Tag Archives: Central Intelligence Agency

Washington, Snowden, NSA: Learning the Right Lessons


27 June 2013

Why is Anyone Surprised?

It’s been out there for years. Utter the words “bomb,” “president,” or “Allah” on the phone, a computer will recognize it, record it, and then red flag it for analysis. Use the wrong word and things will get worse.

The leaks from National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden showed what Hollywood has been telling all along: Big Brother is watching you. All you had to do was pay attention.


Of course, the biggest problems with the NSA’s eavesdropping activities are government overreach and the threat to personal liberties. But these problems are a result of another one that is quite telling about how Washington has dealt with national security since 9/11.

One of the most important responses to the 9/11 attacks was the passage of the PATRIOT Act. The act gave the federal government authority to oversee anything from financial transactions to border control and from immigration to communication.

But what Washington has not yet done is to create a professional cadre of civil servants to run those operations.

Yes, there is the vast bureaucratic enterprise that we know as the Department of Homeland Security. Set up in late 2002, the agency has grown to employ nearly 250,000 people on a budget of $60 billion. It’s the third largest Cabinet department. Military and intelligence expenditures have also shot up.

But numbers can be deceiving. As the Washington Post reported nearly three years ago, for the 250,000 people employed by Homeland Security, the U.S. government relies on nearly 2,000 private companies employing hundreds of thousands who work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in the United States. Quite often, different government agencies and contractors do the same work, which creates redundancy and waste. To “get the job done,” more than 850,000 people have been granted top secret security clearances.

That’s the problem. With so many agencies, companies, and contractors in the mix, redundancy, waste, and, yes, leaks are inevitable. A government outsourcing national security is quite different than a credit card company outsourcing call centers.

Edward Snowden
Will Snowden’s unfortunate actions give way to fortunate results? It’s Washington’s call.


What is the solution then? History might provide us an answer.

At the onset of the Cold War, the Truman administration tried to combine different segments of the federal government doing similar work. The Central Intelligence Agency came into existence (NSA did, too, a few years later) and took over almost all overseas intelligence operations from the State Department and the military. The War and Navy departments gave way to the Department of Defense. These were smart moves. Others, such as the attempted liquidation of the Marine Corps, were more questionable.

Nevertheless, reducing redundancy in government was a sound one. Today, it could teach Washington a thing or two. Drone strikes – essentially a military operation – are run by the CIA. The U.S. military is still doing nation-building in Afghanistan (and might well do so in other places in the future).

These agencies may or may not be the best tools for the job. Carefully defining areas of operation for different agencies would help to avoid overlaps and ensure efficiency. Training a cadre of civil servants who would view their work as one of a life-time rather than “a one-year thing” would boost counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence efforts in the United States and around the world.

There is clearly a way – by no means easy or cheap but very necessary – to ensure America’s safety without violating the Constitution. Let us hope the Snowden scandal will teach Washington that lesson.

Barın Kayaoğlu, a Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University, is finishing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu), and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).


Lessons to Learn from the “Raymond Allen Davis Affair” in Pakistan


March 19, 2011

I am no fan of Pakistan’s ruling elite or their rampant corruption or their inability to meet the basic needs of their people. And I certainly do not like their influence over events in Afghanistan.

But the recent strain in U.S.-Pakistani relations has demonstrated the Pakistani elite’s impossible bind: They have to balance American and Western efforts to marginalize the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the region with a Pakistani public opinion completely fed-up with the nearly-ten-year-old “war on terror.”

The “Raymond Allen Davis affair,” which sheds much light on the Pakistani public’s hatred for the West, went roughly like this: On January 27, 2011, “Raymond Allen Davis” (that may or may not be his real name), an American working for the U.S. consulate in Lahore, shot two armed motorcyclists who were allegedly trying to rob him (an alternative explanation is that the two men were working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence). “Mr. Davis” left Pakistani custody on March 16 after the U.S. government agreed to pay diyya (blood money) to the relatives of the deceased. Along the way, several details came to light:

1- If “Mr. Davis” is not our protagonist’s real name, then he must have obtained a Pakistani visa using a fake passport. And that means he couldn’t have had diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

2- Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who stepped down as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan in early February, may have lost his job for refusing to retroactively confer full diplomatic immunity to “Mr. Davis” under the Vienna Convention.

3- “Mr. Davis” had served in the U.S. Special Forces for 10 years from 1993 until 2003. After his military service, he started a private security company and was contracted by the CIA to work in Pakistan. Upon the Obama administration’s request, the U.S. media kept the CIA connection a secret for almost a month.

4- Before being apprehended by Pakistani police on January 27, “Mr. Davis” had alerted two consular employees to come to his help. On the way, the two employees steered their 4×4 over the median curb of the road and drove against oncoming traffic. They eventually ran over and killed another motorcyclist.

Although the incident and reports of protests in Pakistan may seem “business as usual,” the episode actually offers two very important lessons:

The most offensive part of the “Raymond Allen Davis Affair” wasn’t really the killing of the two motorcyclists (there isn’t much in the press about the two men’s exact intent). It was the other two Americans driving on the wrong side of the road and then killing an innocent motorcyclist. Frankly, if foreigners are in Pakistan (and Afghanistan, for that matter) to really help with establishing law and order, they should set an example by respecting that country’s laws and regulations – including traffic laws.

This is not a simplistic point. In 2010, many Afghans that I had talked to had complained about foreigners’ driving habits; especially their driving on the wrong side of the road in order to bypass heavy traffic. Worse, Afghans drew connections between foreigners’ lack of respect to traffic laws and their potential disrespect toward Afghan people. (Never mind the fact that not many Afghans respect those laws.)

It wouldn’t be too surprising if similar feelings are taking over Pakistanis these days.

A more important lesson to learn is that using private contractors instead of professional spies knowledgeable in regional customs and languages is ultimately going to undermine the CIA’s contribution to the war on terror. It is a truism that you go to war with whatever assets you have. But 10 years have passed since the United States became involved in the affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s more than enough time to recruit and train the types of agents who don’t expose their identities and the agency’s work in such mishaps. 



“Raymond Allen Davis” surrounded by Pakistani police – Images of this sort will hurt U.S. efforts much more than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda (Courtesy of AP Photo/Hamza Ahmed, File)

In the final analysis, American policy-makers should remember that tragedies and “accidents” like the “Raymond Allen Davis affair” in Lahore may cause popular tensions in Afghanistan and Pakistan to boil over and completely derail U.S. and NATO efforts in the two countries. Some Pakistanis are already questioning their ruling elite’s inability to stand up for their country. Down the road, they might take matters into their own hands – which will likely benefit the Taliban and Al-Qaeda rather than the United States and the international community.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).