Days of work led to the decision to do nothing at all

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

Nada Bakos explains (in The Targeter) how the CIA and SOF followed different paradigms:

Or, by simple process of elimination, would going after a certain target automatically finger the source on the ground who’d provided us the information, thereby blowing an Agency asset? Sometimes days of work to identify a target led to the decision to do nothing at all.


Couriers don’t have the same ability to hide as their elusive superiors do. Those middlemen made easier targets for the less experienced staffers to identify.


We had been watching him for months and had decided that he was more useful outside of our custody because of the intelligence we were collecting. He had a few dating profiles in the various countries in which he was working.


Just as the CIA — the most hallowed intelligence agency in the world — responded to the attacks by stepping outside its established comfort zone and growing its paramilitary capabilities, McChrystal wanted SOF to expand its intelligence capabilities.


Actionable, life-threatening intelligence collected by the CIA can be immediately shared with the military. But in order for the Agency to share strategic intelligence derived from human assets, CIA protocol dictates that the information has to be scrubbed clean of any detectable clues that might give away the source’s identity. Adhering to that standard is something the Agency takes very seriously — and unlike, say, supplementing official cables with a little back-channel communication to a teammate in the field, jeopardizing an asset’s safety is a line you simply don’t cross.


The military doesn’t recruit and train its intelligence personnel the same way the CIA does.


They had terrific soldiers, and we were eager to use whatever information they could gather by kicking down doors, but they simply weren’t seeing the same information we were.


I wanted to disrupt and degrade Zarqawi’s group systematically in as few steps as possible. In most cases, I led my team to find shura council members, operations leaders, access players — bomb builders, mission planners, regional leaders, couriers, and perhaps some of Al Qaida in Iraq’s recruiters. In 2003 we had already developed a good idea of who those people were using multiple sources, and it was only a matter of time before we pinpointed where they were as well.


SOF was taking a more horizontal approach, looking for insertion points where they could find them. Boom-boom-boom: they were daisy-chaining, grabbing a player and then going after the next viable target that guy knew.


Burrowing through to an inner circle like Zarqawi’s, I believed, required the insight that Agency teams achieve only after years of analysis, human intelligence gathering, technical collection, and assistance from foreign partners.


We saw very quickly that the SOF military-style vision led to their misunderstanding individuals’ roles within Zarqawi’s network — if those individuals were part of the network at all. SOF commanders later told reporters that they were hitting the right individuals and raiding the right homes only around 50 percent of the time — and that they were satisfied with that.


By late 2004, we could see SOF approaches in Iraq becoming a quintessential example of how a tactical military operation can directly oppose a larger counterterrorism strategy. By necessity we had to allow some bad guys to continue to operate, because a slash-and-burn approach does not make trust and intelligence sharing possible. This meant keeping bad actors in place for the time being so they could inadvertently continue providing the CIA with valuable intelligence.

I understand that highly trained operators find that approach disagreeable. But my team got equally tired of SOF complaining, “Why don’t you have any new information for us?” and having to respond, “Well, the other day you killed the guy we were getting the information from.”


  1. Kirk says:

    Sounds good, with all the concern for the “assets”. Now, please explain why we’ve lost all our HUMINT sources in China, and how that happened?

    While you’re at it, someone please explain the casual manner in which they gave away all that US persons data from OPM, to the Chinese and whoever else wanted it?

    The intelligence conglomerate is incompetence personified. Virtually nothing that we got out of them in Iraq was at all useful, generally out of date, and often irrelevant. There may have been some above-top-secret crap that was of value, but the vast majority of their products that we got down at the tactical level were essentially useless. You’d get mission orders targeting enemy assets, and about 90% would be dry holes that the guys on the missions would later describe as being “never were” things, long-abandoned. Then, we’d get told “Oh, but we’re sure that site is active…”.

  2. VXXC says:

    Why is this woman writing this book? And, no, I’m not going to buy it. If someone read her justification, I’d entertain it.

    The WW2 British-American intel cooperation didn’t even start to leak until 1962, and “A Man called Intrepid” wasn’t published until 1976 — but only so they could get their version out instead of the then Soviet propaganda running rampant.

    Here’s the answer on Zarquawi; we killed him in 2006. We then started grinding his organization D’aesh to a paste over the next 3 years, only to have Obama and Lloyd Austin resurrect them in our prison camps and then train them in Jordan. You would know D’aesh 2.0 as ISIS.

  3. VXXC says:


    China has our Deep State and DC in its pocket. All the hubbub about China is just our government raising their prices so the Chinese pay more.

    Mattis too, of course.

    As far as OPM to China; that story came out, an American contractor found out root password privileges had been extended on the OPM software to a Chinese mainland contractor, a US contractor raised the alarm, all too late. Root is everything for the unwashed.

