Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Class 11", TJ Waters' novel on CIA training reviewed!

From the Washington Post:

[Notice the reviewer never mentions the haunted house on the Farm!] :))

Get Smart
A rare glimpse inside the secret training program that produces America's spies.
Reviewed by John Lehman
Sunday, November 26, 2006; Page BW04

Inside the CIA's First Post-9/11 Spy Class
By T.J. Waters
Dutton. 299 pp. $24.95

The skills of lying, stealing, bribing and deceiving do not usually belong to brave, bright, patriotic young Americans. Nor does the practice of these arts exist happily in a law-based government and a bureaucracy increasingly dominated by lawyers, whistleblowers and anonymous hotlines. So, since the Revolutionary War, we have been out-spied by our enemies (and, often, by our allies).

We came closest to competence in gathering human intelligence (or HUMINT, as it's known in the trade) and catching enemy spies during the Cold War. While the CIA and the FBI had many dramatic successes in those decades, the recently opened archives of the KGB and the East German Stasi show that, overall, the Soviet bloc's spy agencies ran rings around us. Indeed, for the latter decades of the Cold War, America's spying capacities had been essentially shut down by the purges of the CIA instigated by the post-Watergate Congress. A convenient belief took hold that we had such good satellites and such neat gadgets that we no longer needed actual human spies. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the gathering of human intelligence was limited mostly to having CIA operatives sit in U.S. embassies abroad under "official cover," waiting for "walk-in" sources to offer their services. This risked much less exposure to prowling lawyers, whistleblowers and congressional committees, but, unfortunately, it offered much less exposure to what was really going on.

This period of self-delusion coincided with the rise of al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism. Washington was amply provided with satellite photos of camps in Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Afghanistan, as well as the occasional electronic intercept of a communication, but we had few reliable human sources to tell us what was actually going on. We were caught flat-footed by attacks in Beirut, Mogadishu, New York, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Aden and elsewhere, teaching our enemies just how blind and unwilling to retaliate we were. The second attack on the World Trade Center (after the far less deadly 1993 plot masterminded by Ramzi Yousef) was the result.

After 9/11, the utter lack of useful human intelligence was suddenly seen as a huge hole in our defenses. A massive rebuilding of the CIA's clandestine service began.

T.J. Waters has given us a very readable account of the first wave of this rebuilding in Class 11. Waters, now an intelligence consultant, was a member of the first post-9/11 class of recruits for the CIA's spy wing, and his book describes how very different it was from those preceding it.
For one thing, this class was several times larger than normal, reflecting a surge of patriotic enlistment. It was also far more diverse, including more women, minorities, an airline pilot, a pro football player and Waters himself, who was a mid-career consultant. Before 9/11 and after Watergate, the CIA had recruited mainly "corn-fed Aryans" (as one veteran told me) who had never been out of the country. Rather than hiring well-traveled area specialists or native speakers of foreign languages, the CIA preferred to teach these uncomplicated people languages and lore from scratch. Class 11, which included Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans, was different. The mission, however, remained the same: "Recruit foreign nationals who are willing to sell out their nation, leader, or religion for the benefit of the United States." Class 11 was about to join a dangerous and stressful profession -- made all the more so by the inability to share anything about what they did with friends or family, which helps explain why "the divorce rate in the Clandestine Service is greater than 50 percent." Waters offers a rare glimpse into what it is like to join this cadre and how its tradecraft is taught.

The reader accompanies Waters from his first day at the CIA's Langley, Va., headquarters to his graduation from "the Farm," the agency's legendary training camp in Virginia. But while Waters's publisher is trying to hype his book as something wrested from the clutches of outraged CIA censors, Class 11 is a PR coup for the agency. The book reveals much new detail about the 18-month training process, but nothing in it would remotely compromise security. Although it includes descriptions of nifty James Bond gear such as a lifelike flying dragonfly that's actually a listening device, all of this is old-generation stuff no longer in use.

Also absent is any description of some of the most valuable -- and least enjoyable -- experiences that tend to weed out many aspirants, such as survival training. Indeed, Class 11 contains nary a word critical of the CIA or its training, which, from Waters's description, is still focused on "official" cover (in U.S. posts abroad) rather than "deep" cover (in the dens of America's foes). The writer is genuinely motivated to do battle with the country's enemies -- so motivated that his writing sometimes verges on flag-waving ("Terrorists turned to new tactics . . . . Well, two can play at that game. It's our turn now").

Still, Waters has done an excellent job recounting his experiences, and he and the CIA deserve much credit for a book that can only enhance the public's understanding of the importance of a rejuvenated clandestine service. This book should prove a useful recruiting tool. ·

John Lehman was secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and a member of the 9/11 Commission.


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