Top CIA officers quitting at about 60 per year

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Top CIA officers quitting at about 60 per year

This is a concerning development, the top CIA operatives who worked in Afghanistan and other hot spots are leaving after being passed over for promotion by those that stay at home and push paper. The result is a loss of skill and knowledge in the field and a reliance on technology instead of human effort.

Only a few months ago, Sam Faddis was running a CIA unit charged with preventing terrorists from getting nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Today, only 50, the equivalent of a full colonel at the top of his game, he has quit.

Scores more like him, Faddis says, spies with years of working the back alleys of the world, have walked away from the CIA’s Operations Directorate at the top of their careers, at a time when the agency needs their skills the most.

The directorate is losing “25 or 30 chiefs of station” — the top CIA representative in a country or major city — “or their equivalent” at headquarters, every six months, Faddis estimates.

That’s out of an estimated thousand or fewer case officers — the men and women who recruit and manage spies — worldwide. Faddis says"
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The effect in any time in history would be serious, but at this time, when you’re trying to rebuild the agency from the cutbacks of the Clinton years, massively trying to catch up, at a time when you really need your most experienced people to run operations and mentor the new blood coming in, it’s catastrophic.

It’s getting to the point where we just don’t have any experience on the ground. It bears emphasizing that, where during the Cold War, it was a catastrophe to be [unmasked as a CIA agent] and sent home, if you screw up now, people die. The tolerance for mistakes is less than ever.”

Faddis declined either to confirm or deny that any CIA personnel have died combating terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

But the grim, mum faces of former spies I’ve asked about agency casualties since that day speak for themselves.

A former program manager in the Operations Directorate, speaking on condition of anonymity because he still does contracting work with the agency, agreed with Faddis.
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It’s comparable to the hemorrhage of junior officers from the Army right now, in the sense that these are leaders whose experience and hands-on ability right in front of their people on the front line is so critical.

The CIA has said that money is luring away its best old hands. And it’s true that a large number come back as private contractors, doing virtually the same jobs at twice the pay.

Some say there are more contractors filling desk in the directorate now than career officers.

But many don’t return, Faddis maintains. And, theoretically, he and other operations veterans say, contractors can’t take leadership positions that have been emptied.

In any event, it’s not the money sending them into retirement, the veteran spies I’ve been talking to say.

It’s the directorate’s management, which they maintain rewards sycophants at headquarters over operatives who have been “carrying out aggressive operations in dangerous places,” as Faddis put it.
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I think that one of the things that they’ve tried to portray over the last several years is that everybody’s leaving for the money And that’s not true.

I mean, the money makes it easier. Nobody joined the CIA to make money. If money was your driving force, you never would have been there in the first place.

People leave because they’re just fed up. They leave because of the management structure. They say, ‘I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried to change this place, and it’s just never going to turn the corner and I’m done.’ That’s the sentiment.

Virtually none of the team chiefs and case officers who led the first CIA units into Afghanistan and Iraq remain with the agency, said Faddis, who recently authored a memoir, “Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq.”
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It’s because the DO is plagued by a culture of “timidity and risk aversion.

But frankly I think there are other factors. There’s a general perception of cronyism, favoritism, that the way to get promoted — that the guys who are not being promoted are the guys who are doing aggressive operations in dangerous parts of the world.

If you’re a chief of station in a dangerous part of the world running aggressive operations, and your contemporary is a staff aide sitting on the seventh floor in meetings, there’s no question of who’s getting promoted. It’s the guy standing next to the boss telling him what he wants to hear. It’s not the guy in a dangerous place really trying to take the fight to the enemy.

Gary Berntsen, a former station chief who led one of the first CIA teams into Afghanistan after 9/11, agrees. He left in disgust over management.

In a new book, “Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism & National Leadership,” Berntsen writes that the agency’s personnel problems predated the Bush administration, but the president waited too long to double the size of the Operations Directorate.
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The act was welcome, but betrayed the fact that he had not sought an accurate understanding of the size and needs of he Clandestine Service during his first term in the White House.

And still today the most ambitious officers in the Clandestine Service have sought minimal time in the field and burrowed themselves in the CIA headquarters bureaucracy to attain advancement.

So what?

According to some accounts, the CIA’s Predator drones and other new technologies are making up for the shortage of spies in the field. The veterans would take issue with that, but they also remind that the spy agency has other yawning missions: China and Russia, for starters.

The spy agency is “bleeding out” with the mass departure of veterans who learned how to spy the hard way, on the streets of hostile foreign environments, Faddis says.
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There’s not enough people on the ground with any experience.

At minimum, what it means is that you can’t run certain kinds of operations.

You just can’t do it, you just don’t have — maybe you have the best and brightest coming in these days, and I don’t want to denigrate them — but there’s just no substitute for experience. At some point you need someone to clue you in on how to do this.

His hair turning silver, but still youthful looking from days spent skippering his boat in the Chesapeake, Faddis says, “to me the real tragedy is there’s just a whole bunch of guys floating around here who are not in the building, but should be.”
By netchicken: posted on 20-10-2008

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