“The CIA has the highest divorce rate of any government agency” a source of mine said. Since he was a career intelligence veteran in his 70’s, I figured he was probably correct. Thus began a search to answer some questions with larger boundaries, like why the extreme resistance to change, and why the dramatic intelligence failures that no one studies more than the IC itself?
Why study dysfunction in national intelligence agencies? Because polite society is deeply dependent on a good, functional, healthy and wise intelligence community, all the more so in an age of terrorism and spreading WMDs. If you are sick, we are in danger. Actually, we are in plenty of danger already, so we pray most sincerely for your quick and complete recovery.
The Intelligence Community is also besieged by critics, some of whom don’t have a clue what they are talking about, so a high degree of skepticism is appropriate to dramatic claims like I will make here. Even high ranking, career insiders with large staffs and mandates (like ex-NSA director, General William Odom) have a difficult time grasping the totality of the IC system and struggle to get a hearing for their sincere reform proposals (1). Such thoughtful reviews typically deal with policy, budgets and organizational structure, but few can deal with the taboos I will discuss today. The best, and last such daring effort I am aware of was “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence” (2) by a former exec. to a DDCI* and a five year veteran of State. Thirty years later, after many large reviews (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) the parallels with cult dysfunction remain profound.
Part of my answer is disturbing. Intelligence “Tradecraft” induces mental illness. To some this is heresy, to others, much less than a shocking discovery. Still it bothers me. Combine that induction with the exceptional stresses that go with operations and even with some analytic work, and you have a formula for tattered relationships. The security clearance system frustrates getting effective help, since the circle of ‘OK’ counselors is tiny and their loyalty to the company is usually greater than their loyalty to you. Trust is a precious thing in all human affairs, none more so than in marriages and counseling. But trust is also a fragile asset in the corrosive environment of spies, lies and endless rules regarding whom you can talk to, how and when.
Since security clearances required for one’s career frustrate getting effective help, and since exceptional stresses undoubtedly exist that are inexorable parts of the difficult work that spies, analysts and CI* people do, almost everyone inside is affected. When everyone is affected few can see the damage clearly. Those who do often leave their agencies with the stain of ‘not being a team player’ or ‘disgruntled’ or ‘not that good anyway.’ Other psychological defenses are profound, really, impressively armor-plated. So strong measures and words are necessary. * The rest of this essay will address this problem bluntly, but aims at solutions for practitioners.
This rather long paper was presented by invitation at an open-source intelligence conference in Washington D.C. in April of 2004. This was part of a much larger project, largely sponsored by the CIA and run by a retired but long-serving CIA DO officer to shake up the obsessions with secrecy at many of our 3 letter intelligence agencies that obstruct clear, timely and accurate assessments of critical issues. The paper deals with a fundamental truth that is widely recognized but almost never discussed publicly, that Intelligence Tradecraft induces mental illnesses in most ordinary people. Therefore it has rather provocative sections on several taboo topics, like pervasive paranoia and even psychopathy among the troops, bureaucratic barriers to getting help for those conditions, and old CIA programs that studied many such things and some even worse like MK-ULTRA. When presented for publication to the senior editor of one of the world's leading journals on intelligence affairs, he told me that there was no doubt that this is a serious problem, but "we don't want to discuss it publicly." Therefore, I cheerfully donate it to the U of MN's excellent Digital Conservancy! I was later given a "Golden Candle" award by the "Open Source Solutions" group that was the nominal sponsor of this conference series for "bringing light to dark corners of the intelligence community."
Andregg, Michael M..
Why the Intelligence Community (IC) System Drives you Crazy, and How to Come in from the Cold.
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