Monday, June 9, 2008

See no evil

By Robert Baer. This was one of the first books to published subsequent to 9/11. In many ways, it sounded a lot like Gary Schroen and Gary Berntsen's which I touched on. I liked the book - like both Gary books, the narrative flowed well.

In all three books, the foot soldier on the frontline wonders why the higher ups don't give them more support. They also feel that know best since they are in the forefront of all the action. Certainly this is how a lot of people feel, including meter maids to programmers. It's a natural feeling and I have no doubt that the authors believe in what they do. The fact that they care and are dedicated is what brings the feeling that they know best out.

Unfortunately, in a lot of the cases in all the 3 books, the agents are working on hunches without much evidence to corroborate their suspicions. Given the risk averse nature of bureacracy (i.e. White House, NSC, CIA) they would not be supported. It is unfortunate of course, that in some cases (perhaps not all) that their hunches proved correct.

In all three books, the agents deplored what the CIA had become - overly risk averse, bureaucractic and political - yet behind that thought was that the CIA in the past had been better. I would disagree that the CIA ever functioned well. As a successor to the OSS, the CIA operated behind the curve - using WW2 techniques to train its agents even though the skills were no longer necessary, operating as though in a war footing, not investing in technology and computers and then swinging over to the other end of the spectrum after the fall out from its rogue operations. The CIA still has to find a successful model to function.

For instance, it's decision to "outsource" may not have been the best but I'm not sure that it's for certain that it's a bad idea although it may have created perverse incentives:
"One American consultant in London was paid more than the director of the CIA and the president of the United States put together. She had an open first-class ticket to fly back and forth to the U.S. anytime she wanted. In London, she rented some of the priciest office space available. When the CIA went out to inspect, we found she had subleased the office, defrauding the government of even more money. In this one instance alone, I could account for $1 million just flushed down the toilet. It was out-and-out theft, and there were at least twenty other instances with other people that involved similar amounts of money.

Incidentally, the woman who had set up the payment to the London consultant resigned from the CIA on a Friday and went to work for the same company the London woman worked for the following Monday. The CIA inspector-general's office found, to its horror, that the same woman, while at the CIA, had funneled two other equally large contracts in that consulting firm, the same one that she now worked for. In the end it was too painful for the agency to bring the case to the Department of Justice's attention, and the London consultant continues today to successfully shake down Congress for money." (pg. 235).

Passages like these really need to be sourced and the fact that they are not (and the woman was not named) make this to be nothing more than an accusation and nothing else more.

What surprised me most in the book for someone who pretty much slept through the Clinton years were the relevations/accusations on campaing financing involving oil companies and Roger Tamraz. Again, it is unfortunate that a lot of these sound like unsubstantiated accusations based on heresay and/or secondary sources.
1. Tamraz hired Senator Kennedy's wife to gain access to Al Gore and President Clinton. (pg. 238)
2. A man by the name of Jim Giffen was known as Mr. Kazakhstan because his company held all the power in the country. (pg 241) Unfortunately, Baer does not say how this came about.
3. "Aliyev filled us in. In March 1995 he had received a call from the State Department's undersecretary for economic affairs, Joan Spiro. ... In unmistakeable terms, Spiro threatened that if Azerbaijan wanted to maintain good relations with U.S., Aliyev would have to give Exxon its 5 percent." (pg. 240-241)
4. "After it borke in the press that Tony Lake and his wife had skirted the law by holding on to $304,000 in energy stocks when he was appointed national security adviser, I wondered if Lake had anything to do with Spiro's and White's calls." (pg. 241)
5. The NSC wanted to payoff Georgia and President Eduard Shevardnadze with an air defence system for his commitment to an oil pipeline. (pp. 242-243)
6. Baer wanted to plant a bug an Iranian facility in the Caspian but was initially rejected by the NSC because they were afraid that the Iranians would retaliate against Amoco. (pg. 251)

In any case, Chapter 20 was an eye opener for me and I'm not sure I wanted them opened.

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