By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 2010; A18
The CIA's overseas expansion since Sept. 11, 2001, has mainly been evident on the operations side, with more case officers, more drone strikes and the distribution of a lot more cash. But the agency also has been sending abroad more employees from its less-flashy directorate, in what officials described as a major shift in how the agency trains and deploys its analysts.
One U.S. intelligence official said "hundreds" of analysts are already in overseas assignments, a number that is expected to grow under a plan unveiled this week by CIA Director Leon Panetta.
In a speech to the agency workforce, Panetta said there would be "more co-location of analysts and operators at home and abroad" over the next five years, and that the fusion of the two "has been key to victories in counterterrorism and counterproliferation."
The deployments mark a significant change from the agency's practice of relying on a small army of analysts at CIA headquarters to make sense of the information gathered by case officers abroad.
Altering that arrangement creates logistical challenges as well as security risks, particularly as the agency ramps up the rotation of analysts in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite the dangers, current and former CIA officials said using more analysts overseas has helped the agency overcome post-Sept. 11 problems.
In particular, officials said that foreign assignments have been crucial to accelerating the training of analysts, giving them a deeper understanding of the countries and subjects they cover in a shorter amount of time. Having analysts work alongside case officers -- rather than half a world away -- has also sped up the tempo of operations against al-Qaeda and other adversaries.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, CIA analysts use satellite imagery and other intelligence to help direct unmanned-aircraft strikes and military raids on Taliban sites.
"Instead of wiring back to Washington, nine hours out of sync, you've got analysts right there who can help," said Mark M. Lowenthal, formerly a senior CIA official.
A U.S. intelligence official said the work from overseas teams of analysts and operators has been crucial in a number of recent cases, including the disruption of a 2006 airliner plot and the discovery of Iran's undeclared uranium-enrichment facility last year near the city of Qom.
CIA analysts also played a major role in the agency's secret prisons. "It was the analysts who did all the debriefings of detainees after they started cooperating," said a former CIA official.
Panetta is the latest in a line of CIA directors, dating at least to the 1990s, to push for sending more analysts abroad. A major obstacle has been providing training and finding ways to make room. Analysts are not usually trained in survival skills or spycraft, nor do they generally work undercover.
That changes when they go overseas to work with undercover operatives.
The positions set aside for the CIA in U.S. embassies, where case officers often pose as diplomats, are often in short supply. The constraints are less significant in war zones, where analysts can pose as Defense Department staff.
The CIA has come under criticism recently for putting employees in dangerous posts abroad without adequate preparation.
The agency base in Afghanistan that was struck by a suicide bomb in December, killing seven CIA employees, was run by a woman who had spent most of her career tracking al-Qaeda as a reports officer -- a job that generally involves fielding intelligence reports but staying away from the front lines.
CIA officials have defended the move, noting that she had undergone significant training and had held sensitive positions in Afghanistan before. Her name has not been publicly disclosed. None of those killed at Forward Operating Base Chapman were analysts, and officials stressed that those taking part in Panetta's program will not be placed in operational roles, such as recruiting informants and taking part in raids.
Lowenthal said Panetta's plan may also help the CIA protect its turf. Some advocates have argued that it should focus on collection and lose the analytic function.
Sending more analysts overseas to work with their clandestine counterparts "may be part of a way for Panetta to make sure that doesn't happen," Lowenthal said.