The heart of the intelligence business
is the an illegal enterprise: the surreptitious theft of
state secrets from other nations. The surreptitious part
of the equation is crucial since it provides unexpected
knowledge. This endeavor also requires air-tight secrecy
because the usefulness of the intelligence derived from
this data depends on the other side not realizing that it
is missing or compromised. Once an adversary realizes that
a particular secret is known, it can take effective action
to diminish its value. For example, if a nation finds out
that one of its diplomatic codes has been broken, it can
either change the code or use it as a channel to transmit
messages it wants its adversary to read.
To maintain their flow of unexpected
secrets, intelligence service have a double job. First,
they must steal secrets of value, which is the easy part.
Second, they must conceal all traces of the theft for as
long as they want the information to remain valuable. To
meet this latter requisite, espionage agents are instructed
to photocopy documents in place rather than tampering with
them or removing them ; and, in situations where this is
not possible, intelligence services employ technical staffs
of experts to obliterate any clues that the documents gave
been tampered with, or temporarily removed to be copied.
The security problem does not end, however, with hiding
the original theft. Intelligence services must protect the
secret that they have stolen valuable information, such
as a code, even after it is put to use-- so it can be of
future use. This final task of intelligence often requires
the creation of a set of alternative false, through plausible
sources, to prevent the adversary from figuring out from
the use of the intelligence what--or who-- could possibly
have compromised or supplied it. The protection of sources
and methods involves not only keeping a secret but also
fabricating "red herrings" to divert, confuse and overload
enemy investigations with extraneous and false information.
When British intelligence learned of German military operations
in the second world war through its intercepts of coded
signals, it protected the secret by creating fictional human
agents who could be plausibly assigned the credit for the
coup. In the same manner, human sources are often hidden
by behind a screen of fictional scientific devices.
This necessary practice of intelligence
services protecting truths with bodyguards of lies or red
herrings has also resulted in the systematic pollution of
public knowledge about espionage through deliberately-planted
fictions. Intelligence services employ entire covert actions
staffs to muddy the waters around important cases by leaking
selected bits of information. For example, the "story" of
Oleg Penkovskiy, a Soviet GRU officer in contact with British
intelligence in the mid 1950s and then again in the early
1960s, has been put out in different versions by three intelligence
services-- the CIA, the KGB and the British. The CIA indeed
fabricated a diary for him which became a best-selling book
in the United States. Although both CIA and British counterintelligence
had grave suspicions about the information Penkovskiy supplied,
especially during his latter career, the CIA's public version
gave him credit for events to which he had no connection.
While such sprinklings of untruths into the historic record
may be justifiable from the point of view of protecting
sources and methods, and therefore vital to the integrity
of the intelligence organization, the distortions that they
produce may it virtually impossible for outsiders to understand
the intelligence business (which may not be entirely unintentional).
Indeed, even in the United States, except for the rare glimpses
provided by Congressional hearings, such as those of the
Church Committee, the public perception of the secret world
of intelligence has always been closely controlled by the
intelligence services themselves either through contract
employees who write books they submit for review or defectors,
under contract to the CIA, FBI or DIA, who, after being
briefed, contact journalists or Congressional staffs.
This was the situation up until November
1979 when Iranian students seized an entire archive of CIA
and State Department documents, which represented one of
the most extensive losses of secret data in the history
of any modern intelligence service. Even though many of
these documents were shredded into thin strips before the
Embassy, and CIA base, was surrendered, the Iranians managed
to piece them back together. They were then published in
1982 in 54 volumes under the title "Documents From the U.S.
Espionage Den", and are sold in the United States for $246.50.
As the Teheran Embassy evidently served as a regional base
for the CIA, The scope of this captures intelligence goes
well beyond intelligence reports on Iran alone. They cover
the Soviet Union, Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait
and Iraq. There are also secret analysis of arcane subjects
ranging from the effectiveness of Israeli intelligence to
Soviet oil production. Presumably, these thousands of documents,
which include cryptnyms and routing instructions from and
to concerned agencies of the United States government, have
been extensively analyzed by the KGB and other intelligence
service interested in the sources and methods used by the
The most revealing documents are the
CIA's own internal directives that span a twenty year period.