  4. Kirk says:

    The biggest mistake we made in Iraq and Afghanistan (aside from doing them in the first place, vice destroying Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for their complicity in 9/11…) was that we didn’t follow the Law of War strictly by trying and then executing all captured combatants as unlawful combatants.

    Had we done that? Two things would have happened–One, the point would have been made about non-state actors making war on Westphalian nation-states, and second, that we would have prevented ISIS from ever arising out of the ashes of the Zarqawi organization.

    Nobody talked about it at the time, but when the Obama administration pulled us out of Iraq, the prison down at Camp Bucca was full of those who later became ISIS leadership and organizers. The Iraqi government would likely have just executed them all, had we turned them over without “guidance”, but the Obama clownshow told them that they couldn’t do that… It would be “inhumane” to slaughter those vaguely human mad dogs.

    So, we got what we got. Thank you, Mr. President Obama, for pissing on the lives and deaths of all those men who sacrificed themselves to bring about a reform in Iraq, as futile as that enterprise was.

    I still think that Bush was trying a ju-jitsu move, there, but he failed to account for someone like Obama taking over after he left office. Idiot. Iraq and Afghanistan should have both been punitive smash-and-grab missions, not “nation-building”. Anyone thinking we were going to stay there fifty freakin’ years the way we did in Germany was smoking crack, and the odds are, it’d take 500 years to make Afghanistan even vaguely like Germany or Japan.

  5. Kirk says:


    Yeah, the OPM “breach” was something that nobody appreciated at the time, and which the media has never bothered to “explain” to the public at large.

    Everyone I know who was on the personnel security side of the house recognized it for what it was: A generational security loss and defeat of a magnitude nearly incomprehensible. All due to the Obama administration putting unqualified idiots in charge of it all, and then compounding the error by having the IT work subcontracted out to Democrat-affiliated crony companies that nobody had ever heard of before–Or, since.

    OPM’s loss of security is directly responsible for China being able to “make” any American operative in China or, for that matter, anywhere they’re interested enough to go looking things up.

    Thing that pisses me off is that they let that happen, did nothing about it past offering all of us who trusted ALL of our personal information to them a few years of “credit monitoring” from the cheapest Democrat-affiliated contractor they could find. The pricks had the audacity to turn that into a cash-cow for one of their own, after that.

    Once I realized the magnitude of the OPM breach, I realized that we were fuxxored as a nation. It’s only a matter of time, from here out. There’s no telling what they took out, or what they might have put in. I’ve heard speculation that Snowden and a few others like him were frauded into the system deliberately, although I’m not quite sure how that would have worked timeline-wise. The whole thing is a damn mess, and it will undoubtedly go down in the history books as a major turning point in the decline and fall of the United States.

    Basically, the OPM breach was a perfect guidebook to the Chinese intelligence services for how to suborn and blackmail US persons for whatever purpose. Anyone who was in OPM has all their personal information compromised, right down to all their relatives. If I had been on the active rolls as a security operative of any kind at the time that breach became known, I’d have quit on the spot. There’s too much in there that compromises and threatens people I care about–It would be way, way too easy for someone to look up the right individual, see who they’re related too, and then do a little bit of judicious hinting about things–”Your niece? Julianne? Nice school she goes to… Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen there, would we…?”.

  6. Kirk says:

    In general, the OPM “breach” is something I have no idea about fixing. I don’t see how it’s even possible–Every US person who had a clearance and their entire extended families were compromised by that breach. Where do you go from there? How do you find people who weren’t in that vast database to recruit, and since they were already having problems finding people who might have met the background qualification checks, what now?

    I’m not even sure there’s a way forward, from here. The OPM database was whatever is above the crown jewels of intelligence–Everybody was in there that we’d ever even investigated in order to grant them clearances, and just the people who were rejected could be very useful. Not to mention, the numbers of people who could have had their records “fixed” by Chinese (or, other entities with access…) agents is essentially incalculable. Basically, anyone who was in the OPM database should now be rendered untrustworthy, and the entire system should be reconstituted from first principles with entirely new people. At a cost of God-alone-knows how much…

    Basically, the entirety of the American security, law enforcement, and military personnel reliability and trust system was compromised. Utterly. And, I’ve seen nothing overt to show that they’re even trying to deal realistically with it all, either.

    So, yeah… It’s even possible that the last election was influenced by this loss. The OPM data would have been an excellent guide for where and who to apply pressure on, as well as who to put in place to influence things like vote-counting and law enforcement.

    I talk to people about this whole deal, and 99.9999% just don’t get it. They fail to comprehend the depth of the data lost, or how many key people were compromised by it all. I mean, the SF-86 has you listing everything from your family going back a generation or two, your financials, your friends, your criminal background… All that crap. All of it. Think what someone could do with that information, and realize that it is in the hands of our avowed enemies, and that everyone on our side is compromised.

