Jewish World Review March 4, 2002 / 20 Adar, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Why 9-11? Ex-CIA officials come clean -- WHEN Robert Baer was the CIA station chief in Dushanbe, Tajikstan, in 1994, he asked CIA headquarters to send him a couple of officers who spoke Dari and Pashtun, the principal languages of Afghanistan, so they could interview the thousands of refugees pouring across the border.

Baer was told that no Dari or Pashtun speakers were available. But Langley would be happy to send out a four-person briefing team on the CIA's new policy on sexual harrassment.

This is not the most depressing anecdote in Baer's lively memoir of his career in the CIA, "See No Evil."

Before volunteering for Tajikstan, Baer served in Paris, then as now a hotbed of Islamic extremism. Baer discovered the French government was putting up three Abu Nidal terrorists at a home in a Paris suburb. Baer proposed bugging their telephone.

"I was looked at as if I were deranged," he recalled.

CIA officers in Paris only went through the motions of spying, and did that poorly, Baer said.

"The older officers spoke good French; the younger ones didn't," he said. "French agents, like their countrymen, hate slowing down for someone who can't bother to learn the language properly. French snobbery was another barrier. Hush puppies, Brooks Brothers trench coats and neon fanny packs offended the host sensibilities. Paris' case officers were frozen out of French society. All they could do at night was watch videos."

Later, Baer served in northern Iraq, where he watched helplessly as President Clinton's first national security adviser, Anthony Lake, undermined a coup which could have overthrown Saddam Hussein. Since the end of the Cold War, officers like Baer who actually took risks who haven't quit in disgust have been put in dead-end jobs. Spying has been left to satellites and electronic eavesdropping.

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"Behind-the-lines counterterrorism operations are just too dangerous for CIA officers to participate in directly," wrote former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht in an article published just a couple of months before the attacks on September 11. "Officers still in the clandestine service say that the Agency's risk-averse bureaucratic nature...has only gotten worse." It isn't just in spying where the CIA is coming up short, wrote Loch Johnson, a professor at the University of Georgia.

In an article also published two months before 9/11, Johnson recounted how the CIA almost missed an attempt by Saddam Hussein to seize Kuwait City in October of 1994. A force of 10,000 troops, heavy with armor, was massed within 12 miles of the Kuwaiti border.

Defense Secretary William Perry quickly ordered 2,000 Marines to the Iraqi border. This was largely a bluff. The Iraqi forces - which grew to 50,000 - could have overwhelmed the lightly armed Marines. But Saddam backed down. Retrospective studies of satellite photography disclosed there had been signs for weeks that Saddam had been gathering forces for another invasion. But the CIA's photo analysts had either missed them, or missed their significance.

The number of intelligence analysts in the CIA declined by about a third in the Clinton years, even as the need for them was increasing. Johnson quotes a staffer on one of the congressional oversight committees as complaining that fewer than half of all satellite photos are even looked at by human eyes.

"If the United States wants to maintain its edge in coming decades, spy agencies are going to have to rely on much more than fancy gadgets," Johnson said. "They're going to require more, smarter people using those gadgets, deciphering what comes back, and figuring out new ways to capture information.

"Yet the number and quality of people who do that critical work - the lowly intelligence analysts - seems to be declining precisely at the time that other changes in the world of intelligence make their role even more important," Johnson said.

Baer said a high-ranking CIA official told a journalist that September 11 was a triumph for the intelligence community.

"If that's going to be the official line...then I am more than angry," Baer said. "I'm scared to death of what lies ahead."

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© 2002, Jack Kelly