Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer, says that the CIA is fundamentally unserious about maintaining cover for its agents.

• Fact: The vast majority of CIA officers overseas operate with little to no cover and have done so since the foundation of the post-World War II clandestine service in 1947. Most case officers posted abroad carry official cover, which usually means they serve as fake diplomats. The use of official cover allowed the agency to grow rapidly in the 1940s, when panic about Soviet expansionism was real and America's experience with espionage and global secret services was small. Developing an agency weighted in favor of nonofficial-cover officers would have been vastly more difficult, time-consuming, and not necessarily useful for a CIA aimed overwhelmingly at massive covert-action programs that did not require officers to be particularly stealthy in their daily routines.

Today, operational camouflage is usually shredded within weeks of a case officer's arrival at his station, since the manner, method and paperwork of operatives is just too different from real foreign-service officers. (Even if the CIA really wanted to fix this inadequate verisimilitude--and it does not--it probably couldn't reconcile the differing demands and bureaucracies of the two institutions.) Minimally competent foreign security services know a great deal of what occurs inside U.S. embassies and consulates since these institutions are completely dependent upon local employees--the State Department calls them "foreign-service nationals"--who, through patriotism or coercion, often report on the activities of their employers.

Regarding Joseph Wilson and his "covert" wife Valerie Plame:

angley's systemic sloppiness--the flimsiness of cover is but the tip of the iceberg of incompetence--has repeatedly destroyed agent networks and provoked "flaps" with some of our closest allies. A serious CIA would never have allowed Mr. Wilson to go on such an odd, short "fact finding" mission. It never would have allowed Ms. Plame potentially to expose herself by recommending such an overt mission for her mate, not known for his subtlety and discretion. With a CIA where cover really mattered, Mr. Libby would not now be indicted. But that's not what we have in the real world. We have an American left that hates George W. Bush and his vice president so much that they have become willing dupes in a surreal operational stage-play. You have to give credit to Langley: Overseas it may be incompetent; but in Washington, it can still con many into giving it the respect and consideration it doesn't deserve.

Disheartening to someone who cares about American security and likes to think that someone is actually on top of things.



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