The CIA has such a lousy record that the country might be better without it.
Let me run through just a few of the examples I know about from years of reporting in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.
My all-time favorite happened in Lebanon.
The pro-Iranian group Hezbollah identified numerous CIA operatives by staking out a Pizza Hut in Beirut. How did Hezbollah figure out that the CIA was meeting with double agents and informants at Pizza Hut? The CIA decided to use the code word “pizza” when communicating with agents.
The code literally meant to meet at a pizza joint for pizza! Ten agents had their identity revealed, and numerous other informants were discovered—some of whom were executed. The CIA was left essentially blind in Lebanon for several months, having to pull the agents out, because agents were lazy and uncreative with their tradecraft.
No. 2 on my list? Iran.
The CIA had little idea that Islamists were going to overthrow the Shah of Iran in 1979. The religious elements of Iran were gaining power, but the CIA viewed religion as a challenge and threat from another time. There was no way a religious movement could overthrow a powerful, secular leader backed by Western powers, right? Just six months before the revolution, the CIA bluntly stated: “Iran is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.”
Tell that to the friends and family of the hostages held for more than a year in the U.S. embassy in Tehran!
Even we journalists had a pretty good idea that something was about to hit the fan. It’s not often that journalists realize that something important is about to happen!
No. 3: The Soviet Union
The CIA missed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later. The agency failed to catch Aldrich Ames, an analyst who was an agent for the Soviets. Ames was a drunk and a womanizer who was heavily in debt. When the Soviets offered him $50,000 in exchange for information, he sold out.
For years, the CIA was unable to figure out that Ames was the mole giving away assets. The USSR even planted fake information through another mole to throw the CIA off Ames’ trail.
An estimated 100 people were compromised, including at least 10 Americans.
There are many others. The Bag of Pigs and 9/11 come to mind.
I’m certain there are many fine people in the CIA. But a record like the one I document here should bring some pause about the effectiveness of the agency.