instructors didn’t see the humor or the wisdom in what I’d done. I received my lowest grade in this course, and a not-so-gentle note for my file suggesting that I “not be allowed to handle explosives.” The irony is that, in the mid-1980s, I probably handled more explosives than any other CIA officer in history.
Next we headed to Panama for a weeklong jungle survival course that included rappelling down waterfall cliffs and rafting across alligator-infested rivers. It was the rainy season, and we were perpetually drenched. When our team was able to carve out a clearing to camp for the night, we divided up the work assignments: hanging hammocks, collecting firewood, locating water. I volunteered to do the cooking, given that I had a modicum of experience. The instructors provided the food: a bag of rice and a small alligator. I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to cook the alligator, so I cut it up, threw it into boiling water, and, near the end, added rice. When chow time came, everyone was starving and eagerly scooped the gruel into their mess kits. But when I checked the kits later, it was clear that nobody had eaten more than a few mouthfuls, despite their hunger. It was a dreadful concoction.
Early in the course, I learned a lesson that stuck with me ever after: you can’t tell a survivor by his looks. Back at camp, embarking on our mission, I spotted a very self-confident colleague who looked like a former Green Beret and was dressed like Jungle Jim, with a feather tucked in his Indiana Jones hat. I figured his was the team to be on, so I positioned myself accordingly. I noticed he wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to the way we had been instructed to carry a machete into the swamps.
“Why should he?” I thought. “He’s an experienced warrior.”
We were no more than a hundred yards into the jungle when he tripped and slid down on his machete. He let out a shriek and began bleeding so profusely that he had to be evacuated to the medical facility. As the hardships mounted, I realized it was some of the least likely officers who performed best under stress. From then on, I kept this in mind whenever I needed to assemble a team: look beyond the obvious.
The final task in the program was jump training, in which we would be expected to make five parachute jumps from a cargo plane. This was optional, but if you opted out, you were given two weeks of administrative leave. That sounded good to me. By that time, I was weary of training in general. Then, as we neared the decision date, Pat urged me to sign up anyway. She felt I would miss out on the camaraderie and fun involved in jumping from an airplane at fifteen hundred feet. She may have been right, but she wasn’t persuasive enough. The next person who urged me to jump was the commander, an ex-paratrooper colonel. Jumping, he said, is “better than sex.” That got my attention, but I quickly concluded he was missing a bolt or two. By then I’d made up my mind: it made no sense to me to voluntarily jump out of an airplane. Had it been mandatory, I would have done it. But volunteer to do it?
As luck would have it, we had arrived at the point where you selected, or were selected for, a specific line division or staff. I was a little uncertain how covert action programs were organized within the Clandestine Service, so I asked to join the Covert Action staff, a unit within the service that ran political, economic, and covert propaganda operations. Shortly thereafter, I had an interview with its chief, Hugh Tovar. Tovar was a legend. He’d served as station chief in Laos. He was also an accomplished parachutist; his office was strewn with jumping memorabilia.
I walked through his door for the interview. He looked up and said, “Have you jumped yet? It’s the greatest thing a man can do.”
Without missing a beat, I said, “No. But I’m really looking forward to it.”
Off to jump training I went.
* * *
Once I had a better understanding of the difference between the Covert Action staff and the ongoing activities of the Agency’s primary operating units, I switched my interest to the Soviet Division. Near the end of the operation training course, I had a private chat at the base club with Rocky Stone, then chief of that division, during which he encouraged me to sign up with them. Stone was a legend, too. A very charismatic senior official, he suffered from profound hearing loss and relied on a hearing aid, which he supplemented with lipreading and focusing on facial expressions. He had been one of the key players in bringing the Shah of Iran to power in 1953.
My career counselor, a man who had played an important role in the Bay of Pigs operation under the alias Tom Bender, was not encouraging. “You’re too tall for Soviet operations,” he said, chewing on his cigar.
I failed to see the connection between spying and height. The trick was to do everything with sleight of hand in a natural setting, not hiding behind bushes. In any case, Bender was a Latin Americanist and he was recruiting for the Latin America Division. He took me to see William V. Broe, yet another legendary officer, who had joined the CIA in 1948 and served as chief of the Western Hemisphere Division (later renamed the Latin America Division) from 1965 to 1972. I remember Bender telling Broe, “This guy belongs in LA Division”—and hardly because of my height. Theirs was a division that was heavily invested in covert action and therefore just the right spot for me. Not long after, I’d get my first overseas assignment: Chile.
By the time I had completed training as a clandestine officer and joined the Latin America Division in late 1969, the CIA was, by historical standards, still a fledgling agency—just twenty-two years old. We would go through middle age together: I wouldn’t retire until after its fiftieth anniversary in 1997. But at the time of my first posting, it had already matured greatly since its overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh’s government in Iran in 1953 and the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. And by my time, it was already an established arm of the U.S. government—and a lightning rod for criticism, particularly from those on the left concerned about the “invisible government.” This was well understood within the upper reaches of the government and the intelligence community, where the pluses and minuses of espionage and covert action were being critically reviewed.
As I prepared to enter clandestine training, a committee of academics and former intelligence professionals convened by CIA director Richard Helms and called the Covert Operations Study Group submitted its report on “Covert Operations of the United States Government.” It was December 1, 1968, and though they presented it to President-elect Richard M. Nixon,2 I wouldn’t be able to read the document until it became public decades later.
