CIA Is Transforming. But In The Wrong Way Again

System errors of the U.S. intelligence community.

Recently, the CIA released a video to recruit Russians, with a clear focus on security forces. It is a story of a military man whose father also served in the army; he is allegedly concerned about corruption and wants his son’s future to be better than the life he is living now. The background during the “thoughts aloud” is that of a late 80s apartment, and in the end the man goes into some kind of a gateway, trying to open the CIA website on his cell phone to get in touch with them. In fact, you cannot go directly to the CIA website, since it is blocked in Russia, like many other websites of undesirable foreign organizations engaged in the Russophobic propaganda.

The video has already been discussed in Russia and is said to be wretched for a number of reasons. Although traitors certainly existed at all times and everywhere, the bet of the U.S. intelligence on recruitment of army of security men, or someone else was clearly a failure. However, the very occurrence of this hooking propaganda stuff indicates a change in approaches taken by the U.S. intelligence community.

The article Spycraft and Statecraft. Transforming the CIA for an Age of Competition by CIA Director William J. Burns, which was published in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine (March-April 2024), proves this very well.

He talks about changes in human intelligence approaches. On the one hand, new technological achievements open the doors and make it possible to simplify and increase the efficiency of spycraft and snooping. But, on the other hand, they can seriously hinder the work of people or cause data leakage.

“This new landscape presents particular challenges for an organization focused on human intelligence. In a world in which the United States’ principal rivals—China and Russia—are led by personalistic autocrats operating within small and closed circles of advisers, gaining insight into the leaders’ intentions is both more important and more difficult than ever,” the CIA Director says.

“This is the time of historic challenges for the CIA and the entire intelligence profession, with geopolitical and technological shifts posing as big a test as we have ever faced. Success will depend on blending traditional human intelligence with emerging technologies in creative ways. It will require, in other words, adapting to a world where the only safe prediction about changes is that it will accelerate,” he writes.

Another interesting thing that Burns touches in his article is the concept of strategic declassification. It should be noted that the U.S. intelligence community first introduced it virtually before Russia started its special military operation in Ukraine in 2022.

Earlier, secret data were published not so often, but now the CIA intends to do this in order to illusively hold other countries. Although this is unlikely to have somehow influenced the decision of the Russian leadership to start the SMO and further maneuvers in the area of operation. It can also be assumed that this will not affect any decisions of China, North Korea or Iran.

Another intriguing thing mentioned in the article is how American spies deal with new sources of information.

“The U.S. intelligence community is also learning the increasing value of intelligence diplomacy, gaining a new understanding of how its efforts to bolster allies and counter foes can support policymakers,” Burns points out. The agency is likely to want to reload cooperation with non-governmental organizations, journalists and other proxies scattered around the world, who send information to the U.S. intelligence services intentionally or unconsciously. Indeed, with the proper ability to interview a politician, you can get some data, so it all come together.

william_burnsWhy did the CIA start this reform? Because the U.S. intelligence community is facing a classification problem. Even the smallest part of information is classified, making it difficult to get. Since the real value of reconnaissance data is that they help politicians make the right decisions, the more cluttered the classification framework is, the more difficult it is to get important knowledge that can influence the decision-maker.

But evidence suggests that the United States’ apparatus itself is dysfunctional.

Amy Zegart, the author of Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence, in an interview notes that in recent decades the U.S. intelligence has significantly degraded, while the relationship between the intelligence community and political leadership is obvious.

“Afghanistan was an intelligence failure. So as you know, there is an old saying in the intelligence business that there are never policy failures, there are only intelligence failures. And so, my read of Afghanistan is that it really was a colossal policy failure. And in fact, if you take a closer look at different intelligence agencies and what they said, the CIA was always more pessimistic about the ability of the government in Afghanistan to sustain itself than the military were. I think part of the challenge there was that the defense intelligence agencies were grading their own homework. So, it is certainly true that they were more optimistic than they should have been. But the reason that withdrawal was so devastatingly unsuccessful had less to do with our intelligence agencies, and much more to do with the Biden Administration’s policies… it was an interaction between the policy and the intelligence. And so I think it was really the policy failure in Afghanistan.”

The situation in Iraq was somewhat different, but, in the end, it was also a failure of the intelligence because of little knowledge about what was happening and because policymakers intentionally distorted the information; as a result, the invasion was due to false purposes. “So, as political scientists like to say, the failure in Iraq was overdetermined. There were so many variables that went wrong. Lots of factors that went into this mistake. But it was clearly the intelligence failure,” Zegart concluded.

This is probably the reason for the precedent with Edward Snowden and other leaks from the U.S. enforcement agencies. Maybe, it is for the same reason that professionals avoid dealing with public services.

In a recent publication, Politico argues that some of the country’s top cybersecurity experts who have been helping protect critical networks are quietly retreating from the highly touted government partnership, citing frustrations with its management and pressure from conservative critics. All this happens at a critical moment. “This has reached a crunch point, where private sector folks are reassessing whether they want to be engaged with the government.” “We absolutely need this type of collaboration,” as said by representatives of governmental agencies.

Obviously, the same problem exists in the CIA where political interests and professional skills diverge from each other because of ideological cliches that have inundated the White House and the Department of State.

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