    This is a thing that has absolutely not been made clear to the American public, and the people responsible for dealing with it all have apparently just been satisfied with locking the barn door after the horses have left and the barn burnt to the ground. At this point, the door really only exists in memory and imagination–That’s how bad it was. And, they’re doing nothing to fix the issue, at all.

    Don’t be real surprised if the US never wins at anything the Chinese don’t want us to, ever again–Or, if there are a succession of “intelligence failures” going forward that are “inexplicable”. They’re explicable, all right–The OPM breach nobody wants to talk about.

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    As that Chinese observer Sun Tsu wrote long ago: The true “Art of War” is to win without fighting.

    How did the OPM contract end up being awarded to a Chinese company anyway? OK. Nancy Pelosi and a number of other big Democrats are knowingly or unwittingly on China’s payroll — but US internal security must have been fairly incompetent in the first place to have allowed that to happen.

    All we can hope is the the data entry process to OPM was about as efficient as the average Department of Motor Vehicles.

  8. Jim says:

    Just don’t use computers for your sensitive files. It’s that simple. (Unless you secretly want to give it up.)

  9. Kirk says:


    You can research it for yourself, and I recommend that you do, in order that you’re not relying on my admittedly biased perspective.

    As best I can tell, the deal was that the Obama administration put OPM under an unqualified hack whose sole distinction was having been the political director on the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Katherine Archuleta had been warned about the issues, but did nothing. The exact details of what went on are rather opaque, in that they’re carefully talking around what really happened and who was responsible, but my read on things is that the system was likely penetrated a long time ago, and the blame may actually lie elsewhere.

    The thing that absolutely enrages me is that as a Security Manager in the military, it was my job to oversee the safety and security of the whole process. Typically, you submitted the SF-86 on a floppy disc after the individual applying for the clearance input all their personal data. This was done on a classified machine, and the resultant disks had to be safeguarded. Had I lost one? Let alone several million individual records? My ass would be under Leavenworth until the sun went out. The asshole political hacks they put in charge of OPM did not one ‘effing day in jail, and there were even arguments against holding them accountable!

    As a nation, the erosion of standards and accountability for things like this are far more indicative of the essential destruction of our society than anything else. Time was, someone like Archuleta would never have been put in a position of trust like that, but the Obama admin treated OPM like a reward for political work, akin to an ambassadorial job. We can see the results.

    Things like this are why I’m more-or-less certain that we’re essentially doomed as a nation. The idiocy of putting some political hack like Archuleta in charge of something like OPM is just incredible, and what’s even more incredible is that nobody has paid attention to it outside the circle of those who know what the realities of intelligence work are, and because of that, nobody cares.

    Reality is, that single event alone? It should have been treated like a digital Pearl Harbor, and it should have led to the immediate prosecution and ostracization of all responsible parties. None of the assholes in the Obama administration who were even on the periphery of that sequence of decision and dereliction of duty should be allowed positions of trust and responsibility, and the Congressional oversight that should have taken place and yet didn’t…?

    Frankly, just mentioning this crap to me raises my blood pressure dangerously. I can’t over-emphasize what a huge, huge “thing” this was, and nobody seems to really recognize it or give a flying fuck.

  10. Jim says:

    Kirk, Afghanistan supplies the world’s opiates. It is possible neither to smash nor grab a plant. Guard the poppy fields or bust.

  11. Gavin Longmuir says:


    Watch your blood pressure. We can’t afford to lose you!

    You are right that the US is heading straight for a cliff. We have not been watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots. We have mostly not even been paying attention as the country was stolen from beneath our feet.

    One little incident in the Soetero years really caught my attention. United Airlines used to have a number of non-stop flights from the US to the Middle East. Apparently, a big slice of the business was carrying US military personnel and freight. Seems fair enough, US taxpayers paying for flights on a US airline.

    Then Barry’s boys awarded the contract to Jet Blue instead of United. But hang on! Jet Blue does not fly to the Middle East. No, all Jet Blue had was a code share arrangement with Dubai’s Emirates Airlines. So the military traffic went on to Emirates and United withdrew from the market.

    No disrespect to Dubai, from whom we could learn many lessons. They don’t have an equivalent of the IRS, but do have a Minister of Happiness (because a happy workforce is a productive workforce). But there is no need for the US taxpayer to subsidize Dubai’s airline.

    Nobody in the Swamp cared. They get their (our) lunch money stolen every day, and they don’t even notice. Sic transit Gloria!

  12. Kirk says:


    Oh, I’m pretty sure that society could withstand my loss, and might even gain from it–At least, from the perspective of most.

    Curmudgeons are a dime-a-dozen; all you have to do is wait for those who can’t avoid looking around them with clear vision to age and experience enough, and you’ve got plenty more where I came from.

