Who Killed the CIA?
The Confessions of Stansfield Turner (page 2)

October 1985

by Edward Jay Epstein

In the summer of 1977, after setting in motion a plan to eliminate 820 positions in the espionage branch (and notifying the affected case officers by a computerized form letter), Turner reported to President Carter that "the espionage branch was [now] being run ethically and soundly." This was no doubt what the President wanted to hear from his Director of Central Intelligence. The problem was that ethical espionage is a contradiction in terms. There are of course forms of intelligence gathering which violate no laws or ethical standards. For example, "national technical means," which includes satellite photography and electronic interception of data, is sanctioned by the United States and the Soviet Union in the SALT agreements; embassy attaches are permitted to report on what they observe; and defectors and travelers can be debriefed. But espionage, by definition is illegal. It is the theft of secrets from a foreign state. It involves bribing, blackmailing, or otherwise persuading a foreign national, in contravention of the laws of his country, to supply secret material or to plant an eavesdropping device. In addition, it is almost invariably necessary to use false identities, lies, and other deceptions to bide the theft itself. The process of organizing lawbreaking, as well as deceit, may be justified on the grounds that it is necessary for the safety and survival of a state, or, as it is called, raisons d. etat, but it can hardly be elevated to an ethical plane.

Consider, for example, the espionage flap that confronted Turner early in his career at the CIA. In July 1977 a young Soviet diplomat, Anatoli Filiatov, whom the CIA had been grooming as a ,'mole" in the Foreign Ministry, was caught by the KGB in Moscow. Then his American case officer, who had diplomatic' cover, was entrapped-and photographed-leaving espionage equipment, including lethal cyanide ampules, in a "dead drop" for the Soviet spy. After the American diplomat was expelled from Moscow, Soviet sources reported that a Soviet diplomat, who worked with Filiatov in the Foreign Ministry, was killed with a similar cyanide capsule, implying murder or suicide. In addition to losing an agent, and having a case officer exposed and implicated in a possible cyanide poisoning, the CIA had to assess whether it had been betrayed from within. Even though this disaster did not develop into a public scandal, Turner no doubt realized that activities such as these could not be easily converted into ethical espionage.

The new role Turner proposed for the espionage service was determining, through polling techniques, public-opinion trends in such countries as the Soviet Union, Iran, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina. As he explains: "The espionage branch is the ideal instrument . . . for uncovering such trends, even if doing so is almost an overt activity." Specifically, he suggested "using either undercover case officers or agents," with ,, the polling skill of George Gallup," to "take the pulse of a foreign country." The espionage branch, instead of illegally inducing enemy diplomats and intelligence officers to spy for the United States, would under such a scheme employ sociologists and anthropologists for this ethical, if somewhat academic, intelligence-gathering. He notes that there was strong resistance to this radical reform of his, explaining that it "was not considered espionage by the professionals." Nor would Stansfield's reform produce the enemy codes, plans, and other secret documents for which traditional espionage strives.

In any case, Turner offered his poll-taking idea only as a sop. His real design for the CIA involved effectively abolishing espionage, except as an ad hoc supplement in certain prescribed circumstances, and replacing it with "technical collection," which is information gathered by electronic and image interceptors in satellites, ships in international waters, and other remotely-based platforms. This is a fully understandable preference: espionage, done by human agents who are vulnerable to arrest, is inherently dirty, unethical, unreliable, and potentially explosive; technical collection, performed by machines, is clean, legal, reliable, and invulnerable to scandal. Turner's thesis, which he argues lucidly, is that in recent years "the growth in technological methods of information-gathering," such as satellites and computers, has produced revolutionary gains for American intelligence which render traditional espionage all but unnecessary-except as a backstop for technical collection.

While this "revolution" has been going on since World War 1, Turner is correct in asserting the paramountcy of technical collection today. It supplies the preponderance of intercepted data and reportedly accounts for well over 90 percent of the national intelligence budget. America's ability to suck in and "vacuum clean" data is superb: technical collection can detect enemy planes taking off, radar being switched on, missiles being fueled, and even tanks starting their engines. It can also, as Turner rightly points out, extrapolate from these data an enemy's intentions as well as his capacity for war.

All these marvels notwithstanding, technical collection remains a different form of intelligence gathering from espionage. It essentially intercepts data that are allowed to leak into the international ether. These data remain available either because an enemy does not know they are leaking, which is usually a temporary situation, or because an enemy does not deem it worth the expense to protect them through encryption, camouflage, or deception. Most of what is intercepted by technical collection therefore is not secret-at least in the sense that the enemy knows it is being intercepted. And nations can protect truly sensitive data that can potentially be intercepted. If, for example, the Soviet Union does not want secret transmissions to be read by American intelligence, it encrypts them in a one-time computerized code, which cannot be broken without knowing the constantly changing cipher. The raw data of course are still intercepted by American antennas, but they cannot be deciphered. Similarly, if the Soviet Union wants to prevent an object from being photographed by an American satellite, whose paths are predictable, it hides or disguises it. The picture is still taken, but the object is not visible.

Whereas technical collection is based on the leakage from electronic transmissions and physical phenomena, espionage is predicated on human leakage: it seeks to compromise individuals with access to secrets. If successful, it not only forces the individuals illicitly to divulge secrets, but it keeps the enemy from knowing. that his secret has been compromised. In doing so, it often provides the key which enables technical collection to be productive against secret information. For example, the breaking of the German Enigma coding machine in World War 11, which is usually regarded as a triumph of technical collection, proceeded from an unsung espionage triumph. In 1931, French intelligence recruited as a spy a German clerk in the Reich Cipher Center named HansThilo Schmidt. He provided the instruction manual and daily key settings for the Enigma machine over a two-month period. If these cryptography secrets had not been obtained, the German military codes generated by Enigma-though intercepted by the Allies- might never have been deciphered.

Espionage, since it is based on human vulnerability, can penetrate even the most heavily guarded repositories of national secrets. Soviet intelligence demonstrated this in the 1950's when -it recruited no fewer than five different American sources in the ultra-secret National Security Agency (NSA), the unit that supplies the codes and ciphers used by the American government. One of these KGB spies, Jack E. Dunlap, the chauffeur for the NSA's Chief of Staff, organized a number of staff officers into a larceny scheme, which allowed him access to the highest level cryptography, the "keys to the kingdom," as one military investigator put it. He delivered this material to his Soviet case officer in the Chief of Staff's limousine (the only car which could leave headquarters without being searched). This human spying made it possible for the Soviet Union to decipher the American data that had been gathered by its technical collection, and also to ascertain many of the targets of American technical collection.


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