Faster, Please!

Spooks on Spooks

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

I hadn’t talked to him for many months, but now that the newsies had outed the head of CIA’s new Iran Mission Center—a convert to Shi’ite Islam with the unlikely name of Michael D’Andrea—it seemed obligatory to track down the spirit of the Agency’s longtime counterintelligence chief, James Jesus Angleton. After all, he’d been the victim of a media outing when the New York Times revealed some of his activities way back when, and since he’s got eternity to ponder it all, his insights ought to be especially valuable.

So I dusted off my well-used Ouija board and tried to get a good connection. It wasn’t easy—maybe the recent thunderstorms interfered—but after maybe twenty minutes I heard the familiar gravely high-pitched voice.

JJA: There you are!

ML: Hiya, hiya. Have you been following all the spy stories?

JJA: Of course. Can’t wait for the hearings. All those intercepts! Delicious!

ML: What? You want them public?

JJA: Damn straight I do. Why should only journalists and Obamaites get to see them?

ML: I’d expect you to be more upset about the leaks to journalists — don’t you think CIA and the other secret agencies should keep their secrets?

JJA: Sure, as a general rule. But there are secrets and other secrets. If officials are breaking the law, I don’t think they’re entitled to keep that secret.

ML: So you want to punish the people who passed the intercepts to the press?

JJA: Just so.

ML: And what about the story naming the head of the CIA’s Iran cel?

JJA: As General Flynn once put it at a campaign rally, “lock them up.” It’s an assassination attempt. You’re with me, aren’t you? I know you’re not a big CIA fan, but we can’t have our clandestine operatives named in the popular press.

ML: Yeah, I agree. Although staffing the place with Muslim converts makes me very nervous.  Defectors are great, but why promote converts to the enemy’s doctrines? What ever happened to those Ivy League WASPs you worked with?

JJA: Well, Yale has changed a lot.

ML: Heh. So what do you make of the leaks, both the leaked intercepts and the outing of D’Andrea?

JJA: You have to start with the fact that “journalists” and “spooks” are in the same business. Espionage. Both are looking for secrets that they can exploit to their own advantage. To that end, both are actively engaged in recruiting agents. The spooks call them agents, while the journalists call them “sources,” but it’s the same thing. Once the relationship has been established, the agent passes information to the handler/journalist/case officer.

Ideally, the information then gets checked, or vetted. That’s what the analysts and editors are for.

ML: And counterintelligence officers?

JJA: Yes, because there’s the disinformation angle. The “agents” may well be operating against the case officers. The information may be false, designed to weaken the press, or the government. It may be part of political warfare. It may be designed to get us to operate against good guys, while sheltering enemy agents under the guise of super-sources. The enemy agents can then plant false stories to trap us into designing fatally flawed policies.

ML: And it’s not just an international problem, is it?

JJA: Not at all. The intelligence community will sometimes leak against presidential policies it doesn’t approve, and against governmental officials it doesn’t like.

ML: Like Mike Flynn.

JJA: Quite right. The leak of Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador was a continuation of an anti-Flynn campaign that had been running for many years. Why? Simple. He was a threat to them. He had shown in Iraq and Afghanistan that he understood many of our intelligence failures, and he changed the system. Give him a few years at the NSC and he would change the system back home, from Langley to Fort Meade.

ML: Do you know this or are you guessing?

JJA: I’m betting.   I’ll give you three to one I’m right. I can’t wait until the testimony starts.

ML: But the Russians surely do this sort of thing. Indeed, there are stories claiming they hacked Qatar, planted deceptive stories, and then waited for Gulf states to react.

JJA: Yes the Russians are past masters at disinformation. I spent half a lifetime unraveling it. But that Qatar story strikes me as too clever by half. Deceptions don’t work if they are based on a single event; they require a richer context.

ML: Agreed. It was hardly a secret that the Qataris were frequently in cahoots with the Iranians.

JJA: Indeed. Let’s get the hearings started.

At which point the Ouija board went silent, and he was gone.