Street smarts are far more important than academics.
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 (www.kentclizbe.com) 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.