CIA/SIS - Do they have the staff for the "war on terror"?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by gobbyidiot, Mar 24, 2008.

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  1. I've just finished Niall Ferguson's "Colossus" on America's "empire". One bit realy struck me.

    p212 "Shortly before the terrorist attacks of Septemeber 2001 a former CIA man admitted that the agency "probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. We don't do that kind of thing" In the immortal words of one such case officer, "Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen". This was precisely the attitude that another CIA officer sought to counter in the wake of the terrorist attacks when he hung a sign outside his office that read as follows: "Officers wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success". Significantly this was the recruiting poster used by the British explorer Ernest Shackleton before his 1914 expedition to the Antarctic. At the time of the invasion of Iraq, the short-lived office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance also sought British imperial inspiration: it relied on retired British army Gurkhas from Nepal to provide security around its Kuwait base".

    Now the above is part of a broader argument about how the British Empire was built and sustained by people who, in essence, went native. Gertrude Bell, for example, the first woman to graduate from Oxford with a first class degree and an Arabic speaker, was the oriental secretary to the British commissioner in Baghdad (when we ran it). She had no desire to go home whatsover. The Hong Kong banks set "porridge traps" to get their Scottish clerks who joined and stayed.

    Now I'm not saying the attitude of the British today is any different from the attitude of Americans today. That isn't the point. They are the dominant power. If having people who, to varying degrees, are prepared to "go and stay gone" is essential to making Western involvement in the world meaningful maybe we just can't hack it. I'm not saying I could - I've never been anywhere miserable with a runny bottom for longer than 3 weeks, and I wouldn't claim to have "went native", but it was surprising how quickly you do find compensations. You learn that there is an English language paper, you learn that the kids sell filled rolls at a certain time of night in a certain place, you get to like the solid local loaves, something changes in you so people stop bugging you to buy things, you acquire **** sphincters that could break carrots.......................none of that is going to happen if you have a Starbucks and count the days to leaving.

    Michael Palin in "Around the World" laughed at how every American he met in India had nothing to say but, "The pavitty. My Gawwwwd, the pavitty!!" That might be a very unhelpful attitude if you are trying to have an influence in the world.
  2. If you travel the world and meet the FCO / State staff, you might be slightly surprised at their ability to endure hardship postings. Don't forget that this was written in 2001 - since then we've had 5 years of Iraq postings and Kabul postings - neither of which are hugely pleasant places to be. The FCO is now clear that promotion is reliant on individuals volunteering to serve in hot sandy and unpleasant places - if you want a career in nice towns then forget long term advancement. The model for the younger generation of diplomats is short time in London, then off to Iraq or Afghanistan for 2 years, before repeating. So yes they've got what it takes to go there.

    Also worth noting that under the insane FCO HR system, you don't apply for a job and see if you get it - you are literally posted in to a posting, regardless of how unpleasant (with the exception of Iraq / Afghan). The diplomats you meet in obscure places are often forced there for 4 years at a time - not my idea of fun.
  3. Good book, coming from a non left wing historian. He likes America, but doesn't pull his punches in his description of what he thinks is wrong, with the most powerful nation on earth. If anyone wants to read it, but thinks it is too long or too heavy, then I say read the last chapter. It is a good summary of his opinion. It is a complicated view, but an easy read and the statement where he calls America a "strategic couch potato", is worth examining in comparison with Britains historic interventions around the world.

    With regards to the CIA. They did, several years ago attempt to recruit FBI agents and New York police detectives as field operatives, as their desk bound intelligence officers lacked, 'savvy' and 'street wise' skills to operate in the field.
  4. Does'nt the Company have it's own paramilitary Special Action Units, most of them ex-Military?
  5. First american to die in Afghanistan was one of those Special guys.

    Johnny Michael Spann I think
  6. During the prison siege/riot, was'nt it?
  7. I'm sure Ferguson doesnt pull his punches, but the former CIA officer cited in the passage quoted at the start of this thread was Reuel Marc Gerecht, a member of the Project for the New American Century, the neo-con support group which led the denigration of the CIA designed to undermine it, while painting the Rumsfeld-controlled DIA with its phoney intelligence on Iraqi WMD as the bees' knees.

    Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, he and a number of other members of the PNAC, including Richard Perle and the late, unlamented Jeanne Kirkpatrick (anyone who served in the Falklands will remember her support in the UN for Galtieri), signed a letter to Bush which said:

    CIA and SIS officers were subsequently heavily involved in the operations to topple the Taliban (no idea if they got diarrhoea but given they were living with the Northern Alliance it was probably unavoidable). Not that that was a first, they had been on the ground in the Balkans, and in the case of SIS were on the ground running agents inside Basra before the British took it in 2003.
  8. Also the SIS were very close to Ahmad Shah Massoud the leader of the Northern Alliance and whose murder by Al- Qaeda punched a very big hole in the plans for a post Taliban Afghanistan.