[ISN] Clique and Dagger
isn at c4i.org
Wed Apr 13 06:17:07 EDT 2005
Forwarded from: William Knowles <wk at c4i.org>
By Hanna Rosin
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 12, 2005
If he is confirmed this month as the first-ever director of national
intelligence, John Negroponte will face many daunting challenges:
courting foreign intelligence sources, for instance, and streamlining
intelligence gathering to help prevent another massive terrorist
But in the spy world these days another question dominates the
Where will Negroponte's office be?
If the president places him in CIA headquarters, says one former CIA
official, that will send the message that he's the boss now. If
instead he's detailed to an alternative site in Tysons Corner, that
would send the message either that he's irrelevant, or that the CIA's
irrelevant, depending on whom you talk to.
No one actually knows what the plan is, but the answer is beside the
point. The real purpose of the Office Rumor is to keep alive the
gossip and jockeying for power and endless squabbling that the new
position was intended to end.
In its final report, the Sept. 11 commission called the system for
sharing intelligence between agencies unacceptable, outmoded and
excessively secretive. The DNI is intended to get the agencies to stop
hoarding and start sharing. But the early reports do not look too
hopeful. So far all the buzz has been about power struggles -- DNI up,
CIA down, Pentagon nervous -- anything to give the 15 agencies
Negroponte oversees an excuse to give each other the silent treatment.
The intelligence world is a "community" only in the same sense as any
high school. From the outside they are united by a common rival. But
from the inside they are fractured into finely subdivided cliques that
wouldn't be caught in the same room together unless the principal (in
this case, Negroponte) called them into his office.
Broadly speaking, Spy High is ruled by two warring factions: the
Techno-Geeks and the 007s. Each side thinks the future of intelligence
rests with them and the other side is for losers.
"It's cubicle city. Computer guys, cryptographers. A bunch of people
listening to inane telephone chatter for 45 minutes at a time. My God,
it really puts you to sleep. Believe me, they don't have very exciting
This is the voice of the Football Jock of the 007s: Robert Baer, a
retired CIA case officer in the Middle East for 21 years who writes
books with breathless titles such as "See No Evil" and "Sleeping With
the Devil." That's his take on the National Security Agency, that big
top-secret fortress at Fort Meade that is the headquarters of the
Here, now, is the Techno-Geeks' swift and haughty response:
"A CIA agent is someone who gets a lot of glory for intelligence
collection, but 85 percent of intelligence comes from the NSA," says
James Bamford, who wrote the two definitive books on the NSA. "Human
intelligence never produced much useful information. And whatever they
did produce was all compromised by Aldrich Ames and Bob Hanssen. They
never penetrated al Qaeda, and their intelligence on Iraq was marginal
When they are not rumbling with each other, the two sides are tamping
down power struggles within their own ranks. Within the 007s the
legendary spitting match between the CIA and the FBI continues to
rage, ever more so now that the FBI is encroaching on foreign
intelligence gathering. To the moviegoing public they are both guys
with trench coats who rough up the bad guys. But to each other they
are different species, night and day, Jekyll and Hyde.
As the old joke goes, the FBI guys catch the bank robbers and the CIA
guys rob the banks. Both sides can laugh at that one, but beyond it
A CIA case officer looks at the FBI agent and sees: a guy in Hush
Puppies and a fake Burberry, clean-cut as a Mormon, never been to
Paris or Morocco, never been far outside Fairfax. Every morning he
gets in his Crown Vic and promptly clocks in. He's got some skills in
hunting down bad guys, but he's also got a lawyer sitting on him all
the time. Asking him to catch terrorists is like asking your kid's
teacher to break up the local gangs.
The FBI guy looks at the CIA guy and thinks: With a slight tick and
shift in his history he'd be stealing cars in the Bronx. Gosh, he
looks like he's been up a lot of nights in a row. Doesn't he own a
razor? And how does he afford that place in Georgetown, not to mention
"Sometimes you read these old FBI files and wonder who the enemy was,
the KGB or the CIA," says Athan Theoharis, an FBI expert at Marquette
Then there is the third wheel, the pesky hanger-on, the one they won't
even bother to fight with. That's the various branches of military
intelligence, meaning Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. What CIA
and FBI guys say about them is almost too insulting to print. To them,
the "buzzheads" are the Chihuahuas of the intelligence pack, the
weenies who yap at you in their own little lingo.
On the other hand, "they are disciplined, they went through boot camp,
and they don't just attract the same old white guys," Baer grudgingly
admits, so maybe they do have a place in the club.
The Techno-Geeks have their own internal problems. Tensions run high
in the corner of the computer lab where the National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency guys hang out. NGA originated nine
years ago, as a way to combine the imagery people, who read and
interpret satellite photos, with the mapmakers. Many of you may have
missed this marriage announcement but in spyland this was the
equivalent of the prom king taking a math nerd as his date.
"The satellite imagery people were considered the big dogs, the holy
of holies, the inner sanctum," says John Pike, director of
GlobalSecurity.org. They were visual, even artistic; in college they
might have been scenery designers for the theater, he says.
The mapmakers, meanwhile, "were never really regarded as being
intelligence. That was not dignified, it was just about as unsexy as
it gets," Pike says.
In 2003, the agency adopted its current name, in an effort to better
unify the two cultures. "They're trying to bring them together," Pike
says. "But they all hate each other."
Then, off on the other side of campus, hidden behind the trees, sits a
building called the National Security Agency. Nobody really goes there
and the residents don't wander out. They have their own cafeteria,
their own clubs, their own parties.
Everyone else suspects the NSA guys are the smartest, but they don't
really know; even if you happened to meet one he wouldn't show you the
fraternity ring. If somehow you were to manage to sneak over there and
get through the million layers of security and then through one of the
big bank vault doors, here's what you would see:
"Huge rooms full of nothing but cubicles," says Bamford. "Behind each
one sits someone looking at a computer screen, or listening to a tape
recorder. Then there's this one big room full of huge antennas where
they test new data collection systems -- like something out of a
As the NSA guys see it, they do all of the work with none of the
glamour. Thus, the deep resentment of the CIA, as articulated by
Bamford above. When Bush picked Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the
current NSA director, as Negroponte's deputy, this was seen as
confirmation of their superiority, says Bamford, and much gloating
Presidents back to Gerald Ford have tried to gather the various
intelligence branches into one big happy family. The Web site
Intelligence.gov hails the power of cooperation and shows seemingly
happy colleagues working shoulder-to-shoulder. But those who know
better sigh, like the principal facing the same old boys in his
"It's not a problem that can be solved," says Pike. "It's just a
process that has to be managed."
"Communications without intelligence is noise; Intelligence
without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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