Saturday, August 25, 2012

In from the cold - he beat the odds

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, autobiographies, espionage, policy

Sometimes I get a book so far beyond my experience, the author may as well be another species. Such a book is The Art of Intelligence: Lessons From a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Service, by Henry A. Crumpton. You may have read Bob Woodward's book about the first year of the war in Afghanistan, Bush at War. Did you wonder, who was Hank? Wonder no longer. It was Hank Crumpton.

During the first months of the war, the Taliban were routed and many al Qaeda (AQ) fighters killed or driven into hiding. As Woodward wrote and Crumpton confirms, this was largely due to a coordination among the CIA, U.S. Special Forces, and Afghan tribal leaders, well before any American (and Coalition) troops were on the ground. Hank directed this phase of the war. About a third of the book's text covers the war in Afghanistan, but there was a lot that led up to it. I must admit, much was beyond my comprehension. I am a techie, a "geek", and I'm still learning human relations. I do think, however, that I caught a most important fact: The early success (which was not repeated in Iraq) was due to human relations, that led to a vast flow of intelligence that was intelligently used to provide air cover and logistical help and some amount of practical aid for the Afghan ground fighters.

Well, a lot did lead up to this, both in world affairs and in Hank's life. He obtained entry to the CIA and to the Clandestine Service at quite a young age, and did well. He became a productive recruiter of "unilateral resources", foreign nationals who worked with the CIA (this is in concert with Liaison, which is more of a 2-way street). Hank spent years in Africa, and he and his wife raised a family there. When the slow churning of the Federal mind (such as it is) realized that terrorism was becoming a real threat, Hank got the opportunity to work in counterterrorism. This led, in a few years, directly to his being asked to direct the opening phases of the war against AQ and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

After the first year, the war fell into the possession of the professional military. A ground war began, that is still going on, and proceeding slowly if at all. Hank makes the point repeatedly, that the three presidents who best understood the value of intelligence were George Washington (a spymaster supreme), Abraham Lincoln, and George H.W. Bush (former head of the CIA). Presidents Bush, Jr, and Obama both started their terms mostly ignorant of intelligence, but grew to rely on it.

After Afghanistan, Hank worked in National Resources (NR), that arm of the CIA that works on American soil. Few folks realize they are even there. Their task is focused on international policy, not on spying on U.S. nationals, but they use in-country resources, such as business leaders and visiting foreigners, as sources and resources.

One result of the counterterrorism work is friction with the FBI, which treats terror crimes as law enforcement targets, rather than as acts of war (It seems many in civilian government still do not realize that World War III began in  1992, or perhaps earlier. I place it on that date because it is the first bombing of the World Trade Center by AQ). War is different than it was in Roman times, or in 1864, or 1912, or even 1944. The war in Vietnam was our first failure to recognize the value of guerrilla tactics. By the time American forces figured this out and began to get the upper hand, national leaders had lost the political will to win, and pulled out. The later years in Afghanistan, and the entire Iraq adventure, shows most of the Pentagon brass still doesn't get it.

I really have to digress here. A comedian in about 1970 said, "I heard it costs us $150,000 per VC (Viet Cong) fighter we kill. We can buy them off cheaper than that!" The "after-war" in Afghanistan has cost a trillion dollars or so, all consumed by an army that is in the business of blowing things up and killing people. we could have spend 80% of that on infrastructure for the country and jump-started them as a modern nation. The same goes for Iraq. We had won within the first year. Spending the next trillion dollars on rebuilding and modernizing their infrastructure would have gained us a reliable ally. Instead, we have bungled both wars and made a growing roster of enemies as a result.

I hope Hank's successors in Clandestine Services, and in Counterterrorism, and in NR, are doing a good job, as well as he did or better. It is only a matter of time until the next 9/11. Someone will slip through again, because you can't watch everywhere or everybody. The Dept. of Homeland Security needs to recruit us patriotic and loyal citizens as deputies, in a much, much more productive and definite way than having a few signs around that whiningly beg us to report "suspicious activity". We need a National Neighborhood Watch; dare I dub it NNW?

OK, off soap box. Although I didn't understand all he wrote, I really enjoyed Hank's stories. I have two relatives who were spies. One is dead, the other doesn't talk about his service. They were not CIA (not that I know of!). But the essence of such work is human relations. It is like computer hacking; as Kevin Mitnick wrote in Ghost in the Wires, his primary weapon was gaining the confidence of someone who could grant him access to systems he really shouldn't have been getting into. He is a brilliant programmer, no doubt, but it is his human skills that led to his being called the world's most dangerous hacker. So with Hank Crumpton. He didn't need to be a gun-toting gadget-happy James Bond or Matt Helm. He just needed to be a good drinking buddy. He just happens to be a drinking buddy with a razor sharp mind and a prodigious memory. A good writer, too.

No comments: