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On National Security Listen to Intel Veterans, Not Media

On National Security Listen to Intel Veterans, Not Media
Secret Service agents stand guard in front of an acknowledgment of former CIA Director Allen Welsh Dulles, this as President Donald Trump speaks at the CIA in Langley, Va., back on Jan. 21, 2017. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

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Thursday, 20 April 2017 01:51 PM Current | Bio | Archive

I thought I would write a bit today about some recent, relatively rare criticism I've taken from former members of the intelligence community. In this instance, it's my writings on the ongoing Rice wiretapping case. In truth, wiretapping and surveillance are different matters, but the point is a basic one of intent.

Amongst other things, I was (politely) charged with using my former position to put forward a political opinion. While I admittedly have strong political beliefs, the values I hold are based on personal experience, from time lived as a lifelong patriot, and as a CIA and naval officer.

I pride myself on sober, logical thinking on current issues, be they related to politics or national security in the realm of the secret. I try to maintain objectivity in my evaluations— but once I have reached my conclusion (unless I uncover subsequent data), I will pull no punches in expressing it. I'm sure that occasionally my conclusions may be premature, but I am compelled to speak the truth — as I see it.

In the world of government service, particularly the military and intelligence community, there are some who believe it inappropriate for serving  —and even retired officers — to express political opinions. This view essentially holds that such individuals are "toy soldiers" who should be seen and not heard. In the intelligence world, we have the tradition of the "gray man," the shadowy figure in the corner. I was never that, and never will be. (One need only look back at Allen W. Dulles to see a gadfly spy).

I think its pretty clear I have never held the view expressed above. There is a misnomer among "spooks" that we value secrecy above any other consideration. This is false. So it's not some kind of dirty pool for prior officers, many of whom have sacrificed greatly for their country, to lend their insight and even opinions to the currents of public debate.

I would even venture to say that in critical national debates, such experts have a duty to speak out. We are Americans too. We have the same rights as anyone else to speak out.

From the beginning of my intelligence training, we learned to consider the source. Who is providing the information? What is their veracity and background? Do they have an agenda? Might they be deceiving you? These are questions any worthy CIA officer constantly asks themselves when debriefing assets. Worse, while you are working them, are they working you? A delicate dance indeed.

Thus, when I describe my background — I am providing the reader with source data — from which he or she can evaluate the veracity and or accuracy of my insight. We all seek to verify our data — I want to know, as I am sure others do, for instance, if my doctor was actually trained as a plumber.

When it comes to machinations of a government — any government — I have more experience than most, although less than some. Political reporting was a big part of what I did in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe.

Political information is one of the most sought after pieces of information. Ask any spy, diplomat or aid worker. (The Russian Illegals, arrested by the FBI in Operation Ghost Stories, for example, were tasked to ingratiate themselves with politicos in Washington, D.C. versus obtaining classified information). I have devoted considerable time in my life researching not only intelligence, but also the political and cultural history of both Europe and Asia. 

My thinking is, if Hollywood celebrities want to use their bully pulpit to extol their own vacuous beliefs — then why should someone hold back whose expertise and / or experience compels a greater understanding of the issues? Why should subject matter experts not bring their insight into the matter, lest the mainstream media — the Beyonces or Michael Moores of the world — drown out all reasonable discussion?

I believe that those who subscribe to the philosophy of the code of silence fall within two categories: 1. Political liberals and 2. Old school types. The former, in a politically-correct drenched environment, prefer the voices of (conservative) practitioners like myself— silenced for obvious reasons. The latter would be a smaller group, of perhaps well-meaning but deluded officers who maintain a naive view of contemporary society. These are the same folks who think the media is unbiased and that we are still living in the 1970’s era of "The Huntley Brinkley Report."

Being a case officer, I learned to always to be prepared for your adversary. Do your homework and give as good as you can; and also, that fortune favors the bold.

Perhaps its because I believe that the president holds similar beliefs that I am well-disposed toward him. Many hardworking CIA officers try to stand clear of even thinking deeply about politics. Some hold their conservative values close, lest their career be damaged by the many superior, progressive functionaries.

Others succumb to a sort of liberal osmosis that infects the bureaucracy of the U.S. government — as a form of gas piped through the ventilation system.

The Central Intelligence Agency, as with many organizations, has a distinct culture. The CIA, being clandestine, has a marked tendency to want its matters kept "inside the club," and that one keeps one’s politics to themselves.

The latter is understandable given CIA’s philosophy (sometimes ignored) of avoiding organizational bias (politicization.) Those who become politically vocal or reformist-minded may not be vilified — but they also are unlikely to be invited to a happy hour for spooks.

We must consider that Intelligence is a business. A great many retired officers double-dip as government contractors. Some start-up their own commercial intelligence firms, and the like. These officers, whether they like it or not, likely feel compelled to play the game and avoid taking unpopular or non-politically correct stances on issues. After all, following retirement, there are bills to pay, college tuitions to meet, mortgages and the oppressive Washington D.C. area car insurance premiums. 

This symbiotic relationship creates for the public such odd spectacles as a former CIA (and NSA) director supporting a presidential candidate whose private server goes against everything he had hitherto believed in. In this case, despite these felonious acts, he believed the other candidate’s temperament was unsuitable. Hint — his candidate didn’t win!

I guess my former uber-boss had some sort of position lined up to justify such spectacular moral gymnastics. For myself and many others like me, I prefer to tell it like it is. I do not live in a luxurious house in opulent McLean Va.

By the way, I never made recruitments by being a gray man.  I always played myself — curious, respectful, a bit irreverent — and trustworthy. I showed my "targets" who I was and then they would eventually make a choice to confide in me — or even trust me with their lives. Many of them were fantastic people who's friendship I recall fondly. I hope they feel the same. The true coinage of the world is trust.

The mystique of intelligence work is just that; it attracts individuals of all kinds who must play to their strengths while minimizing weaknesses. I played to my strengths which is a corporate part of my personality.

I think it's important that our voices be heard, as the public continues to lose faith in the mainstream media. Who are they going to turn to? Hollywood? Lets hope not — much better to turn to expert Americans with unique, real life experience. So let’s listen to the NYPD cop, the infantry major, or other practitioners who made the journey. Lets not take romance advice from someone who has never kissed a girl. I think the American people want to hear such voices.

Scott Uehlinger is a retired CIA Station Chief and Naval Officer. A Russian speaker, he spent 12 years of his career abroad in the former Soviet Union. In addition to teaching at NYU, he is a frequent Newsmax TV and Fox Business TV commentator, and has a weekly podcast, "the Station Chief," that can be found on iTunes or at www.thestationchief.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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ScottUehlinger
It's important that intelligence voices be heard. As the public loses faith in the media, who are they going to turn to? Hollywood? Better to turn to expert Americans with unique, real experience. Let’s listen to the cop, the infantryman, or others. Americans want to hear these voices.
community, intelligence
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2017-51-20
Thursday, 20 April 2017 01:51 PM
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