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Interview - Frederick P. Hitz, former CIA Inspector General discusses his latest book "Why Spy? Espionage in an age of uncertainty"

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Introduction by Charles Rault - back to top

I was searching for ideas which would summarize the role of intelligence in the 21st century and which would explain in a concise and comprehensive way how to prevent (and deal with) today's and tomorrow's dangers ranging from conventional threats to mass destructive nightmares. In the meantime, President George W. Bush made his farewells and a very-awaited President, Barack Obama, is about to face the harsh reality of a dangerous world in which the enemy has become less identifiable and more difficult to catch. The time when intelligence officers exactly knew who they were fighting is over. Today, democratic societies fight against non-state actors; complex and sophisticated fanatic operatives. One could say the challenge was huge during the cold war too. Yes, it was and take it as hope: freedom prevailed.

But the real challenge now is not only winning the « war » against terrorism but winning the war of ideas in which the Bush presidency has been held responsible for making the USA (and the West in general) a very hard-sell. Telling if they were right or wrong is useless chiefly when considering what this administration had to deal with. What is essential is that winning the hearts and minds seems a pre-requisite to maximize the huge and often heroic accomplishments of the intelligence community. Since 9/11, a worldwide counterterrorism campaign has been initiated with a success that one must notice: no major terrorist attack took place in the United States since that day. In Europe, latest Al-Qaeda bombings took place in London three years and a half ago. Since then, there have been many attempts and France, Britain and Germany still declare the threat is real and the question remains « when and where it's gonna happen ». In the Mideast and Afghanistan, the situation complicated alot despite recent improvements in Iraq.

After a few searches, I found a book titled « Why spy? Espionage in an age of uncertainty » authored by Frederick P. Hitz. In addition to the title that immediately caught my attention, the fact that the author has been the first statutory Inspector General with the CIA from 1990 to May 1998 convinced me to purchase the book. His double competence as a former CIA top operative (including Deputy Director for Europe in the Directorate of Operations) and as a jurist constituted the perfect mix to tackle one of the main issues of today's intelligence: how to neutralize non-state actors through most lawful and most « human » ways? Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding showed that treatments which contradict with human rights bring more bad than good, not mentioning the fact that many prisoners seemed of poor interest from the viewpoint of intelligence collection. The reputation of the United States has been seriously damaged and terrorists benefited from a very successful recruitment campaign for free. Since intelligence faced new challenges, it must update its relation with what is lawful, unlawful, acceptable and non-acceptable in a combat against enemies who have no limits, both in imagination and in violence. Hence my choice to read Mr. Hitz's book.

The cover reads that « it is a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of international espionage and intelligence, Why spy? is a must-read not only for fans of Tom Clancy and John le Carré, but for anyone concerned about the security of the United States in a post-cold war, post-9/11 world. » Why Spy? provides the reader with a clear overview of the numerous (and sometimes very distinct) interactions of intelligence with the various threats originating from actors as different as terrorists, states and foreign and competitive business interests. On the other hand, it is not really for John Le Carré's fans since it rather provides you with a roadmap for 21st century's espionage than with an epic and risky story of a dark and charming spy. I agree, this book is definetely a must-read.

Interview of Frederick P. Hitz - back to top

Interviewer - Espionage or spying «involves an individual obtaining (i.e., using human intelligence HUMINT methods) information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information »; the systematic use of spies to get military or political secrets. Intelligence is the capacity to « gather and interpret information about an enemy ».(1) The title of your book contains the word « espionage » and not the word « intelligence ». Also, your book begins with a chapter titled « Espionage versus intelligence: How the United States goes about spying ».

Did you aim at stressing on the fact that in the war against terrorism and proliferation, there is still need to use spies to gather valuable information on people and interests? Europeans seemingly privileged HUMINT to SIGNINT, do you think it has been a main reason for the prevention till now of a 9/11-like attack on the European soil?

Frederick P. Hitz - I did not mean to suggest that humint is more valuable in the war against terror than sigint or photint or any of the other forms of intelligence collection. It is still the collection of secrets from foreign sources by illegal means. It is also much harder now than it was in the cold war. Without humint, it is hard to divine the intentions of the terrorist enemy.

Question 2 - A commentary published on the CSIS (3) website read that in March 2003, « the British government (had given) wide publicity to the threat of terrorist attack with chemical, biological or radiological weapons, and has warned the public that complete defence cannot be guaranteed. » British and German officials said that a non-conventional attack, with chemical weapons in particular, is unavoidable in the future.

Given the incaculable consequences a non-conventional attack would have, how must the intelligence community prepare for such a « certainty »? According to these statements, non-proliferation policies are quite uneffective, is the intelligence community involved enough with the combat against proliferation?

Answer 2 - Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are capable of doing the most damage to civilian populations, so the counter-terrorist forces have to be prepared to deal with these possibilities as the ultimate threat. That must be the prime responsibility of departments of homeland security around the world, whether it is through detection and public health triage or campaigns to halt proliferation. I believe the world is sensitive to these threats, but preparing to meet such an attack is still difficult for democracies.

