This book by Mrs Plame Wilson has many fascinating vignettes. I think the encounter with the pug dogs [p 64] speaks volumes about the CIA’s ability to get things done.
But back to counterproliferation. Ms Plame, rather like Dean Acheson’s famous memoir, was present at the creation of the CIA’s organized counterproliferation efforts, ie, the formation of the Counterproliferation Division within the Department of Operations so let’s read what she observed.
It is shocking to realize that prior to 1996 there wasn’t a single U.S. government entity devoted to the growing proliferation threat. The 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway highlighted this gap in our national security apparatus. In response, the CIA created CPD under the command of Deputy Director of Operations Jim Pavitt, since retired. Pavitt, a career operations officer, was a popular choice in the Agency. Usually well dressed in a blue blazer and a perky pochette, [we’ll leave for another time the question of what he is doing carrying around a pocket handbag] and with a slightly manic side to his character, he quickly set up a division whose mandate was to gather intelligence in countries like North Korea, Libya, Iran, and Syria that were suspected of harboring dreams of becoming a nuclear state. Prior to the conception of CPD, the issue of counterproliferation was confined to two, or at the most, three officers in each individual geographic division. That is, EUR had a counterproliferation focal point, NE (Near East) had another, and so on. There was no overarching structure or communication, much less a comprehensive U.S. counterproliferation strategy. I thought that the creation of CPD was an opportunity to make the CIA relevant again.
To get CPD operations off the ground, Pavitt handpicked a dozen or so officers. Many of these men and women were undeniably brilliant and experienced, but many were eccentric and didn’t fit in well in the traditional divisions, which were based on geographical, not topical, boundaries. As a result, CPD quickly became known as the island of misfit toys for the diverse and sometimes flaky nature of its early staffers. The older divisions eyed it with deep suspicion and distrust. Because counterproliferation was a transnational issue, we didn’t own any real estate as the Near East or European divisions did and so every operation in another division’s region had to be done with its cooperation and consent. Naturally, this led to savage bureaucratic turf battles. Field Stations around the globe gave the new kid on the block short shrift and many times didn’t even bother to answer CPD’s cables from headquarters. In the post 9/11 world, with its huge paradigm shift in how we ranked our national security priorities, real money started to pour into CPD and the division suddenly became more popular, Once it became clear to powerful Chiefs of Station that the only way they were going to get more money for their operations was to generate and support counterproliferation operations, they became much more compliant and friendly toward CPD. [pp 61-62]
I pity the fools
Given all the laudatory praise the US government the US government has been heaping on itself, ever since Dr Khan’s network was publicly exposed, ie that they knew about his activities going back to the 1980s, one would think that, regardless of everything else, the subject of nuclear black and gray market proliferation has been a subject of such high importance to US policymakers that it merited nothing but the very best; the A-Team of counterproliferation analysis.
Hmm, maybe we should rethink this. Let’s look at the newly published memoir, Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson.
Here is what she writes about return to work at the CIA, after being gone on maternity leave. She has been assigned to the Counter Proliferation Directorate [CPD].
As I chatted with my new coworkers, I began to realize with some dismay that only I and two others were real – operations officers – that is, certified and trained at the Farm. Almost none of the others had ever sat down with an asset in the field or written a raw intelligence report. Yet this small, inexperienced group was charged with tracking [CIA redaction] WMD research and procurement efforts and developing operations from scratch that could open a desperately needed window into [CIA redaction] suspected WMD programs. [p 90]
Although the focus of Plame’s efforts was Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs her mandate was worldwide. So it’s worth asking what they looked for and what kind of assistance her branch received. Here is what she writes:
I dug in, and over the next few months, my branch worked hard to convince CIA Stations worldwide to take a closer look at the [CIA redaction] on their radar screens. Were there businessmen in their respective countries dealing in high-tech goods that could be used in [CIA redaction] weapons programs? Did they have any [CIA redaction] working on areas of potential applicability to WMD? Perhaps there was a close relative of a senior official [CIA redaction] living abroad? Our branch was starting at nearly zero, and it was worth looking in every corner in the hopes of generating some productive operations and intelligence we could sue [CIA redaction] the responses from CIA Stations on the [CIA redaction] target were mostly half-hearted or, worse yet, no acknowledgement at all. There were, more compelling targets and our little CPD [CIA redaction] branch had to fight to be heard above the din of other competing interests for time and resources. [p 92]