It is time for America to declare its independence from the CIA
The CIA prides itself on being called the clandestine service. Webster’s Dictionary defines the term clandestine (an adjective) to mean “kept secret or done secretively, especially because illicit.” I was therefore quite surprised when, on July 1, 2023, during a lecture delivered to the Ditchley Foundation in the United Kingdom, William Burns, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), declared that “Disaffection with the war [Russia’s ongoing Special Military Operation in Ukraine] will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership, beneath the steady diet of state propaganda and practiced repression. That disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us at CIA, at our core a human intelligence service.”
Not too clandestine there, Mr. Director.
My experience with human intelligence collection, while dated, is sufficient to know that the less you speak about it, the better your results will be. But Burns’ statement was not the first time that the agency he heads has gone public regarding its desire to exploit what it assessed to be the disaffection with the war in Ukraine among military officers and oligarchs who have been impacted by the war. Back in November 2022, David Marlowe, the CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, told an audience at George Mason University that the CIA “was open for business,” actively looking for “Russians who are as disgusted with [Putin’s actions in invading Ukraine] as we are.”
Scott Ritter will discuss this article and answer audience questions on Ep. 79 of Ask the Inspector.
It's not just that Burns and Marlowe have gone public with the who, what, where, and why of the CIA’s desire to recruit new Russian spies—they violated every maxim in the intelligence business by emphasizing the “how,” in particular the CIA’s new recruitment tactic of trolling for spies online, using social media platforms such as Telegram to reach out to prospective agents and provide them with a self-described “secure” means of contacting a CIA case officer, who would be only too pleased to process their application.
During my time as an intelligence professional, I was involved—peripherally and directly—in the recruitment, running, and debriefing of several human intelligence assets (i.e., spies.) One thing that every operation that I was involved in had in common was the absolute requirement for intimate person-to-person contact between the agent and his handlers. From the time of its funding, the CIA had used a process known as MICE (Money, Ideology, Coercion or Compromise, Ego) to encapsulate their approach to understanding the fundamental question of “why do people spy?”
The case of Aldrich Ames, a CIA officer who betrayed some of the CIA’s most sensitive secrets to the Soviet Union in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, prompted the CIA to take a more sophisticated look at what would motivate a person to betray their country and/or cause. Borrowing from the principles of psychology used to describe the ideal “weapons of mass influence,” the CIA switched from MICE to RASCLS (Reciprocation, Authority, Scarcity, Commitment and Consistency, Liking, and Social Proof) to best capture the complexities of the human condition when called upon to spy.
All of these relate, directly or indirectly, to the absolute requirement of person-to-person, or human-to-human, connectivity, something the internet, for all of its utility, is lacking.
For all of you want-to-be spies out there, let me remind you of one simple fact—the CIA sucks at human intelligence, especially when it comes to Russia. What few good spies they manage to pull into their stable (Oleg Penkovsky, of Cuban Missile Crisis fame, and Adolf Tolkachev, the so-called “billion dollar spy”) were walk-ins—volunteers who recruited the CIA, as opposed to the other way around, and both were ultimately arrested and executed because of security lapses on the part of the CIA (i.e., allowing their identities to be known by persons who betrayed them to the Russians).
If anything, the CIA has gotten worse at recruiting and running Russian agents since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The CIA’s “best” Russian spy, whose information former CIA Director John Brennan used to convince Barack Obama that the Russians were actively supporting Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, turned out to be a double agent fed by to the CIA by the Russians.
Moreover, the CIA’s Moscow Station, once the premier assignment for career spies, atrophied in the lax era of the 1990’s, when it practically ran the Russian President (Boris Yeltsin) as an agent, and therefore didn’t really need to work to get Russia to comply with American national security priorities. The CIA suffered a series of embarrassing intelligence failures which resulted in the Moscow Station being gutted when the case officers assigned there were rounded up repeatedly by their Russian counterparts as they tried in vain to recruit and manage their Russian agents, most if not all of whom were likewise compromised and arrested.
The inability of the CIA to gain any traction using the traditional methodologies of spy craft involving human assets led the agency to reexamine its practices. Of particular concern were the cumbersome and risky processes involved in making physical contact with an agent in hostile territory such as Moscow, where Russian counterintelligence officers monitored the CIA officer’s every move. Meetings such as these required expert execution of what is known in the intelligence business as “tradecraft,” a skill set which, if not exercised regularly, rapidly atrophies, and dies.
The post-9/11 global war on terror, with its heavy demand on using local populations to gather intelligence on embedded terrorist cells, served as an incubator of innovation, especially among US military human intelligence collectors who used this kind of information on a tactical level. A special internet-based communications system was devised which allowed human assets to contact their American military handlers with time sensitive information. CIA paramilitary operatives piggy-backed on to this communication means, and soon it was being used by the CIA’s case officers to manage the communications for agent networks that had been recruited over the course of decades in places like Iran, China, and Russia.
In October 2021, however, the top counterintelligence officials in the US intelligence community warned every CIA station and base around the world that this system had been compromised, resulting in dozens of agents being arrested and executed. The communications system was computer-based, involving internet communications. While the US counterintelligence community initially focused on someone from within compromising the system to a hostile foreign intelligence agency, in the end it was determined that the intelligence service of Iran simply used its understanding of how the internet system worked to reverse engineer the connectivity between the CIA and its agents.
And now the CIA wants to use the internet yet again as the principal vehicle for attracting a new generation of spies. Not to fear, the CIA notes: its new internet communications scheme is based upon the dark web, using “onion routing,” or Tor, software. Left unsaid is the fact that the FBI and CIA have been “uncloaking” Tor users for more than a decade by using de-anonymizing techniques. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and anyone who doesn’t believe Russian computer security agencies lack the expertise to do the same are delusional.
In short, the system the CIA is proposing to use as its “flagship” approach toward recruiting human agents inside Russia is, literally, a death trap.
But, then again, the CIA sucks at human intelligence, especially inside Russia. Burns knows this. So does Marlowe.
So should any Russian thinking about using Telegram or Tor to contact the CIA.
Which leads me to believe that the announcement by the CIA is little more than a PR campaign designed to distract Congress away from the fact that the CIA has been wrong on Russia across the board, from the impact of economic sanctions to the capabilities of the Russian armed forces, and everything in between. In short, the CIA is running a psychological operation against the American people and those whom we elect to represent us, yet another lie in a string of lies dating back to the agency’s birth in 1947 that adds credence to the increasing calls for its dissolution.
Today is Independence Day. Perhaps there isn’t a better way to express our love of nation than expunging the cancerous growth that is the CIA from the American body. We, the people, stand for truth and justice. The CIA is built on a foundation of lies and deceit. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is challenging Joe Biden to be the candidate of the Democratic Party in the 2024 presidential election, is on to something—it is time to abolish this American abomination.
Happy Independence Day, America.
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