Question 3 - You identified different motivations for espionage: ideological commitment; money and treasure; revenge and score settling; sex, intimidation and blackmail; friendship, ethnic and religious solidarity; and the sake of the (spy) game. Espionage operations which made the biggest damage to the United States were carried out by US citizens who were mid-level or top-level members of the intelligence community like Robert P. Hanssen or Aldrich Ames. You wrote that the « less admirable » motivation is a « desire for revenge , or to settle a long-term grievance. »

Can desire for revenge still encourage espionage against the United States by fellow citizens whereas they cannot be « recruited » by terrorist networks the same way they were by the Soviets in the 1980s? To your mind, what is the main motivation today of the terrorists and of their potential recruits « on site » ?

Answer 3 - I think the desire for revenge against an organization that may not have valued you is less of a motivating factor if the information surrendered would lead to civilian terrorist acts against the general population. What is the revenge against CIA if New York City is randomly attacked, for example? I think the primary motivation for espionage in an age of holy terror is a belief in the twisted version of Islam that equates a Western presence as an attack on Islam necessitating jihad.

Question 4 - Since the end of the cold war, espionage tackles Islamic extremism as the top security concern. The community's recruitment progressively focused on Arabic-speaking people and on people having broad knowledge of terrorism issues. Of course, this terrorism-centred approach of today's intelligence has been justified by 9/11. On the contrary, threats from states and from criminal groups still exist. Law enforcements experts declare that organized crime has never been so powerful and so wealthy. Officials say espionage from China or Russia remains very agressive against the United States and its allies.

As the threat comes from a range of actors, do you think the preference given to espionage against terrorist networks sinks the very needed counter-espionage into oblivion? Does the community pay enough attention to threats from states and organized crime?

Answer 4 - It is clear that Western espionage efforts now appear to revolve around the war on terror. But it is also important to remain alert to the possibility of subversion or espionage from other quarters, such as China, North Korea or Russia. I think it is accurate to say that we have not been spending as much time or effort concerned with these other challenges as we shall have to in the future, for they are still busy trying to steal our secrets.

Question 5 - In a recent statement that introduced hearing on « After Mumbai attacks » on January 8, US Senator Susan M. Collins (2) declared that « these attacks focused on soft targets like hotels, restaurants, a railway station, and a Jewish cultural center. And the Mumbai attackers used conventional – but still dreadfully lethal – weapons like automatic rifles and hand grenades to carry out their bloody mission. While terrorists will certainly still seek to acquire and use a weapon of mass destruction, the Mumbai attack underscores the threat posed by a few well-armed and well-trained individuals. »

Do these attacks signal a shift in terrorist tactics by combining conventional weapons and small groups?

Answer 5 - I think small groups armed with conventional weapons have been the principal terrorist challenge to civilian populations for some time. That was of course the essence of the 911 attacks. There is some evidence that the centrally directed terrorist threats such as Al Qaeda may be breaking down and are being replaced by random small groups of disenchanted terrorists who come together over the Internet to plan and carry out terrorist acts in widely disparate areas.

Question 6 - US President Barack Obama has appointed the former House Representative of California Leon Panetta as Director-designate of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Many comments from intelligence officials have been quite pessimistic as many insisted on the fact he never belonged to the agency. Other told that due to his three years (1994-1997) as former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, he will help the agency build a better relationship with the White House and the US Congress too. In the eigth chapter of your book, you ask « if political pressure from above caused some of the intelligence community assessments to be widely off the mark ».

So, what is your mind about the decision of President Obama not to appoint an intelligence expert? Should the community interpret this nomination as another attempt to politicize intelligence?

Answer 6 - I don’t think the nomination of Mr. Panetta as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency presents as much of a risk of further politicizing U.S. intelligence as of desiring to make sure there is not a fundamental split between the Agency, the President and the Congressional oversight committees. Certainly, President Obama wanted to turn the page on the use of coercive intelligence methods by CIA and the practice of “extraordinary rendition”, but he was equally anxious to heal the split between CIA and its colleagues in the Executive Branch and on Capitol Hill.

(1)Dictionaries of Princeton University, Wikipedia
(2)Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (Ranking Member)
(3)CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service)

Biography of Frederick P. Hitz - back to top

Mr. Frederick P. Hitz is a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law. Since 1998 he has been lecturing at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University and at the University of Virginia School of Law and Department of Politics. He has served extensively in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, including in the CIA’s clandestine service, as Legislative Counsel to the Director of Central Intelligence, and as Deputy Director for Europe in the Directorate of Operations.

Mr. Hitz was appointed the first statutory Inspector General of CIA by President George H.W. Bush. He served in that capacity from 1990-1998 when he retired. He was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal by the Director of Central Intelligence in 1998 and received a Resolution of Commendation from the US Senate upon the fifth anniversary of his tenure as CIA Inspector General in 1995. Among the many investigations he led at the CIA was the Aldrich Ames betrayal.

He has written extensively about espionage and intelligence issues, including a book entitled “The Great Game: the Myth and Reality of Espionage”, published by Knopf in 2004. In April, 2008, a second book entitled “Why Spy? Espionage in an Era of Uncertainty” by Mr. Hitz was published by St. Martin’s Press. Mr. Hitz is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Princeton University.

Reference of the book - back to top

Why spy? Espionage in an age of uncertainty
Frederick P. Hitz
ISBN 13: 978-0-312-35604-0
ISBN 10: 0-312-35604-8

Keywords: CIA, Espionage, Intelligence, Spy, Terrorism, USA, Russia, China

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