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Recruiting spies: tricks of a murky trade

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    US still lacks spies on the ground and native speakers to combat Islamic terrorists. Recruiting spies: tricks of a murky trade September 02, 2004 By Alexandra
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 4, 2004
      US still lacks spies on the ground and native speakers to combat
      Islamic terrorists.

      Recruiting spies: tricks of a murky trade
      September 02, 2004
      By Alexandra Marks
      The Christian Science Monitor

      The CIA makes progress, but critics say it is hampered by Muslim
      bitterness against the US and other challenges.

      NEW YORK – To understand one reason why the CIA and FBI may be having
      trouble recruiting the kind of informants that would be the most
      effective against Al Qaeda, just talk to "Mohammed."
      A devout Muslim immigrant fluent in Arabic who's been in the country
      for six years, he's got no use for Al Qaeda, or the US government.
      Soon after 9/11 he was thrown in jail for two months - "detained" was
      the word used by the Justice Department. He says he was shackled,
      questioned, and intimidated before he was finally let go. Add to that
      the war in Iraq, in which he believes innocent Muslims are being
      killed, and he scoffs at the idea of helping the US government, no
      matter how despicable he finds Osama bin Laden.

      "Why should I want to help people like that, people who are killing
      my Muslim brothers everyday?" asks the computer specialist, standing
      in a coffee shop in Brooklyn. He asked that his real name not be used
      for fear of retribution.

      Since the Sept. 11 attacks exposed the inadequacy of American
      intelligence's clandestine services - its lack of spies on the ground
      and native speakers in countries that are terrorist hotbeds - the
      agencies have made great strides. All analysts agree on that. The CIA
      has been graduating the largest classes of spies and analysts ever,
      and it turns away thousands of applicants a year, including many Arab
      Americans eager to fight Al Qaeda and terrorism.

      But there's also general consensus the Central Intelligence Agency
      and its 14 brethren spy agencies still have great lengths still to go
      build a truly effective spy network that can regularly infiltrate Al
      Qaeda and its proliferating franchises around the world. Before
      stepping down, George Tenet told Congress he believed it would take
      another five years to fully rebuild the agency's clandestine
      operations. Other analysts contend a more realistic assessment is 10
      to 15 years.

      Complications for recruitment

      That work is complicated by several factors, including an evolving
      understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat, and ethical
      questions about what lengths Americans should go to protect the
      country. Another big stumbling block, according to some critics: the
      way the government has handled the Arab American and Muslim
      communities in the wake of 9/11.

      "It's difficult to recruit people to join organizations when they
      feel besieged by them," says Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the
      Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. "The
      detentions ... the foreign policies in the Muslim world, you name it.
      Muslims are feeling besieged by it these days."

      The CIA, which receives 2,000 applications on its website each week,
      says those perceptions have not hampered its ability to
      recruit. "We've had a very successful recruiting program that focused
      on the Arab American communities in Detroit and Tampa," says CIA
      spokesman Tim Crispell. "We've gotten terrific responses from those
      communities, at least from people who've expressed interested in
      working in the intelligence field."

      A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that
      while the FBI has also made progress in retooling itself to meet
      terror threats, the number of counterterrorism agents is "still not
      sufficient to handle the workload."

      Compounding the problem is competition among intelligence agencies
      and private sector firms that all are vying for the same small pool
      of experienced translators and intelligence analysts knowledgeable
      about the Arab American and Muslim communities. So even as the FBI
      has beefed up its human intelligence expertise, it's also lost
      hundreds of experienced agents, in part, because it's easier to get
      ahead professionally in the CIA and the National Security Agency.

      But critics say those agencies are also finding it challenging to
      enlist the kind of intelligence assets that would be most effective
      against Islamic terrorism - the Mohammeds of the world who can move
      easily between cultures here at home and on different sides of the

      A primary part of the problem is that resentment generated by post
      9/11 policies, according to Harvard University's Juliette Kayyem. But
      she contends it's also because the intelligence agencies "aren't
      trying hard enough" in reaching out to minority communities.

      "The raw numbers are classified, but they have disclosed that
      minority recruitment of covert operatives is well below the national
      average of minorities in America and well below the employment of
      minorities in the federal governments," says Ms. Kayyem. That's been
      exacerbated by a backlog of background checks, which she says can
      take as much as a year.

      To what lengths should US go?

      There's also the challenge of learning how to operate in the field,
      which can take many years to master - and the question of how willing
      America is to get its hands dirty in spying. "You don't just knock at
      bin Laden's gate and say, 'Hey, we're here to join,'" says Frank
      Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy and a former
      security adviser to President Bush.

      An undercover operative often won't be truly trusted by the enemy
      until he has proven himself. "If a person is required to commit a
      crime or a murder to get into one of these terrorist cells, is that a
      price that's too high for this American democracy to bear if it means
      the prevention of the death of tens of thousands of people, or even
      four people?" asks Kevin O'Connell, an intelligence expert at the
      RAND Corp.

      In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration changed the CIA
      guidelines in dealing with Al Qaeda. While they are still classified,
      one high level source says "the gloves are off."

      Calls for balance

      Still, Mr. O'Connell believes that it's crucial for the American
      public to become more educated about intelligence issues so it can
      discuss and debate them.

      The nation has to work "to strike a balance between what we need to
      do to accomplish the mission and what we're comfortable with as a
      society," he says. Agents who've been on the ground agree, but they
      also argue that the nation must be aware that it's dealing with an
      enemy that does not hew to any constitution or the Geneva Conventions.

      "We have to be careful that we don't bind ourselves to rules that our
      enemy doesn't follow," says Ron Marks, a former CIA official. "Al
      Qaeda's bottom line is the total destruction of the United States.
      They're not pussyfooting around. They want us dead and gone."

      But Mr. Cilluffo and other analysts note that Americans also don't
      want to end up jeopardizing the very freedoms and civil liberties
      that they're fighting to protect. "It's a delicate balance, and the
      consequences of not doing it right are potentially catastrophic in
      the world we live in today," O'Connell concludes.



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