In espionage, as in sports, we generally see the heroism of our side and the perfidy of the opponent. The latest spy scandal involving the Russian “sleepers” is a case in point.

The coverage of the Russian spy ring has been full of intriguing and salacious details: forged passports, fake identities, and secret coded texts posted on the Internet. There was even that indispensible element of the post-007 era: the KGB’s comely Anna Chapman and her honey-traps. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has continued to rely on — and celebrate — these “illegals” who burrow into societies under false names and remain planted for years.

Oh, those crazy Russians! Didn’t anyone tell Boris and Natasha that the Cold War is over and they can get all the intelligence they need from open sources or through the usual crypto-diplomatic channels?

But in espionage, as in politics, it’s all who you know. Human intelligence — or HUMINT — remains a key element of spycraft. This rule applies as much to the untrustworthy Russkies as it does to the home team. Remember the huge appendix of agents in Philip Agee’s famous Inside the Company: CIA Diary? Most of these were the usual chiefs of station, but the list also included people like Lloyd Haskins, an agent who worked as the executive secretary of the International Federation of Petroleum and Chemical Workers. The CIA did its fair share of infiltration.

But rather than train moles who can masquerade as locals, the CIA has specialized in cultivating “assets,” namely foreigners willing to cough up secrets for cash or a ticket to a safe house in the Midwest. These operations, in turn, have been compromised by double agents in the United States. In the mid-1980s, for instance, Aldrich Ames nearly singlehandedly destroyed U.S. assets inside Russia from his position within the Directorate of Operations, which runs HUMINT. Those who have directed scorn at the Russians for what seemed to be third-rate spying should remember that the CIA entrusted secrets to a notorious drunk who was lousy at his job as a Soviet analyst. Not surprisingly, the CIA’s reputation, post-Ames, fell to the level of a junk bond.

But it gets worse. In his book The CIA and the Culture of Failure, John Diamond connects the dots between a succession of U.S. intelligence failures. The intelligence community failed to predict or prevent 9/11, screwed up royally with the intel on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, didn’t anticipate the subsequent Iraqi insurgency or the post-2002 revival of the Taliban in Afghanistan, was caught flat-footed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and has failed to penetrate al-Qaeda and capture Osama bin Laden. The Russians look foolish because they seemed to screw up at the penny-ante stuff. The CIA, meanwhile, has blown the high-stakes games. Remember the Jordanian asset who blew up the CIA’s Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan in January? The Russians are no doubt reevaluating Anna Chapman; the United States is still reeling from Base Chapman.

Diamond praises former CIA director George Tenet for rebuilding the agency’s HUMINT collection in the wake of the Ames scandal. With such recommendations as depoliticizing intelligence collection, Diamond sensibly urges structural changes within the intelligence community. But he doesn’t question the larger mission of the intelligence collection. We read about the Russian spies and we ask: why? But these days, unlike the 1970s and the Church Committee hearings, we rarely ask the same question about our own intelligence activities.

Yes, I’d dearly like to see the end of al-Qaeda, the capture of Osama bin Laden, and no more suicide attacks against U.S. targets. But the question is whether CIA operations can actually help accomplish these goals. Remember: Moscow was running a spy in the very bowels of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations. You can’t get better intel than that. But even Aldrich Ames did not prevent the Soviet Union from collapse.

Of course the United States should reform its intelligence operations. But more importantly, we should take a serious look at why we believe that we need such operations in the first place. Perhaps if we didn’t conduct multiple wars around the world, maintain a thousand or so military bases, and attempt to maintain full-spectrum dominance as befits the world’s only superpower, we wouldn’t need such a vast intelligence community, which now includes a horde of private contractors. The CIA, through prophylactic information-gathering, can’t stop blowback. Only a fundamental change in U.S. foreign and military policy can do that.

We are bemused by the spy operations of a former superpower that no longer has global reach except for an arsenal of largely useless nuclear weapons. “What in the world do they think they were going to get out of this, in this day and age?” former Moscow station chief Richard F. Stolz told The New York Times. If we ask some hard questions about the means and ends of intelligence-gathering, perhaps we might discover that all this spycraft — with its sad mercantilism, all-too-predictable treacheries, and dubious information — is as overrated on our side as on theirs.

Follow the Money

Alan Grayson (D-FL) is one of the few members of Congress who has questioned U.S. military spending. His War Is Making You Poor Act challenges the $153 billion of additional spending that Washington is spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by requiring the president to fund the wars out of the existing military budget of about $550 billion. As suggested by his libertarian leanings, Grayson would plow the savings into tax cuts and deficit reduction — not my preferred scenario — but at least he’s raising the money issue. And his bill wins the 2010 “Tell It Like It Is” Prize for best title.

