When the departure of Deputy Director Stephen Kappes from his position at the CIA was announced this week, he was described as a CIA legend who’s been with the agency for nearly 30 years. The Washington Post reports that CIA officials portray Kappes’s departure as part of a long-expected transition. (The New York Times story on Kappes’s departure does not make this assertion.)
Ishmael Jones is the pseudonymous former Central Intelligence Agency case officer and author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published by Encounter Books and just out in paperback. Mr. Jones writes to add some context to Kappes’s departure:
The retirement of Steve Kappes, the CIA’s number two, is significant because he represented the status quo at the CIA. He was a fierce defender of CIA bureaucracy. Kappes was the “Suspenders” character in my book.
Kappes had repeatedly embarrassed the Bush administration. Kappes supported charges by Valerie Plame and her associates that Bush appointees had blown Plame’s cover. Kappes later resigned from the CIA in opposition to Bush appointee Porter Goss, and upon Goss’s ouster, Kappes returned to much fanfare. After the presidential election, congressional Democrats requested that President Obama appoint Kappes as CIA chief. When Obama chose Leon Panetta instead, Senator Diane Feinstein demanded that Kappes be appointed number two at the agency.
His departure suggests that the Obama administration understands that the status quo at the CIA is unacceptable.
The bomb attack at the CIA base in Khost helped push Kappes out. Kappes had personally briefed President Obama on the quality of the operation beforehand. Following the bombing, we learned that the operation had been a classic bureaucratic boondoggle: 14 people, many with little experience, had met the agent when there should have been only one. Espionage is a one on one business. With so many layers of management involved both in the field and at Headquarters, the chain of command was vague and no-one was really in charge. The CIA’s chief at Khost was set up for failure.
Kappes then attempted to recover from the Khost debacle by leaking news of the defection of an Iranian nuclear scientist. But closer examination showed this to be a hollow achievement. CIA officers are taught to keep agents operating in place because once they defect, their access to intelligence is lost. Defection is an option only when the agent’s life is at risk. And then, once an agent has defected, the news is not to be leaked to the press. The scientist in question turned out to be a low-level participant in the Iranian program who had left the program almost a year ago.
Kappes had outlived his usefulness and become a liability. And so, like Jeremiah Wright, under the bus he goes.
Ishmael Jones joined the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980’s, serving as a case officer focused on human sources with access to intelligence on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. His foreign assignments included more than 15 years of continuous overseas service, under deep cover, in numerous exotic countries and in several rogue nations. He resigned from the CIA in good standing in order to work for intelligence reform. The Human Factor is the first book written by a deep cover CIA case officer. Mr. Jones adds that he donates his royalties to veterans’ groups.