The Central Intelligence Agency has released a new, extensive collection of declassified articles from its in-house journal, providing glimpses into the spy organization’s thinking on everything from Al-Qaeda’s secrecy tactics in Afghanistan to how it has managed public relations crises.
The documents, posted on the agency’s website Thursday, are from “Studies in Intelligence,” the CIA’s in-house professional journal. The publication’s mission is “to stimulate within the Intelligence Community the constructive discussion of important issues of the day, to expand knowledge of lessons learned from past experiences, to increase understanding of the history of the profession, and to provide readers with considered reviews of public literature concerning intelligence,” the agency said.
At times, the work is extremely blunt. For example, George Tenet, who led the CIA from July 1997 to July 2004, says that its agents should be honest with themselves about what they do.
“I cannot explain what we do here other than to say we steal secrets for a living and we take those secrets and put them into all-source products that make a difference to somebody,” Tenet said in a 10-page article that is heavily redacted. “If anybody thinks we are doing anything else here, they can come talk to me. But let’s be blunt about we do. There is no dishonor in it. We steal secrets for a living.”
Michael J. Sulick, an intelligence operations officer who retired in 2010, states in another article that the U.S. counterintelligence organization cannot afford to fail in finding enemy spies who are working for Al-Qaeda and other modern terrorist groups. Consider this passage:
Simply put, terrorist groups operate like intelligence services. Terrorists spy before they terrorize. They case and observe their targets. They collect intelligence about the enemy’s vulnerabilities from elicitation and open sources. They vet potential recruits by rigorous screening procedures. Like intelligence officers, terrorists practice stagecraft. Material found in al-Qa’ida safehouses in Afghanistan and other countries include training manuals on espionage tradecraft, such as the identification of clandestine meeting and deaddrop sites, techniques to recruit sources, covert communications and tracking and reporting on targets.
There are also articles on intelligence operations in the Korean War, the Cold War and the agency’s relationship with the media. In one analysis, for example, a writer skewers the explosive “Dark Alliance” newspaper series in the San Jose Mercury-News in 1996 that examined ties between the CIA, crack cocaine and the Contra army in Nicaragua.
The stories alleged that drug traffickers in California were sending money to help the contras in Nicaragua, which turned out to be true. But it also implied the Contras caused the U.S. crack epidemic at the time with the CIA’s knowledge, which turned out to be a reach. The series was by Gary Webb, a journalist who committed suicide in 2004 after years of insisting he was right. The CIA writer’s name is redacted. His or her analysis, in part:
After this surge of publicity that questions the Agency’s integrity, the media itself soon begins to question the veracity of the original story. A completely one-sided media campaign is averted, and reporting on the issue becomes polarized rather than wholly anti-CIA. By one count, press stories skeptical of the charges against CIA actually begin to outnumber those giving the story credence. A review of the CIA drug conspiracy story — from its inception in August 1996 with the San Jose Mercury-News stories — shows that a ground base of already productive relations with journalists and an effective response by the Director of Central Intelligence’s (DCI) Public Affairs Staff helped prevent this story from becoming an unmitigated disaster.
Another article is gripping in its firsthand account of witnessing the aftermath of the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 299 French and American service members. The author’s name is redacted. Here’s an excerpt:
At 1500, as we are finishing an elaborate lunch, our hostess tells us there has been an explosion at the Embassy. She has known for an hour and a half, but hadn’t wanted to ruin our lunch. She speaks in an unconcerned way, and when I accuse her of joking, another guest steps in to remind me that this happens to the Lebanese “all the time — we are used to it.” With sick feelings in our stomachs we pile into the car and search for radio stations with news — the stations are being rather blase about it. As we drive back, I look at the ruined towns around me with a fresh eye. Now they are grisly.
The full collection is available here.