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Vacancy! CIA Baghdad desk needs a chief

February 20, 2004 22:40 IST

The Central Intelligence Agency has a big problem at hand.

Recently the agency had to sack its top officer in Baghdad amid questions about his ability to lead the gargantuan station there, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The move came amidst increasingly violent and sophisticated attacks on US and coalition soldiers and their military bases.

"There was just a belief that it was a huge operation and we needed a very senior, very experienced person to run it," an US official was quoted as saying by the paper.

The job of Baghdad station chief includes briefing top US officials in Iraq, providing frequent updates to Washington on the stability of the country, and overseeing all of the operations and analysis done in Iraq.

The agency, added the report quoting intelligence sources, also had to close down several base stations in Afghanistan due to concerns about the deteriorating security situation there.

Current and former CIA officers quoted by the paper say the frequent chops and changes have affected the agency's ability to penetrate guerrilla groups in Iraq, find Osama bin laden and collect effective ground intelligence.
The CIA's Baghdad station is the largest in agency history, larger than the station the agency maintained in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam war. Sources said the number of agency personnel top 500 in the Iraqi capital

But sources told the paper that the CIA has not been able to fill up key overseas posts. In fact the few officers who agree to take on overseas assignments are willing to serve only 30-90 day rotations, said the sources.

This rotational policy prevents the ability to foster ties with warlords and informants.

Moreover the shortage of Arabic speakers and qualified case officers has forced the agency to recruit dozens of CIA retirees and depend heavily on translators.

The agency, said the sources, is also using soldiers for task normally reserved for officers.

Sources told the paper that the security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan are 'so dangerous' that is impossible for an operative to venture out without a security detail making it difficult to carry out covert meetings.

"With Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, with Iraq, I think they're just sucking wind," one former officer told the paper.

Many officers slammed the agency 'leadership and culture' for the current set of problems.

"They claim that they've rebuilt the (clandestine service) and it's firing on all cylinders," said a former station chief in the Middle East. "Is it? I would say not. Not if you don't have trained manpower."

But the CIA is not impressed with such criticism. President George W Bush recently voiced support for the six-year CIA director George J Tenet.

But there is no doubt that the agency in soup with several probes into its prewar assessments on Iraq, and an independent commission still investigating intelligence failures related to the September 11 attacks.


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