We are full of spy stories. “No Time to Die” was the latest James Bond film to hit theaters worldwide last week as the 25th installment of the sage. I am a big consumer of espionage stories. I even wrote an espionage novel myself.
I am also a former CIA analyst. And if Hollywood thrillers or spy books are your main source on the headquarters of the famous agency in Langley, then chances are that everything you think you know about the CIA is wrong.
In most Hollywood movies, CIA superhero spies kill many people, blow up objects, and often operate without official decisions, perhaps on American soil. In other descriptions, the CIA is described as morally bankrupt and ineffective, while its officers as lying, cynical and aggressive.
I do not see anything wrong with Hollywood movies, as in any case most of them are not trying to be real in relation to the CIA. Most of them are a lot of fun. Some of them may even represent to some extent a particle of truth.
But none of that sheds light on what it’s really like to work inside the CIA.
To understand the latter, think of it as a unique bipolar organization. The daily work of the CIA is more common (and much more bizarre) than almost any kind of business.
But she is both highly skilled and extraordinary. One aspect of commonality: the agency is a large bureaucratic body, surrounded by many of the same problems as Fortune 500 companies. Much of the work of the head of the CIA office somewhere involves exchanging cables with headquarters at Lengli, an elegant way of saying how many middle- and upper-level managers send lots of emails.
Field officers call the 10,000-mile-long screwdriver headquarters because of its ability to fix problems in agency offices around the world. Meanwhile there are some very strict procedures for filing expenses and booking trips.
For example, flights must be over 13 hours in duration (excluding holidays) to qualify for business class fares. But there are many other wonders. Thus some of Lengli’s temporary offices are infected with mice. And the officers strongly rival each other to find parking, to shorten the journey through the large “Disleyland” style parking lot that Lengli has.
The CIA organizes a “Family Day” every year, in which employees can take some relatives with them. The offices and departments of the agency set up several stands and organize entertainment activities. At the booth run by the Security Office, my teenage sister spectacularly failed her first and only polygraph test (truth test).
At the headquarters there is a gift shop that sells the agency logo, which is found in various objects such as beer glasses, golf balls, etc. The fact that the agency is not only a large but also very secretive government organization means that CIA officers are subject to other strange rules.
The introduction of alcohol into the building requires special permission (seizures are not uncommon). Because taxpayer dollars can not be used to fund celebrations, CIA holiday vacations resemble those held in family settings, where it is mostly volunteers who cook or buy food.
Inside the headquarters, maintenance workers are managed by contracting companies, whose uniform includes a green suit. But if bureaucracy is common and the rules strange, CIA operations are very dangerous.
There are no real superhero spies like those in Hollywood, but the CIA handles the most dangerous and often deadly missions. They persuade foreign agents to betray their countries, destroy terrorist networks, and provide American policymakers with information on which US foreign policy is based.
I know a lot about technical and human operations, which penetrated terrorist cells in the Middle East, preventing their attacks. I have seen the drone footage of some of our opponents’ most prized – and hidden – objects from the windowless rooms at Lengli.
I am aware of the operations in which CIA officers entered disguised into the territories of enemy countries, to discover potential locations where agents could obtain very important documents. I know of cases of money bags being given to agents after their release from prison, with the message that the CIA is keeping its promises.
I know agents arrested and killed after their governments discovered they had given the CIA important secrets. I know that the agency officers were asked to disperse to Afghanistan and other hotspots for 1-year periods, putting tremendous pressure on their marriages and families.
I say all this, not to describe the real shortcomings of the CIA, but to provide some examples that show that while most corporate affairs have analogies elsewhere, in the case of the CIA this does not apply. The strange reality is that, for an undercover organization that deals with fraud, the moral code developed to accomplish this mission has to do with the truth. This is not to say that the CIA always adheres to this code – the agency’s history has its share of moral failures – but the truth is its standard.
Analysts are proud of him “telling the truth to the government” and are encouraged from the first days of work to be wary of anyone who tries to distort reality. The newly appointed CIA directors, most of whom arrive from outside Langley, are often shocked to see how young analysts correct their superiors or even the director in the announcements being prepared for the head of state.
CIA case officers – accused of detecting, developing and recruiting agents – are often portrayed in the media as professional liars. But the nature of their work requires just the opposite. They must be able to work independently. Lengli must trust them. And it is honesty that gives this confidence.
CIA officers are taught from the beginning that lying to Langley is the greatest sin of all. The CIA can tolerate all kinds of mistakes, but not fraud.
So the next time you watch spy movies, remember that on the other hand, CIA officers fight the usual, and are engaged in a serious game, with great risks to fulfill their mission: detection and telling of truth. / (By David Mccloskey – CNN – Bota.al)
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