Ishmael Jones is the pseudonymous former Central Intelligence Agency case officer who focused on human sources with access to intelligence on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. His assignments included more than 15 years of continuous overseas service under deep cover.
Mr. Jones is also the author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published by Encounter Books. When it was issued in paperback he contributed the post “CIA spies and Dartmouth deans,” exploring a theme of his book.
On Monday Bill Gertz reported that the CIA has sued Mr. Jones over the publication of the book. Gertz’s article does a good job of exploring the issues raised by the lawsuit. Mr. Jones offered to expand on his comments to Gertz for us. He writes:
The CIA filed a lawsuit against me recently for writing a book without CIA approval. I’d been a CIA officer in a career which included more than 15 years of continuous undercover assignments in foreign countries, which is very rare given that CIA officers spend most of their careers in the United States. I showed the book to the CIA’s censors and sought their approval, repeatedly asking what they wanted taken out of the book, but over the course of a year they just waffled.
In the end, it was my duty as an American to defy censors, and I went ahead and had the book published, as a tool for use in influencing the improvement of our clandestine service.
The book contains no classified information and I do not profit from it. CIA censors stonewalled this book because it exposes the CIA as a place to get rich, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted or stolen in espionage programs that produce nothing. Despite the talented work force, more than 90 percent of employees now live and work entirely within the United States where they are largely ineffective, in violation of the CIA’s founding charter.
We need to make Americans safer by increasing the tiny numbers of CIA heroes serving under cover in foreign lands. We need financial accountability and whistleblower systems to stop tremendous waste and theft. The good news is that we can achieve these things simply by enforcing regulations that already exist. It’s already illegal to steal government funds, and we should enforce the CIA’s founding charter requiring that the CIA focus on espionage in foreign countries.
When a former CIA employee publishes a book, the conventional wisdom is that the CIA is wise to ignore it because to do otherwise merely gives the book attention.
But ordering the lawsuit was a way for CIA chief Leon Panetta to curry favor with the CIA’s senior bureaucrats, who dwell on the seventh floor of its headquarters, and who oppose critics of the Agency’s current lifestyle. Panetta is beleaguered at the CIA and is in over his head. He has been Stockholmed by CIA bureaucracy and has become another failed Obama appointee.
It’s great to be an American. In many countries it would be a death sentence to accuse the head of the spy service of incompetence.
Our nation’s Founders recognized that censors will approve books that serve the censors’ agenda and will block books that don’t. Of course an intelligence agency must protect its secrets, but there have always been laws designed for this purpose. The CIA’s ability to censor speech that does not contain classified information is a separate right that the CIA was granted in the 1970’s, in the Snepp case. It is more than an infringement upon the First Amendment. It shields the CIA from accountability and allows them to stifle whistleblowers.
CIA censors do little to stop the leaking of actual classified information. They will permit the publication of startling amounts of classified information if a book is written by an influential bureaucrat, such as the book by former CIA chief George Tenet. The leaking of classified, secret, damaging information to the New York Times and the Washington Post by senior bureaucrats, for the benefit of political agendas, has reached criminal levels at the CIA. The New York Times and the Washington Post have developed franchises around this. As an unfortunate consequence, you’ll rarely see any mention of intelligence reform from these newspapers, because to do so would upset their sources on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters.
All other effective organizations in the United States have accountability mechanisms. If a veteran in the Marine Corps, with an unblemished record, stated that billions of dollars were being stolen or wasted and that missions were not being accomplished, the Marines would call that person in immediately to ask what he was talking about, to get to the bottom of it, start an investigation, and fix it.
During part of my CIA training I was trained by Drug Enforcement Agency agents. The DEA agents taught me that when they arrested an innocent person, that person asks many questions: What’s this all about, what’s going on here? But guilty people don’t ask questions because they already know the answers. I am accusing CIA director Leon Panetta of condoning fraudulent operations that leave Americans vulnerable and that steal or waste billions of dollars, and he doesn’t have any questions. That’s because he already knows the answers. Panetta thinks he can oversee theft and waste and that he can then sue the man who calls him on it.
If I can win this lawsuit, or even just do a good job fighting it, I will be able to bring attention to CIA reform that can result in greater safety for Americans and our allies.
We have previously noted that Mr. Jones is contributing all his royalties to veterans’ groups. One of the remedies sought by the CIA in the lawsuit is the seizure of the author’s profits on the book.
We are grateful to Mr. Jones for giving us the opportunity to submit his pointed comments on these important issues to the judgment of our readers.
UPDATE: Encounter Books publisher Roger Kimball comments on this post in “A bad day for the spooks.”