Since I began blogging about the dysfunctional, bloated bureaucracy at the Central Intelligence Agency, I have been inundated with phone calls and emails encouraging me to keep it up. Not surprisingly, many of them are from people fed up with the culture at Langley who have moved on to greener pastures.
What has been surprising, though, is the number of people within the Agency itself who have been quietly reaching out to me. As I have taken pains to point out in the past and will do so here again, it is important for everyone to realize that there are exceptional men and women working at the Central Intelligence Agency. Unfortunately, they are being very poorly led and very poorly managed.
On Wednesday, April 14, the CIA’s Deputy Director, Stephen Kappes announced his retirement. The New York Times ran a softball piece on him the next day, but it was Kenneth R. Timmerman of the Washington Times on Sunday, April 18 who drove home many of the real problems surrounding Kappes.
The CIA quietly announced the “resignation” of its deputy director on Wednesday, accompanied by all the accolades normally reserved for a top government official forced to resign in disgrace.
There were many reasons why Stephen R. Kappes needed to resign at age 60, five years before the agency’s mandatory retirement age. Even the CIA’s Greek chorus at The Washington Post and the New York Times have acknowledged that this mandarin had no clothes.
In his piece, Timmerman cited Kappes’s “long record of failure as an operations chief,” how he “played politics with intelligence,” and how he had taken the CIA out of the spy business and transformed it into a “liaison service” by outsourcing the recruitment of agents and clandestine intelligence sources (once the Agency’s bread and butter) to other “friendly” intelligence services. One can’t help but ask – what good is a spy agency that doesn’t even do its own spying?
As Jack Kelly of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported in his article, Split up the CIA:
The CIA has become a bloated bureaucracy where senior bureaucrats are more interested in protecting their jobs than in gathering intelligence. A sign of how bad things are is that more than 90 percent of all CIA employees work within the United States. This is curious for an organization whose purpose is to collect foreign intelligence.
Many of the sources I have spoken with, including a former CIA classmate of Kappes, describe the Deputy Director as “power hungry” and “manipulative,” with a “larger-than-life” ego. Several referred to Kappes as a “phoenix,” adept at popping back up through bureaucratic “trap doors,” most recently evidenced by his ability to rejoin the Agency as Deputy Director, a “decades-long aspiration,” according to one insider, after resigning in 2004 under then-DCI Porter Goss.
Goss, it will be recalled, was appointed by George W. Bush and is noted by Timmerman in his book Shadow Warriors: The Untold Story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender, as having threatened “to clean out the “deadwood” at the agency and prune away senior managers who represented the failed culture that brought about the agency’s faulty performance in the months and years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” According to Timmerman:
Kappes won support from congressional Democrats, who loved him because he fed them information they could use against Mr. Bush. But in the end, he overplayed his hand, and when he threatened to resign in November 2004 and take half of the operations directorate with him, Mr. Goss called his bluff.
Timmerman goes on to say:
Kappes used his exile from the agency to plot his revenge. His moment arrived just 18 months later, when the Democrats managed to oust Mr. Goss and get Mr. Kappes appointed deputy director under Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden.
Under Kappes’ stewardship, the beleaguered CIA has been on a rapid downward spiral culminating in one of the deadliest attacks in CIA history. On December 30, 2009, a suicide bomber was driven onto F.O.B Chapman, a key Central Intelligence Agency facility in Khost, Afghanistan where tradecraft and common sense had been tossed out the window. When the bomber detonated, nine people (seven of whom were working for the CIA, including its chief of base) were killed, and six others were seriously wounded.
Former CIA agent Bob Baer’s GQ article, “A Dagger to the CIA,“ does an excellent job of chronicling many of the mistakes made that day, including the fact that an analyst, with no command experience in the field, had been made chief of base. As Baer appropriately notes, “[T]here was a time when only seasoned field operatives were put in charge of places like Khost.”
Perhaps a seasoned field operative would have insisted the attacker be searched in advance. Further to the point, perhaps a seasoned operative would have known it was smarter to conduct such a meeting on somebody else’s turf. But so excited was the CIA (especially Kappes, who reportedly had personally briefed President Obama on the meeting) that they were about to bring in someone they believed was the first mole to ever penetrate the upper echelons of al Qaeda, that all caution was thrown to the wind.
The chief of base — called “Kathy” in Baer’s article — was allegedly so keen not to offend the bomber, and so desirous to show him that he was part of the team, that she wanted the meeting to feel as if it was “his birthday party.” In fact, as the man detonated, a cake was being walked over to him. (The person carrying the cake was wounded, but thankfully survived).
The base chief is a covert employee of the CIA; her identity is protected by law. I’ll call her Kathy. She was 45 years old and a divorced mother of three. She’d spent the vast majority of her career at a desk in Northern Virginia, where she studied Al Qaeda for more than a decade. Michael Scheuer, her first boss in Alec Station, the CIA unit that tracked bin Laden, told me she had attended the operative’s basic training course at the Farm, the agency’s training facility, and that he considered her a good, smart officer. Another officer who knew her told me that despite her training at the Farm, she was always slotted to be a reports officer, someone who edits reports coming in from the field. She was never intended to meet and debrief informants.
According to sources familiar with both the details of the attack and the current investigation (who have requested not to be named for fear of internal reprisals), a close confident of Kappes’ has been assigned to head the investigation. The intelligence sources consulted for this piece believe that this person was brought in to investigate the F.O.B. Chapman attack in order to shield Kappes and his involvement in the decision chain.
Kappes’ involvement in the decisions surrounding the F.O.B. Chapman attack, including the positioning of an inexperienced officer as its chief of base, is significant and must be thoroughly investigated for several reasons:
- Safeguards need to be put in place to make sure that what happened at Chapman never happens again.
- Kappes needs to be held professionally responsible for what took place. Should he attempt to pop up through another bureaucratic trap door somewhere else, as several of his former colleagues believe he might, there must be an accurate record against which he can be measured.
- A neutral party not beholden to Kappes should conduct the investigation, since the families of the victims may have strong grounds for a lawsuit. Such talk is already circulating, especially now that Kappes has announced his retirement.
Any such investigation will likely be highly classified. But with so much in question, and so much at stake, it is hoped that newspapers like the Washington Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and others will keep up the pressure. Heaven knows the New York Times won’t do it.