As some of you will remember but most never knew, I was a senior member of the Counterintelligence cadre in the Intelligence Community for a number of years.
In my career I rooted out any number of, let’s call them, “bad actors,” who were working against the interests of the USG in one manner or another. Double agents, fabricators, embellishers (both agent and case officer), unwitting dupes, witting dupes who chose not to see how they were damaging US national interests, and actual Aldrich Ames-like spies working on behalf of foreign governments and organizations. I have heard more outright lies and rationalizations than I care to remember, like, “I did this because…,” or, “It isn’t like this little bit of information is going to hurt anyone,” or, “I wanted to prove this or that to…,” pick one, “my boss, my wife, my friend, whomever… ,” or, “that regulation is stupid.” You know, the same reasons our spies would give to their interrogators if caught.
Now, listening to those lies and rationalizations is difficult enough, but here’s what I hated the most. Those in Washington and elsewhere who didn’t want you to catch “THAT” spy, double agent, fabricator and so on. Why? Because it would reflect badly upon themselves if someone they had managed, sponsored, supported, or perhaps just ignored, was found to be spying or lying. “No,” you say, “say it isn’t so.” But ladies and gentlemen, it is so. When the bad actors are caught the preponderance of lies and dissembling in Washington isn’t from that bad actor but from those with whom that bad actor has been associated. These people actively enabled those bad actors to flourish. For example, if the advice of Aldrich Ames’ first Chief of Station had been followed, Aldrich Ames would never have been in a position to do harm to US national interests or to be the cause of the deaths of several American spies. But that advice was ignored and Ames went on to become one of American’s most damaging spies. What other poor decisions did those enablers make regarding U.S. intelligence operations and assignments?
Consider the case of Ronald Montaperto, a former senior China analyst at Defense Intelligence. I had nothing to do with this case but it is illustrative of the behavior I want you to observe. After Montaperto’s arrest more than a hundred senior analysts in Washington sent letters (a coordinated effort on the part of a number of people) to the judge hearing his case. In these letters, the analysts claimed that Montaperto could not be a spy and that this was an FBI sting operation gone awry. The only people claiming Montaperto spied for China were the counterintelligence officers. Everyone else was certain that this could not be so because so much U.S. policy re China was based on Montaperto’s analysis and suggestions. This is the man who assured senior leadership that China would not be a creditable military threat to the U.S. in Asia for decades. Imagine, then, the chagrin of those analysts when Montaperto allocuted in court during a plea bargain that he had verbally passed Chinese military intelligence Secret and Top Secret information on and off for eighteen years.
After observing how these analysts allowed their emotions to carry the day in their assessment of the case, how many of them should you be willing to believe in regard to their analysis of events? Their bosses continued to believe them even after their poor judgement was on display for all to see and it was those analysts whose input determined positions on national and international issues. There was no accountability for their serious lapses in judgement. Of course they believed their friend and colleague was not a spy, but they allowed this subjective input to override the objective facts of the case. That should have been a wake-up call for their supervisors.
Robert Hanssen’s own brother-in-law, himself an FBI special agent, reported to the FBI that he thought Hanssen was a spy, but the FBI continued to hound a CIA officer, ruining his career and his health while allowing Hanssen to continue to pass Top Secret material to the Russians. Jonathan Pollard once told his supervisor that he was late to work because his finance had been kidnapped by terrorists and it took him all weekend to effect her escape. This was never reported or acted upon and Pollard went on to steal footlockers full of Secret and Top Secret material. Plus when arrested he was the subject of significant political and public media campaigns attempting to mitigate his actions because he had spied for an “ally.” Yet the majority of the information he stole and passed had nothing to do with Israel.
I could go on ad nauseam with historical references of misfeasance and malfeasance which enabled people to do harm to U.S. interests placing the lives of officers and operatives in jeopardy, but the point I want to make is that there is a significant nadir in our current paradigm of how we handle such “mistakes” and “lapses in judgement.” There are many reasons for this behavior, but mostly it is because managing is a difficult process, especially when the employee is a problem child. Problem people get passed on from manager to manager as in the out of sight, out of mind syndrome. The former manager says, “no longer my problem,” but when interviewed after the crime will say, “I’m not surprised. That person was always weird, a problem, didn’t fit in, wasn’t a team player, et cetera. But there will be no action taken to correct that manager’s failure to do what they were supposed to with a problem employee. Nor will any mud be splashed on the more senior officials who, when managers did attempt to remove or restrict a problem employee, failed to provide the necessary support.
Some might be concerned that I am lumping together people who truly didn’t know, people who didn’t do their jobs because they were stymied by higher ups, and people who knowingly passed on a bad seed. My point here isn’t to determine what should be done in these various cases, only to provoke a reaction that something needs to be done at all levels. What that something is will be situationally dependent, but there is little question that those responsible for enabling the crimes should be scrutinized independently of the investigation into the crimes committed. Bradley Manning should have had his clearances canceled and have been removed from proximate access to classified material as soon as he was identified to be processed for a behavior-based discharge. Neither his NCOIC nor his company commander did what they were supposed to do, and Manning made off with thousands of classified documents. Not all spies are problem children to their supervisors, but enough are that if we insisted upon accountability of managers we would have many fewer failures in protecting classified information.
I’ve used spying as an example of how lack of accountability pervades our management culture, but the same thing happens throughout the spectrum of responsibility. Politicians, elected officials, judges, district attorneys, defense lawyers and others manage to escape accountability as well. But this is true only because we allow it to be so.
Accountability is a systemic attribute in that there must be accountability at all levels to achieve accountability at any level. And that is where we come in. Just as we must insist on reliable sources and proof of information, we have to ask “why” up the chain of command when someone engages in behavior detrimental to our well-being. We must insist that anyone who could have prevented the situation and didn’t be investigated as well, otherwise they will consider their behavior to have been acceptable and continue to perform the same.
What do you think?