Solving the CIA’s PC Problems

In an earlier article (“PC Casualities”), I examined the dire effects of more than a decade of political correctness at the CIA.  The most visible effect was the tragic death of seven CIA employees during a covert meeting on a forward operating base in Afghanistan.

The focus of the CIA is no longer on conducting effective intelligence operations against America’s enemies.  Their focus is now, like most US government entities, bureaucratic survival and establishing a “diverse” workforce.  Their affirmative action approach to selecting and promoting operations officers resulted in seven dead at Khost.

However, there are many more insidious effects that are unseen to the general public.  Those who care about the safety and security of our country, and the viability of our civilian national covert action and intelligence collection organization, must speak out against the destructive effects of PC in the CIA, and its debilitating effects on covert operations.

Speaking out is not enough.  As a successful counter-terrorism (CT) intelligence operative, a successful recruiter, and a successful instructional designer, I am compelled to share suggestions for change and improvement in our civilian CT and covert action efforts. My suggestions are based on a unique combination of experiences, education and training, which may provide valuable insights into future selection and training of operatives.  The current, broken bureaucracy will be replaced with a specialized Counter-Terrorism Corps of Collectors (CCC).

First, the CCC must conduct a needs assessment.  What are the desired outcomes?  What are the working conditions?  What are the skills/experience/education/background required for candidates to be successful American CT operators?

Head-to-head, toe-to-toe, sitting cross-legged on a rug on the sand, under a tent in the desert, camels hobbled nearby, sweet mint tea flowing, leaning on a cushion, fingering prayer beads, Mohammed Atta and his brethren only want to kill you.  They are only concerned about the quickest, most efficient, most deadly terrorist action to bring down “the Great Satan.”  This requires cross-cultural skills in our target cultures.

The job of a counter-terrorism operations officer is to recruit penetrations of these terrorists.  To get to know the Islamic extremists.  To get inside their heads, understand their innermost desires, needs, motivations, thoughts, and feelings.  And then to manipulate those motivations.

Terrorists are criminals.  They break the law every day—immigration fraud, credit card fraud, robbery, and other crimes.  Lying, cheating and stealing are as natural to them as breathing.  Hiding among your victims requires you to live a lie, at least until the moment that you act.  But up until that moment, a terrorist is like a thief in the dark—every action and deed, criminal and furtive.  Manipulating terrorists requires a deep understanding of the criminal mindset.

The working conditions in CCC operations are likely to be primitive and nomad-like.  Whether working in the field with foreigners who share the culture of our targets, or working in a war zone, regardless, the conditions are not up to American comfort standards.  Living rough requires experience in primitive conditions.

The requirements for this job can be summarized as in two areas, physical and mental.  Mentally:  to think like a criminal, to get in the mind of an Islamic extremist, to understand what motivates a determined homicidal terrorist, the ability to manipulate people for operational purposes.  Physically:  the skills to live in harsh environments.

With the conditions and required skills and experience identified, all that is left in our needs analysis is to identify a list of education/experiences that might lead a candidate’s possession of the required background.  In the analysis of this list of required traits, we ignore those things not required—including all the protected classes of traits—gender, religion, race, disability.  The only thing that matters in this most important of jobs is ability to get the job done—countering terrorists.

To develop the mindset of a criminal, one is most likely to have been involved in some type of criminal activity.  A candidate very likely can only truly understand the way of thinking of criminals by taking part in some kind of criminal activity.  A short-hand way of describing this skill-set is “street smarts.”  Someone who knows what it’s like to be both predator and prey on the street.  This requires intelligence, and experience on the streets.  Valuable experience includes being a victim of a crime, as well as thinking like a criminal.

To develop an understanding of Islamic extremists, a candidate needs to have lived among them, day to day, eating with them, and sharing their dreams and disappointments.  Either living among, with, or as one of them, a candidate should have had prior experience with Islamic extremists.

To manipulate and motivate our terrorist targets, a candidate must have experience in sales, teaching, training, coaching, or other related fields.  Street-savvy cunning is more applicable than a BA in communications.

Experience living in harsh environments could come from the military, scouting, or other high adventure activities.  Using this package of skills for American CT operations requires, maybe above all else, a love of the greatest country in the world.

We now have a good picture of our ideal candidate.  He (or she) will have:   spent time on the wrong side of the law; a well-developed street sense; a deep, cross-cultural understanding of Islamic extremists; experience in manipulating others for ulterior motives; ability to survive in harsh environments, and a desire to apply these skills to counter-terrorism operations for the protection and survival of the USA.

With this needs assessment-based candidate profile, we can now begin the search for CCC candidates.  The CCC profile is 180 degrees opposite from the current profile used to recruit ops officers at the CIA.  The current requirements include:  minimum of a bachelors degree with a superior GPA; the ability to write clearly and accurately; ability to work independently and as part of a team; and “international experience.”  This can include semesters abroad in Paris, Rome, or London.  The profile is an academic with some international interest or experience.

