Jeff Stein recently wrote an article in Wired magazine detailing how high-tech advances in biometrics and the increasing use of iris scanners at border checkpoints around the globe are making the Agency’s undercover work increasingly difficult to conduct. No doubt it is an added obstacle, but I sincerely hope that it is not a secret fear for the Agency, because if it is, it would be an indication that the Wizards of Langley are now the Wusses of Langley.
Since its inception, and as an heir to the legacy of the OSS , the CIA has always cultivated and pursued the image of an elite, can do organization. As with any organization over 60 years old it has had it successes and failures living up to the image it attempted to project. However, the most damning criticism of the Agency I have ever heard was from a former operations officer who use to shake his head in dismay and state: “Its becoming nothing more than another Department of Agriculture.”
Bureaucratic entropy is a threat to any large government agency, however, for an Agency which must have some capability to project and put into the field unique, unrivaled and cutting edge skill sets in order to do its job, entropy is the kiss of death, and quite possibly for those they are defending, us.
Stein then raises an interesting question concerning the foreboding and ‘secret fear’ former senior intelligence and operational officers may have concerning the Agency’s ability to handle high-tech changes in border checking technology. If they are really concerned and have knowledge of what we can and can not do as far as overcoming the new tech obstacles then we are really in trouble and probably means that the March of the Mediocrities have finally completely taken over the 7th Floor at Langley and that the visionary and innovative leaders the Agency should be nurturing and bringing up are out of luck and should be looking elsewhere for a workplace dedicated to being at the forefront and cutting edge of technology.
Forged papers or co-opting a foreign border crossing guard is about as basic as it gets for a foreign intelligence service entering covertly into another country, foe or friend. The new technology challenges presented by biometric security features added to passports and visas, or the dreaded iris scans should not be insurmountable for, what one senior Pentagon official recently told me, “a place that does some truly amazing work” in the high-tech field. Yet Stein has one former intelligence agency chief stating: “I do think this is a significant issue with great implications for the safety and security of our people, so I recommend you not publish anything on this. You can do a lot of harm and no good.”
So maybe Stein is right? Maybe the Luddites and mediocrities are in charge on the 7th floor at Langley? Or maybe the former intelligence agency chief knows that if you throw in endangering the safety and security of ‘our people’ Stein, no friend of the Agency, and frankly a bit of partisan twit at times, is certain to publish it? So then the issue becomes why doesn’t it really matter whether Stein publishes on the topic or not. For the Agency it really should be a non-issue, the article as written can be construed in many ways as useful and good, if the Agency is still up to the work it is tasked with doing.
However, for other US government agencies Stein’s article is one of the most important articles Stein has ever written. Why is Stein’s accidentally great article important? Because it spotlights what we can expect from our enemies and friends, national and transnational, who have their own interest in penetrating and co-opting our immigration and customs agencies. And as we have seen from recent arrests and investigations into ICE, USCIS, and other DHS agencies entities, we all, including the CIA, should be very afraid about who has and is crossing the border into the US.
Maybe Stein’s article should be retitled: The FBI’s Secret Fear?