Even then, the intelligence community’s thinking on covert action was nuanced. In a cover letter accompanying the report, Franklin A. Lindsay, an OSS operative and close associate of Frank Wisner, the man who founded the CIA’s Clandestine Service, stated that the “CIA has not been a political organization. Its people have served successive administrations with equal loyalty.” It’s a point worth repeating, because it is as true now as it was then, even as critics on the left and right demonize the Agency. The report made clear that the CIA had been, and should remain, squarely under the president’s control. “Covert operations are an instrument; their only legitimate objective is to serve the foreign policy of the president,” the document stated. “They are not an independent aspect of U.S. foreign policy, but simply one way of furthering that policy. The expertise of the clandestine service is secrecy. Covert operations should be called upon only when something should be done in a secret manner—and only when secrecy is possible. It is up to the President to determine what he wants done and whether it should be done secretly or openly. A covert capability is like a military capability. Its use is a presidential prerogative. As with the military service, the clandestine service should not be pursuing any projects, much less self-generated ones, except by presidential decision.”
The Lindsay panel described covert action—appropriately, in my judgment—as a useful tool for the president, enabling him to engage in “forms of conflict” while avoiding open hostilities. Clandestine operations allow the CIA to maintain important relationships in foreign countries and support causes without the need to give all countries in a region “equal treatment.” And they “permit the Government to act quickly, bypassing domestic U.S. political, bureaucratic, and budgetary controls.” But the panel was also sanguine about the limitations of covert operations, which, they said, “rarely achieve an important objective alone” and often “cannot be kept secret … At best, a successful covert operation can win time, forestall a coup, or otherwise create favorable conditions which will make it possible to use covert means to finally achieve an important objective.” At the same time, there are grave risks involved with covert action, as the report spelled out clearly. “Our credibility and our effectiveness” as advocates for the rule of law around the globe, it stated, are “necessarily damaged” when our covert activities in foreign countries are revealed.
Much has changed since the panel made its report. Indeed, some of its recommendations seem almost quaint with the perspective of more than forty years. But the panel was dead-on in concluding that covert action was an indispensable foreign policy tool because there will always be times when the president has to make things happen in secret. And secrecy is the CIA’s “expertise.” I do not deny that secrecy can be corrosive, but it can also be a powerful enabler. In Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA, published in 2006, John Prados concludes that for sixty years presidents have “continually harnessed” CIA covert action to meet foreign policy goals, and in the end concludes that covert operations have been a “negative factor” in the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy objectives. This is where Prados and I part company. I believe such operations have worked far more often than Prados or anyone on the outside will ever fully understand. Like it or not, covert action is a very powerful arrow in the quiver of a robust intelligence service, an imperative of modern statecraft.
That said, I agree that there have been good covert operations and bad covert operations, and I spent my career examining the difference between the two. In the course of this book, I will describe both. Perhaps because of what is going on in the world right now, at the top of my list of some basic lessons we have learned over the years is this: in order to best utilize the CIA and its assets, the White House must avoid dangerous “dabbling” based on the myth that “all it takes is a spark.” I can’t count the number of times over the years I have been approached to support a regime change because the local circumstances were considered so propitious that all it would take was “a little spark.” Those who say this usually have greatly inflated views of the opposition strength and no idea how much real thought, hard work, and generous resources have to go into any program to bring about significant political change abroad. They generally don’t want to do what is needed themselves and hope that the United States gets involved. I usually showed such people the door.
Additionally, covert action is bound to fail when the following criteria are not present:
• Viable partners in place. The United States must have partners within a host nation who truly share U.S. goals and objectives and are willing to fight and die for their cause. Relying on exiles is a recipe for miscommunication, blunders, and often disaster. A base of operations contiguous to your target is often critical.
• Real-time, accurate information. Foreign agents directed by CIA officers must be capable of collecting real-time information. When we rely solely on spy satellites, communications intercepts, and other technical means of collecting intelligence, we run the risk of missing key contextual details that could make or break an operation.
• Adequate resources. “Dabbling” with small sums of money and limited capability is at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. When policy makers direct the CIA to conduct covert action, they must equip the Agency to succeed, in terms both of money and of personnel.
• Bipartisan political support. Covert action, like war, should reflect, in general terms, the wishes of the American people, even if they don’t know it’s happening. If your planned action has significant detractors on either side of the aisle in Congress, you’re probably planning on doing something unwise.
• A direct threat to U.S. security. To garner support domestically and internationally, the White House must demonstrate that its adversary poses a real threat and needs to be eliminated.
• Proportionality. The desired outcome must be relatively commensurate with the cost and the collateral damage, particularly with regard to civilian casualties. The CIA or the Pentagon can’t kill thirty thousand people to save five thousand or it will never have the political support or moral high ground required to succeed.
• A reasonable prospect for success. Before an operation is launched, policy makers have to possess a clear objective and believe—based on fact, not desire—that accomplishing the operation is possible.
It is the responsibility of policy makers in the White House to make sure these conditions are met before directing the CIA to initiate a covert action campaign. In Afghanistan in the 1980s, they did just that. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Afghanistan has loomed large in the nation’s global war against Islamist terrorism. But the antecedents to 9/11 lead back to Afghanistan, “graveyard of empires,” to when the Soviets occupied the country and Islamic fighters from across the Middle East flocked to the Afghan border to fight against the Soviets alongside the Afghan mujahideen. One of those was Osama bin Laden.
Copyright © 2014 by Jack Devine
Table of Contents
1. Inside the Invisible Government
2. Mules, Pickup Trucks, and Stinger Missiles
3. "Your Friend Called from the Airport"
4. "We Need to Polygraph Him"
5. "Jack, This Changes It All, Doesn't It?"
6. Do I Lie to the Pope, or Break Cover?
7. Selling the Linear Strategy, One Lunch at a Time
8. Jousting with the Soviets: When I Knew It Was Over
9. A New Boss, a Bad Penny, and a Principled Heroin Dissent
10. The Rooster and the Train
11. Raising the Bar
13. Splitting a Steak
14. Good Hunting
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