Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Must See TV: MI-5 on A&E...and a few thoughts on the CIA

MI-5 is the agency responsible for internal security and counter-intelligence in the UK. It's also a TV show produced by BBC/Kudos and shown in the States on A&E. (It's called Spooks in the UK.)

I've been favourably impressed with the episodes I've seen so far. The season 3 finale was fantastic. Seasons 1 & 2 are out on DVD already.

I was also reading this article on reforming U.S. spying operations over at GovExec.

The secret to improving American spying "is blindingly simple," says John MacGaffin, a 31-year veteran of the clandestine service. The transformation must come from both the top and the bottom, he argues. At the top, the director of national intelligence will need to define the unique role that each of the 15 intelligence agencies ought to play in human-intelligence collection and will need to make sure that every agency performs its assigned role. And clear directions from on high will need to be accompanied by commonsense ground-level changes, he says, such as rewriting the rules that govern the recruitment and promotion of spies, getting more serious about language training, and being more clever about how and where spies are deployed abroad.

Bush has responded to the CIA's manifest shortcomings by directing the agency to develop a plan to increase
its roster of spies -- currently estimated at 1,100 -- by 50 percent. Yet, former CIA agents warn that simply pushing more recruits through the existing pipeline will do nothing to ensure that the CIA or its sister agencies will be able to collect information that is
any more reliable.

"Fifty percent more gets you to 'Stupid,' " MacGaffin grumbles. "You'll get 50 percent more of what you've got now." The problem, he insists, is quality, not quantity.

Indeed, an important lesson from the U.S. failure to properly gauge Saddam's weaponry is that ensuring that the information Washington was getting from its spies and their paid contacts was accurate and complete was not given enough priority. Human spying needs to become more-precisely targeted -- toward obtaining only information that is absolutely essential and that cannot be gotten any other way. The vacuum-cleaner approach of sucking up and sending along every piece
of "information" -- verified or not -- that's in the air in a targeted country just hasn't worked.

As John Gannon, former chair of the National Intelligence Council, puts it, "The solution is strategy and discipline. It's going to mean fewer human-intelligence resources, not many more." In Gannon's vision of a revitalized intelligence community, human spies would make up a "smaller but richer piece" of the pie, not 50 percent more filler. |Link|

Sounds like the U.S. has a long way to go to get to stupid.

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