Let’s not just stop at cutting the war spending. As FPIF columnist Frida Berrigan details in Reexamining the Pentagon’s Spending Habits, we could save nearly a $1 trillion over the next decade. “Suggested cuts include more than $113 billion in savings by reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 1,050 total warheads, deployed on 450 land-based missiles and seven Ohio-class submarines; Over $200 billion in savings through reducing U.S. routine military presence in Europe and Asia to 100,000 while reducing total uniformed military personnel to 1.3 million; and more than $138 billion in savings by replacing costly and unworkable weapons systems with more practical, affordable alternatives. Some of the proposed systems for replacement would include the F-35 combat aircraft, the MV-22 Osprey, and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.”

At the recent U.S. Social Forum (USSF) in Detroit, an important marriage took place: the peace movement and the human needs movement. “We can’t address the economic crisis blighting neighborhoods throughout the United States without moving money away from war,” FPIF columnist Christine Ahn writes in Move the Money, Starve the Empire. “That’s the only part of the national budget not being cut.

Organizers at the USSF united two disparate sectors. One is comprised of grassroots base-building organizations with multicultural constituencies working to secure jobs, education, and services. The other includes national peace organizations with mostly white, middle-class membership. These two groups largely organize separately. But they came together at the USSF because working poor people clearly can’t get the jobs and services they need without challenging military spending. Likewise, peace groups can’t end wars without a broad movement challenging the military-industrial complex.”

More on Money

The financial crisis hit hard in the poorest countries of the world. The international community, in the form of the G20, pledged to provide emergency funds to these countries. The promises sounded good. The delivery, however, leaves much to be desired.

Because of the way the bank loans are structured, explains FPIF contributor Julia Dowling in How the World’s Poorest Could Lose Out Again, “middle-income countries have almost exclusive access to the additional resources from the capital increases. As part of this recovery package, low-income countries were promised $6 billion in concessional finance, a mere fraction of the promised increased lending. Poor countries’ citizens, apparently low on the G20 economic recovery priority list, get little consolation even though their jobs, health, and education are at stake.”

And this from FPIF columnist Walden Bello, writing in our blog Focal Points: “The G20 is going to be around for some time. But it will probably be as ineffective as the G8 in stabilizing global capitalism. Probably the main accomplishment of the G8 was to focus attention on itself as some sort of executive committee of global capitalism.”

War and Peace

Last month, conflict convulsed the small Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, where the United States maintains the Manas Airbase. Kyrgyz gangs went on a rampage against ethnic Uzbekis, killing over 2,000 people and displacing more than 100,000.

One sign of hope, however, came from women’s groups, who were among the first to respond to the crisis. “As targeted attacks against Uzbeks increased, women’s rights groups in Osh and Jalal-Abad helped their Uzbek colleagues and clients find safe places to stay,” reports FPIF contributor Betsy Hoody in Look to Women to End Conflict in Kyrgyzstan. “When women of both Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnicities were raped, women’s crisis centers responded with emergency medical and psychological support. National women’s networks reached out to women leaders in the South to learn about women’s most urgent needs and coordinate relief plans.”

Violence has also broken out in Ireland over the last few months. But the Irish peace process endures, writes FPIF contributor Jim Dee. “Some 17 years after its initial steps became public, the Irish peace process has weathered many crises,” he writes in The Future of Irish Peace. “Violence from IRA dissidents will likely continue for the foreseeable future, as will the flaring of sometimes lethal sectarian tensions. Disagreements between unlikely political bedfellow like the DUP and Sinn Fein will also periodically arise. But the major players on both sides have repeatedly stretched themselves for peace. Even if the power-sharing cabinet falters again over the issue of contentious Protestant parades, the peace process will survive and continue to be an inspiring example of how seemingly intractable conflicts can eventually be transformed.”

Congo is a rich country, at least in terms of the mineral wealth beneath its soil. But the “resource curse” has given the Congolese little more than war and misery. “Congo is the heart of Africa. Yet, after 50 years of political independence, it still does not beat on its own,” write FPIF contributors Bahati Ntama Jacques and Beth Tuckey in Congo’s Quest for Liberation Continues. “Nor does it sustain the health of other African counties. Lumumba once famously said, ‘Free and liberated people from every corner of the world will always be found at the side of the Congolese.’ The liberation of Congo — which is a key part of the liberation of all of Africa — requires that people in countries that profit from Congo’s wealth stand in solidarity with those who rightfully own it.”

And finally, the Obama administration continued a sad practice of past administrations by hamstringing the International Criminal Court at a recent ICC conference in Uganda.

“Despite the fact that the United States is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and thus did not have a vote at the conference, U.S. negotiators cajoled a majority of the state parties to delay the definition and adoption of the crime of aggression for another seven years,” writes FPIF contributor Francis Njubi Nesbitt in U.S. Hijacks ICC Conference. “Where the Bush administration used threats and tried to intimidate, the Obama team offered sweet-talk and enticements to get states to delay the amendment expanding ICC jurisdiction to include the crime of aggression. It also managed to water down the definition of aggression and to exempt U.S. personnel from prosecution. The latter was a goal of the previous administration and the reason for U.S. hostility toward the ICC.”

John Feffer is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

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