  13. TRX says:

    > I’ve heard speculation that Snowden and a few others like him were frauded into the system deliberately,

    Snowden was a minor tech at an IT contractor. He should never have had unrestricted access to those servers. That violates basic security protocol, just to start with. Any “secure” network, information would be siloed, not dumped into a common namespace for anyone to probe through.

    He should never have been allowed to move any storage media – including a cellphone, mp3 player, or smart watch – into or out of the security DMZ.

    And simple quota and auditing tools, built right in to every major OS and network, should have set off alarms when someone started accessing gigabytes of data.

    That’s just the big things.

    Even for .gov levels of dumbassery, it’s simply too many security fails to be credible.

    Also note that while the Fed and media claimed to be gobsmacked by the “revelations”, not all of them were verifiable, and almost all of the rest were either public knowledge or widely assumed as fact by IT security types for decades. Some of the Snowden stuff was discussed in the usenet comp.risks forum back in the early 1990s… well, I guess being that long ago, it might as well all be new again.

    Back in the ’60s the Soviets planted Golitsyn on us, and drove the CIA half-mad on mole hunts after that. I’m thinking we returned the favor with Snowden.

  14. Foam Fifth Column says:

    What if it isn’t incompetence but malice? Burn it all down better, comrade.

  15. Bill Miller says:


    Thank you for your valuable insight. The extent of the SF-86 breach is indeed huge. As a suburban husband and father outside who works outside of government, please tell me what “we are essentially doomed as a nation” means to me and what I should do to prepare. Thank you again.

  16. Kirk says:

    Bill Miller,

    I’ve really got no idea. None at all.

    On the one hand, evaluating things from a traditional espionage angle, the OPM loss was a loss of truly epic proportions, a personnel security Pearl Harbor. You really can’t trust anything in that vast database at this point, and you see nothing at all about that fact being dealt with publicly. I’m not even sure what you could do, short of booting everyone currently in the system and starting over with new people, which would be… Problematic, to say the least.

    Not only do you need to worry about corruption in the data, you have to concern yourself with what could be done with it. If you’ve ever seen an SF-86, and the depth of background information in one, plus all the investigative stuff that gets triggered and then kept linked to the same files? Literally everything about millions non-affiliated people are linked in there, as well–My nieces and nephews, for example. My parents, in-laws, brothers, sisters… You name it; going back a couple of generations for those of us who had deeper background checks because of foreign connections or whatever. Access to that database was literally a roadmap to our personnel security system, and when you add into the fact that it can no longer be trusted, at all, in any way? People could have had derogatory information inserted, positive information deleted, and all sorts of false identities could have been created and inserted. Passive access to it was damaging enough, but everything I’ve seen points to the penetration having included such insertions and deletions.

    So, basically, nothing can be trusted.

    The cavalier way they dealt with the security loss is maddening. I’m still getting letters about it.

    Of course, this isn’t the first or the last time it happened, either–I just got a letter warning me that all of my personal information had been compromised by some freakin’ military charity that I never once used or even really was aware existed. Who the hell is warehousing and then keeping all this information laying around, without real security? Why aren’t people being held accountable for any of it?

    As to consequence for “average America”? No idea. None. All I can say is that everyone you rely on for national security is compromised, at this point. You can’t trust a damn one of us, because you just don’t know what is lurking in the background. Dude has a clearance; you go to hire him for classified work, only to find out that he’s been subject to Chinese blackmail. The follow-on effects from this are incalculable, to be honest–Lots of the reason why people like hiring military veterans is because of the fact they’ve been vetted and have a track record. But, what if you can’t trust what’s in the system? The damage, long-term, is mind-numbing. Who is going to hire anyone for anything that’s subject to blackmail over something in their background, whose family and friends are in a database that exposes them to extortion? Guess what, folks? Now, even an honorable military career and discharge certificate mean that you’re subject to a loss of trust due to these issues. The effect is insidious.

    None of this crap should have been collected up and digitized, and once that was done, it should never have been left as insecure as it was. This was an own-goal of epic proportion, and there’s no way of knowing all the long-term ramifications of it all. You’re not going to know until American warships are being sunk due to things like the Walker ring or other intelligence failures.

    What you can do about it all? No idea. None at all. Point and laugh at the hubristic nature of it all, and hope against hope, going forward, that we can compensate for all of this? Hum a few bars, fake it, and just keep hoping? That’s about all I can really say. The full ramifications of all this aren’t really knowable, and about all I can say is that the handwriting is on the wall with all the stuff making the news about the Chinese “making” all our operatives and so forth internationally, and not even bothering to hide it. I would wager that most of our losses in this realm are traceable right back to the OPM breach, along with the Obama-era rolling up of our networks in China.

    Venal incompetence is what it was, unrecognized and unpunished. You really cannot overstate the potential harm of all this, going forward.

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