A recent news item made me think about the changing face of the CIA and long for the days when there was at least some minimal clarity on who or what constituted an enemy and what the proper role and deportment of an intelligence officer operating overseas might be. The loss of more than forty human intelligence sources in Lebanon and Iran has been attributed to egregious security errors on the part of the American officers involved, to include repeated meetings with local agents in the Beirut Pizza Hut. They called it operation “PIZZA.”
“Espionage is a risky business. Many risks lead to wins, but some result in occasional setbacks,” said one US official to ABC news in discussing the loss of the two major clandestine networks. A second official added that “Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk.”
Pardon me, but whose risks are we talking about here? This is a lot like the neocons cooptees (Madeleine Albright and Condi Rice) talking about how killing Iraqi and Lebanese kids would be worth it because there would be the dawn of a new age in the Middle East. Some pear shaped bureaucrat in Washington who parses risks on an actuarial scale and refers to spying as a business hardly represents a poor bastard in Beirut who is putting his life on the line and hoping that the American guy munching on the pizza across the table knows what he is doing and will insure his safety. It took a former intelligence officer, also interviewed for the article, to get a bit closer to the truth, “We’ve lost the tradition of espionage. Officers take short cuts and no one is held accountable.”
That is a convenient explanation, but it doesn’t end there. An intelligence operation should be initiated if it is the only way to get information that is vital to national security. A foreign agent is not a piece of dirt and working for CIA doesn’t necessarily mean that you check your ethics at the door. When a Case Officer recruits a foreigner to undertake a dangerous mission for the United States government it is in the nature of a sacred commitment to fulfill all obligations and do everything possible to keep that person safe. In fact CIA training, recognizing the close and protective relationship between Case Officer and agent, traditionally warned against “falling in love with your agent.” Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Unfortunately today the same cavalier “us and them” attitude that has produced a mindset where torture is okay and drone strikes that blow up wedding parties and school outings are regarded as an exemplary “tool” to use against terrorists apparently has also led some intelligence officers to see the local people who help them as disposable items. So upwards of forty Lebanese and Iranians who thought they were helping the US are now dead, which I guess by the Washington accounting of such things is no big deal. I wonder if anyone will be punished for the unnecessary
deaths of the Lebanese and Iranians? I think I already know the answer to that one.