Small Wars Journal

CIA

Passing the Paramilitary Torch from the CIA to Special Operations Command

The CIA’s primacy in matters of paramilitary activities is well-established through existing Congressional legislation and presidential executive orders. However, today the United States faces serious threats from near-peer state adversaries, terrorist groups, and other sub-state actors that should lead its leaders to rethink its organizational and operational approaches to paramilitary activities to optimize both its capabilities and capacity to meet these threats.

About the Author(s)

“American Spy” Chapter Excerpt: Sitting Next to a Rock Star

Over the years, on the many flights I’ve taken, I’ve had several “celebrity sightings” and even had the opportunity to meet one or two of them in the process. I sat in front of a beret-wearing Samuel L. Jackson on a night flight to London, and across the aisle from late, great US Marine and Full Metal Jacket actor R. Lee Ermey on a flight to DC.

About the Author(s)

“American Spy” Chapter Excerpt: Iraq Intelligence Failure

This story could have been included in the previous chapter [“Ignore My Intelligence at Your Peril (I Am Not As Stupid As I Look)”], but as you will read, this premeditated intelligence failure in Iraq is so mind-boggling in nature that it deserves a chapter all its own. Technically it was not an intelligence failure; it was a spectacular tactical intelligence success story, followed by an unconscionable bureaucratic failure to properly manage an invaluable ongoing counterterrorism intelligence operation.

About the Author(s)

Why There's Nothing Illegal about CIA Drone Pilots

One of the more pernicious accusations made by opponents of U.S. targeted killing operations is that CIA personnel involved in drone warfare are violating the law. This argument, endorsed by many in the legal academy and human rights community, is meant to delegitimize the CIA counterterrorism offensive by equating its operators with the transnational terrorists they are targeting.

However, such criminations are based on an overly rigid and inaccurate reading of the laws of war.

As a preliminary matter, the stated U.S. position is that the fight against al Qaeda constitutes an armed conflict sanctioned domestically by the post- 9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, and internationally by the inherent right of self-defense acknowledged in the United Nations Charter.

The law of armed conflict, which governs the conduct of hostilities during wartime, does not prohibit the use of civilian personnel in combat. Rather, Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions outlaws “perfidy,” or the deliberate manipulation of the rules of war to put law-abiding fighters at risk. Such conduct, which our enemies engage in constantly, includes “the feigning of civilian, non-combatant status” in order to mount ambushes.

Although Protocol I applies only under specified circumstances and the U.S. has not ratified it, we nonetheless acknowledge the prohibition on perfidy as binding customary law. Thus, it would be unlawful for the CIA to paint a drone with the insignia of a commercial airline carrier, and then use such camouflage to launch sneak attacks on civilian airports.

Since the use of CIA drone operators is not illegal per se, the next issue is the status of its workforce under the law of armed conflict. This discussion is largely academic, because it considers whether CIA pilots would merit status as prisoners of war (POWs) if captured. Of course, no one imagines that al Qaeda would apply a legal analysis to this question, which at least partly explains why the physical remove of drone technology is so valuable in a fight against lawless enemies.

As a general rule, soldiers in war are entitled to “belligerent immunity,” which means that because they are authorized to directly participate in hostilities, they cannot be held liable for the warlike acts they commit. As the famed Nuremberg prosecutor Telford Taylor wrote, “War consists largely of acts that would be criminal if performed in time of peace,” but “the state of war lays a blanket of immunity over its warriors.” As such, enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield are held as POWs rather than tried as murderers.

The third Geneva Convention lays out a four-part test that armed groups must meet in order to qualify for POW status. Although these criteria are technically applicable in limited scenarios, they have gained larger acceptance over time as the indicia of lawful belligerency in general. The threshold factors include: (1) command responsibility, (2) distinctive insignia, (3) exposed weaponry, and (4) compliance with the laws of war.

Critics of U.S. targeting operations often contend that because CIA drone pilots are not sitting at their consoles in flight suits bearing Air Force rank insignia, they are entitled to neither belligerent immunity nor POW status, and could be tried for murder under the domestic laws of any foreign authority that apprehended them. While there are no doubt certain countries that would relish just such an opportunity, this is not a legally defensible assertion.

First, the legal requirement for fighters to display a distinguishing marker emphatically does not mean that even military service members must be in uniform 24 hours a day. In fact, because soldiers are valid military targets at all times during war, it is anticipated that if attacked while sleeping, they will immediately fight back in their underwear rather than wait to don their battle dress. Moreover, many an epic sea battle has been fought by sailors in shirtsleeves.

Second, it is important not to lose sight of the underlying principle animating the formalized requirements. Here, the basic rule is “distinction,” which requires belligerents to distinguish themselves from nearby civilians so as not to bring them into the enemy’s line of fire. This standard, although routinely and purposefully violated by our adversaries’ use of human shields, has no bearing on the attire of a drone operator at Langley.

While there is certainly room for debate over the proper role of intelligence agents in lethal operations, this is a matter of policy, not law. Branding CIA operators as scofflaws simply for doing their jobs is neither productive nor correct.

Milton Bearden's Requiem for a Russian Spy

In an article in Foreign Policy, Milton Bearden, former CIA case officer and station chief in Pakistan from 1986-1989 during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, writes a requiem for the spy that was his Karla.

On the second-to-last day of March, Leonid Vladimirovich Shebarshin, the former head of the KGB's foreign intelligence arm and chairman of the KGB -- for a single day in the turmoil of the August 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev -- died in his central Moscow apartment, apparently taking his own life. ...

His death marks the end of an era, the passing of one of the most thoughtful, cultured, and effective leaders of the redoubtable Cold War KGB. He was a master spy, a central figure in the tumultuous half-century contest between the CIA and the KGB, and a true believer in the Soviet dream until the very end. He never wavered; he never apologized.

Family Divisions Over Suicide Bombing Targeting CIA

 

From the Washington Post:

A Jordanian double agent’s suicide bombing of the CIA base in eastern Afghanistan received days of media coverage. The CIA had been tricked into welcoming one of al-Qaeda’s own onto the agency’s base, enabling him to detonate a vest laden with explosives.

In October 2010, the CIA released results of the agency’s internal investigation into the Khost province attack, fueling another round of stories that Jennifer Matthews, a CIA operative, was partially responsible. Matthews and her team, the report concluded, failed to follow the agency’s procedures for vetting informants. 

One of Matthews’s severest critics was her uncle, Dave Matthews, a retired CIA official who had helped inspire his niece to join the agency. Now Gary Anderson, Matthews's husband, and other relatives who once agreed not to speak with the media are breaking their silence to talk about Matthews’s life and death and about how her promotion to a perilous CIA posting has divided them.