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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

59. NO RISK, NO GAIN






When Harold MacMillan was prime minister of Great Britain, he took a good hard look at the intelligence services at his disposal, and he declared:  "Anyone who spends more than ten years in espionage will go mad.  Or they were bonkers to start with." 

For just shy of ten years, I lived a clandestine life of intrigue and lunacy, engaged in the world's second oldest profession, for FBI foreign counterintelligence.

At the risk of going mad (or maybe I was bonkers to start with), I would have stuck around another ten years to finish what I'd started with Edward Lee Howard. 

It was an important case. 

The international apprehension of a fugitive traitor, one who had given up important secrets and had caused the execution of at least one Russian CIA asset, would have been a precedent worth setting, regardless of any so-called "related conflict." 

But Howard died, and with his death came unexpected resolution to the main case on my docket. 

I was able to serve my country, in a way I felt best suited to serve.  Even better, I did this on my terms, as a maverick freelancer, with a license to think and operate outside the box. 

I learned a few things, taught a few things, and had one hell of a ride working with good people, dealing it to bad people. 

Along the way, I witnessed firsthand just how cumbersome a bureaucracy the FBI has become—ultimately ultimately exemplified by Osama Bin Laden's 9/11 terror attack on New York City and Washington, D.C., and the Bureau supposedly not having enough clues to prevent that which intelligence services had been created to prevent. 

As everyone now knows, the FBI had plenty of clues about what al-Qaida had put into place.  Lest anyone interpret my comment as conspiracy theory, the awful truth is less palatable:  The FBI was simply too slow and inefficient to piece the clues together.  Whatever leads flowed in from the field were hampered or scuttled by Headquarters. 

The FBI's problem—widespread disconnection—is recognized not only by Congress and the media, but by the Bureau itself.  They know they have become a muddled bureaucracy fraught with petty turf rivalries and an aversion to risk-taking and timely decision-making. 

One can only hope they do more than pretend to overcome their serious deficiencies.    

In the mid-1970s, Congress pulled out the eyes of CIA, and then, some twenty years later, Congress complained about CIA blindness.  Emasculating our intelligence services is not the correct way to proceed if the United States is to secure itself from threats external and internal.  Those threats are out there, you can be real certain of that. 

The FBI, Congress, and the media respond to public opinion.  The American public's denigration of intelligence work the latter part of last century created an environment that resulted in the malfunctioning of intelligence services, and ultimately to 9/11. 

Most of the FBI Special Agents I operated with in the field are well-meaning and hard-working.  However, they are let down horribly by middle-management, whose unofficial job descriptive is to pile paper, hide behind it, and, above all else, avoid taking risks. 

Intelligence, by its very nature, is a risky business, and, when practiced correctly, is based upon the balancing of risk versus gain. 

Avoiding risk for fear of embarrassment or demotion defeats its purpose and puts the American public in harm's way. 

The FBI's cumbrous machinery needs a major overhaul if it is ever to regain its integrity and effectively protect Americans from those who wish us harm.  

"Nobody's going to get into trouble for not doing anything," I was told with regard to Edward Lee Howard.  "But somebody might get into trouble if they do something and it goes wrong.“    

A Bureau-cratic mantra that led to, among other things, 9/11. 

I urge everyone in the FBI who subscribes to this dysfunctional dictum to resign, do something else, and make room for those individuals who truly want to make a difference and fight the good fight, efficiently, creatively, and without fear of reprimand for making an honest mistake. 


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