But our analysis of the skill-set required for the CCC shows that academic expertise has nothing to do with the actual work.  Street smarts are far more important than academics.  Cross-cultural experiences are more important than a high GPA.

The CCC candidate profile looks like the requirements for the operatives in the old movie, “The Dirty Dozen.”  They were recruited from a military prison.  We do not necessarily have to go to prisons, but we do need to open up the recruiting process.  We cannot just send retired secretaries to college job fairs.

After recruiting CCC candidates, we are faced with a dilemma.  These candidates are so far out of the mainstream of the CIA that they are fundamentally different.  We need to realize this, and from the outset, create a separate environment for them.  As the Army’s Special Forces train and deploy separate, but parallel to, the regular Army, so should the CCC be separate from the mainstream CIA.  It may eventually supplant the mainstream CIA altogether, but in the beginning, it should stand separate, in recruitment, training, and deployment.

Our street-smart CCC trainees will take quickly to the tradecraft training.  Since they are not required to write their own reports, however, the CCC training will include extensive exercises of providing oral reports to trained reports officers.

For terrorism ops, writing and academic knowledge pale in importance compared to street smarts.  Written communication about operations will be done by trained reports officers, working with our CCC officers.  Working as a team with the CCC ops officers, these traditional academically-oriented officers can craft beautiful ops cables after debriefing our CCC officers.

The CCC operators, like the movie Dirty Dozen, will require close and constant supervision.  Like Telly Savalas, managers will need to stay close to our CCC officers.  The managers must understand the special needs of the CCC.  This could be a very difficult job, much like managing a wild heavy-weight boxer.  The CIA is already top-heavy with middle-managers. With a little training, they should be able to handle the new counter-terror cadre.

This program is not to denigrate the need for other types of collectors.  The traditional collecter—genteel, caught up in the capital city whirl of social engagements, cocktail parties and 5-star restaurants will probably always be needed.  But for the war we are fighting now, the CIA must renew itself and create a specialized Counter-Terrorism Corps of Collectors.

Kent Clizbe ( served as a staff CIA case officer in the 1990s, and as an ops contractor after 9/11.  He worked in counter-terrorism against Islamic Extremism in Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and was awarded the Intelligence Community Seal Medallion in 2004.  He is also a successful recruiter and training designer.  Kent has appeared on VOA TV, PJTV, national and regional talk radio, and has written columns in FrontPageMag, Newsmax, WND, and Parcbench.

  • CMLopez

    Kent – you are definitely on the right track here….but when you speak of "cross'cultural" skills, you neglected to mention the single most important subject matter for the new breed of CIA officer to know: Islam. These enemies of ours are not criminals – criminals belong to society, acknowledge that society, but choose to break its laws anyway. Our enemies are Islamic jihadis, steeped in the doctrine of Islam, and believing themselves on a divine mission to subjugate the world to Islam. That's a very different understanding that thinking we're merely fighting a bunch of lawbreakers. Add this to your mix and you'll be on the right track.

  • USMCSniper

    Obama's selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, noting his lack of intelligence experience. "I'm sure he's learning every day, but you don't need to be learning on the job. For anyone to say it doesn't have a negative effect is dishonest. And then there is Eric Holder trying to undermine the CIA publically.

  • DagW

    Ain't gonna happen. Can't happen. Can't happen because the whole of intelligence gathering and analyse in government is not about any of that but about bureaucracy itself. CIA et al exist for the sake of bureaucracies, not to gather and analyse information. It's about prestige and power, the CIA, not about intelligence. It's about titles and salaries and power. It's about buildings and planes and gadgets and ideologies to cling to. It's about making sense of the world in an orderly fashion, not about the disorder of realities in constant flux. The bureaucrat has to follow the routine of A to B and B to C so that the system doesn't snag on someone going from A to D, leaving all the others wondering what went wrong. It's all process, and little event. That's why we will always have careerists and bureaucrats in government and not risk-taking entrepreneurs making things happen. Intelligence gathering is a process, and worming ones way into hostile groups and beating them at their own game is market. The market is not a system of A to B to C.

    You want to beat the jihadis, put the profit motive into it. Not rewards for hides and scalps, but the man gets what he gets when he's successfully beaten the bad guys: Knock off X and take his stuff.

    How do you explain that to the office manager?

    What we want, which we obviously don't want, is men who act like pirates under licence from the state. Privatise this business and stand back. No chance. Still, like so often, I write:

    Filibuster for Universal Modernity.

  • Ned

    The U.S. government already developed this cadre you describe. They are called "Green Berets".

  • minaka2

    It seems not to have occurred to the author of this article that people who have “walked on the other side of the law” are more likely to be tempted to walk there again. So hire them to “consult” if they indeed have any useful expertise but never rely on them. Stop romanticizing with the “Dirty Dozen” analogies.