National Security

Opinion: Has The CIA Lost All Credibility?

By Rene Sotolongo:

First, it was the utter failure of 9/11. Then it was the weapons of mass destruction. The newest blunder – the Russians did it. Given their exponential record of failure, has the CIA lost all credibility?

9/11. Who can forget. But why did 9/11 happen? Now that we can look back (as hindsight is always 20/20) we can see the abysmal failure of our intelligence community. In her book, Spying Blind, Amy Zegart provides a thorough examination of the failure of the intelligence community.

In short, Spying Blind is a harrowing account of why two of America’s most important intelligence agencies (the CIA and the FBI) failed to adjust to new threats after the Cold War, specifically regarding the rise of terrorism.

Zegart makes her case through painstaking analysis of more than three hundred intelligence reform recommendations and tracing the history of CIA and FBI counterterrorism efforts from 1991 to 2001. She draws extensively from declassified government documents and interviews with more than seventy high-ranking government officials.

Based on her investigations, Zegart reveals how longstanding organizational weaknesses left unaddressed during the 1990s prevented the CIA and FBI from capitalizing on twenty-three opportunities to disrupt the September 11 plot. You read that right, the CIA and the FBI had twenty-three opportunities to disrupt 9/11.

And what about the “credible” intelligence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Well, have you ever heard of a guy by the name of Thomas Fingar? Not surprising, most people haven’t. But Thomas Fingar was the chief analyst for the eighteen-agency US intelligence community. What he had to say about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a bomb shell.

On February 14, 2008 Thomas Fingar gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Fingar, a longtime intelligence analyst, stepped out of the shadows before a respectful audience and said this; “You want it real bad, you sometimes get it real bad. And the Iraq WMD estimate falls in that category.” He was referring, of course, to the disastrous ninety-three-page National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The intelligence community published this report in October of 2002 and it was the impetus for our invasion of Iraq. What most people don’t know is that the intelligence community was only given two-weeks to produce the document.

According to Fingar; “It was requested. We were given a two-week period in which to produce it. And it was bad. It was really bad…. The percentage of analysts who participated in the production of that hurry-up, get-it-out-the-door-in-two-weeks product was tiny compared to the larger set, all of whom were tarred with the same brush of incompetence.”

But more importantly, this situation highlighted the utter dysfunction in the intelligence community and the extraordinary hubris with which the CIA operates. Case in point; During the 2002 National Intelligence process, Fingar was second-in-command of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, known as INR. The problem? The CIA regularly discards the intelligence provided by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. They consider the INR beneath them and the CIA subjects the INR to consistent disrespect.

But the INR has, arguably, the best analytic records of any component of the intelligence community. In fact, the INR was the only intelligence agency that dissented from the 2002 NIE’s findings. The INR was adamant that Saddam was NOT building a nuclear bomb and that he in fact, did not have weapons of mass destruction.

As so eloquently stated by Hans Blix, a Swedish diplomat, on his comments to the Council of Foreign Relations on June 23, 2003: “It’s sort of puzzling that you can have 100 percent confidence about WMD existence, but zero certainty about where they are.”

The CIA history is one of profound failures. Just look at the world today. The CIA’s efforts at pulling the puppet strings of the world have usually ended up strangling its allies. But there is one thing that the CIA fears more than failure. The CIA fears above all else the disbanding of the Agency by politicians outraged by its appalling track record of failure.

So as a result, the Agency has lied (and continues to lie), almost with a pathological consistency, to our Presidents, our Congress and the American people. Which brings us to the alleged hacking of computers by the Russians.

Everywhere you look there is a news report about how Russia hacked computer networks in order to influence the 2016 Presidential election… all based on an alleged secret report provided by, you guessed it, the CIA.

Thus far, no actual facts or evidence has been made public to support the allegations that the hacking was carried out on the orders of the Russian leadership, or that Russian hackers then gave the damaging materials to WikiLeaks, or that the revelations affected the electoral outcome. In fact, according to the most recent reports, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has categorically stated in an interview with Sean Hannity that; “Our source IS NOT (emphasis added) the Russian Government.”

Even more damaging, both the DNI (Director of National Intelligence) and the FBI have come out publicly and repudiated the CIA’s claims related to their alleged findings. But now, we have a report from the Washington Post and NBC that states the FBI and DNI now agree with the CIA’s assessment.

Here is what the Washington Post had to say:

“Earlier this week, I met with FBI James Comey and DNI Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election,” wrote CIA Director John Brennan in a message to employees cited by the Post.

The problem I have with the above assessment is that the report on the DNI, FBI, and CIA’s agreement on the purpose of Russia’s hacks came just before President Obama was scheduled to address the nation on the matter Friday afternoon. Coincidence? I think not.  Who knows what the conversation was behind closed doors.

Further, the NBC story related that it was only “two” unidentified U.S. intelligence officials that stated to NBC that FBI Director Comey and DNI Clapper agreed with the CIA assessment. Look, there is an unwritten rule in Naval Intelligence. If you hear it from one source, it’s a rumor. If you hear it from two sources, it’s gossip. If you hear it from three or more credible sources, it’s actionable intelligence.

So why is the “Russian Hacking” conspiracy still news? It’s simple. The rhetoric around the “Russian Hacking” conspiracy is the fundamental definition of a false flag operation. It’s textbook disinformation. It’s sole purpose, to obscure and hide the law breaking that occurred at the hands of Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party. In short, the CIA has just become another “tool” of this administration.

So what history shows us is that while the CIA has acquired power and influence they have never acquired competence. It is full of political appointees that share a common political agenda…mutual survival.

As Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for the Washington Independent, so eloquently stated; “to call the CIA comically incompetent … would be to diminish the considerable achievements of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.”

Oh, and here is another brief history lesson on the CIA’s track record of failure.

In 1950 William Wolf Weisband was an employee in the CIA’s cryptanalysis division. His job? To translate intercepted Soviet communications. But instead of doing his job he gave the agency’s code-breaking secrets to the USSR.

This catastrophic failure had a multitude of consequences. On top of being what many historians call the most significant intelligence loss in U.S. history, it was also the precursor of the formation of the National Security Agency. And we all know what that got us. Another alphabet agency that has implemented an unending collection of illegal, unconstitutional programs for warrantless domestic surveillance.

But wait, there’s more.

There was the attempt to assassinate the Syrian leadership in 1957. The result? Within weeks we had the interrogation and exposure of the CIA’s Damascus chief, Roger Stone. Lord only knows what intelligence he gave up during his interrogation. Then the CIA convinced itself and numerous government officials that a ragtag band of counterrevolutionaries could topple Fidel Castro in 1961. They then followed up that disaster with year upon year of failed assassination attempts against him.

And now here is where it gets really interesting. In a panic that the Iraqi coup of Nuri Said in 1958 would give the Soviets access to the Middle East’s oil, James Critchfield, then CIA area chief, led a counter insurrection by an up-and-coming political force called the Baath Party. That’s right. The same party that gave us Saddam Hussein.

And then there was Afghanistan. The CIA armed and trained the Mujahedeen in an effort to counter the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The result? Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS.

Need I go on?

Rene C. Sotolongo is an OpsLens Contributor and a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who served for over twenty years as an Information Systems official. Sotolongo also specialized in homeland security and counterterrorism.

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