Wasn’t the U.S. defense budget supposed to be in for some belt-tightening by now? Whereas President Barack Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, waged war the old-fashioned way, with troops and tanks, Obama has been busy outsourcing the dirty work of protecting and furthering America’s interests to CIA drones, private contractors, local mobs with ties to terrorists, and even the French.
It was looking as if the Department of Defense could pack up, because the administration didn’t leave it with much to do. But this week, members of that department awoke to find that Obama’s Good Ideas Fairy had left spy kits under their pillows! Out with the combat fatigues and rifles, in with tuxedos and martinis!
Officials have told the Washington Post that the Defense Department’s intelligence branch, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), will add another 1,100 intelligence case officers overseas, which would triple the number of such officers over a five-year period.
To have so many official case officers on the payroll makes no fiscal or practical sense.
Here’s how espionage works: Intelligence is collected not by an official agency G-man but rather by some civilian G-tool recruited to do the agency’s dirty work (at great risk to himself). A single case officer easily can manage several G-tools. More case officers does not necessarily mean significantly more G-tools collecting more information, because there isn’t a country anywhere that has a bottomless candidate pool for the role of treasonous, life-risking moron. Quality is more important than quantity anyway.
Moreover, U.S. officials say that the biggest challenge is finding adequate covers for all these new overseas officers, because they can’t all fit inside the local embassies alongside the CIA. You don’t say! You mean someone working for Defense intelligence — whose job is to collect highly specific military information — won’t be able to pass himself off overseas as a run-of-the-mill businessman or professor and start digging around on-site for a precise number of nukes in North Korea’s arsenal, for example?
It’s hard enough for a CIA officer who doesn’t deal in military intricacies to obtain covert intelligence, let alone a DIA officer with non-official cover and therefore zero diplomatic immunity in the event that his cover is blown.
So why don’t other countries have a problem finding credible covers for their intelligence employees? Because they don’t collect information this way — no one does. And it’s hard to believe that America will. The U.S. already has assets who are not agency employees operating inside the places where intelligence and information is needed. Why is it, for example, that every Chinese or Russian student at a university overseas can feed information to their country’s intelligence service without being an actual agency employee? You don’t need any special knowledge or training to simply pass off intelligence.
Nor is there any evidence that the inflation of the spook ranks will mean a decrease in the use of private contractors for black ops or other purposes. In fact, the opposite is true. In July, the DIA awarded a five-year contract worth up to $5.6 billion to multiple firms for worldwide intelligence work.
Here’s why this whole thing reeks of cover-for-action, or pretexting: The collection of information isn’t a problem in the intelligence community, although the inability to understand collected information and act on it often has been. Political subversion, however, which can constitute up to 90 percent of intelligence activity (as with the KGB during the Soviet era), requires ever-increasing manpower and oversight.
Governments don’t just overthrow themselves, as we’ve seen most recently in Syria. Often, behind every local group trying to oust an administration or a despot lurks an intelligence agency or tools thereof. Why is it, for example, that former Major General Paul E. Vallely of the U.S. Army has openly lobbied Western interests on behalf of Iran’s Marxist-Islamist Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK)? Still considered a terrorist organization by Canada, the MEK was bombed by U.S and coalition forces in 2003 because of its support of Saddam Hussein, but it has been lobbied off the terrorist list in America and Europe. Why so many discreet visits to the MEK’s enclave in Paris if it isn’t seen as a useful tool in Iranian regime change?
We can’t have a retired major general doing all the work, can we? It appears that the cavalry may be coming — ready to shake and stir.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She appears frequently on TV and in publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)