When these are read in chronological order, they trace a
remarkable conceptual changes in the way the CIA conceived
of its job-- and enemy. It indeed casts an entirely new
light on the bitter battles that tore the CIA apart in the
mid-1970s, and it explains some of its more recent failures
to properly evaluate intelligence defectors.
The watershed year was 1973-- just after
the retirement of Richard Helms. That year there was an
180 degree switch in the crucial policy concerning the recruitment
of Soviet Bloc officials, called appropriately RED TOPS.
At issue, was the way that these RED TOPS, primarily Communist
diplomats, intelligence officers, or military attaches stationed
abroad, were to be treated if they "walked in", and surreptitiously
approached American officials and offered either to defect
or to remain in place and supply U.S. intelligence with
Soviet secrets. Would they assumed to be sincere defectors,
and enrolled in American espionage? Or would they be suspected
of being KGB disinformation agents, and held in limbo? This
conceptual determination is central to the spy business.
Up until 1973, the CIA had assumed that
Soviet intelligence services commonly used "provocations"
as a technique to test and manipulating its opponents in
the intelligence game. As bait in these provocations, the
KGB would order Soviet embassy officials to make contact
with U.S. officials and feign disloyalty. In fact, over
the years, the CIA had found that a large number of RED
TOP officials who contacted the CIA, ostensibly to defect,
turned out to be under the control of the KGB; and used
to confuse American intelligence with disinformation, lead
it on a wild goose chase, expose its sources or methods,
or simply embarrass it by contriving an incident. As early
as 1959, to guard against KGB-controlled provocateurs, the
CIA had insisted that the bona fides of a RED TOP walk-in
be established through a counterintelligence investigation
before he is treated as a source of intelligence. This procedure
was explicitly defined in "Director of Central Intelligence
Directive 4/2", signed by Allan Dulles. It states:
The establishment of bona fides of disaffected
persons will be given particular attention because of the
demonstrated use of defector channels by hostile services
to penetrate or convey false or deceptive information to
U.S. Intelligence services. (Volume 53, p.8)
The responsibility for making this determination
of "bona fides" had been assigned to the chief of the counterintelligence
staff, James Angleton, and it obviously gave him great power
over the recruitment of REDTOPS. It also led to considerable
rivalries within the CIA, and especially with the Soviet
Russia Division, which wanted to control its own recruitments
among Soviet officials.
In 1973, William E. Colby, the son of
a Jesuit missionary, whose main experience in the CIA had
been in paramilitary and political activities, became first
the comptroller, then Director, of Central Intelligence.
It was the beginning of a revolution. As he explains in
his autobiography, he rejected the complicated view of KGB
strategic deception. Instead of worry about such enemy tricks,
he saw the job of the CIA as a straight forward one of gathering
intelligence for the President. And, to accomplish this,
he believed "walk in" defectors should be encouraged and
given the benefit of the doubt, rather than suspected. He
complained that in the past the CIA "spent an inordinate
amount of time worried about false defectors and false agents."
What now emerges from the Teheran archive was how far Colby
went in abruptly revising this doctrine on REDTOPS. A top
secret order, entitled "Turning Around REDTOP walk ins",
which went out to all CIA stations in 1973, advised:
Analysis of REDTOP walk-ins in recent
years clearly indicates that REDTOP services have not been
seriously using sophisticated and serious walk-ins as a
provocation technique. However, fear of provocations has
been more responsible for bad handling than any other cause.
We have concluded that we do ourselves a disservice if we
shy away from promising cases because of fear of provocation...We
are confident that we are capable of determining whether
or not a producing agent is supplying bona fide information.
( Volume 53, p.32)
Instead of holding in abeyance REDTOPS
until their bona fides could be established, this new doctrine
gave case officers in the Soviet Bloc Divisions carte blanc
to recruit "producing agents" on the assumption that their
worth would be established after the fact by the quantity
and quality of information they furnished. This new order
changed the entire philosophy of the CIA in a single swoop.
By effectively eliminating the prior task of establishing
bona fides, it undermined Angleton's position in the CIA,
and made superfluous his counterintelligence staff. In light
of this change, it is not surprising that Angleton, after
bitterly fighting this new policy, which contradicted the
empirical findings of the past 20 years, was forced out.
Although Angleton was fired in December 1974, after Colby
first planted a Pulitzer Prize news leak with the NY Times,
the full dimensions of this power struggle only became known
through the documents in the Teheran archive.