Sunday, January 16, 2005
This story about a retired CIA agent seems to intentionally or unintentially support the big lies about 911.
Spy-Turned-Author Looks Back At a CIA Mired in Bureaucracy
By Steve Coll
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2005; Page A17
"Look at me," Melissa Boyle Mahle said, her blue eyes shining, her short blond hair cropped in place as she leaned across her desk. "This is who we recruit to run against the Arab target."
She does appear a more likely infiltrator of Belfast than Beirut. Yet for 14 years after she joined the CIA's clandestine service as an operations officer in 1988, Mahle belonged to that cadre whose small numbers were often lamented after Sept. 11, 2001 -- American spies who spoke fluent Arabic and liked working the street.
She served five tours in the Arab world, running operations and recruiting agents. But now, after departing unhappily from the CIA in 2002 over "a mistake" in the field "to which I admitted freely," Mahle is the latest in a parade of disillusioned spies to write a memoir, pitching herself into the debate over what is wrong with American intelligence.
Like several of her CIA predecessors in print -- Robert Baer, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Michael F. Scheuer, who published two books as "Anonymous" -- Mahle sees her former agency as too often mired in process, averse to risk and poorly managed.
Her new book, "Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA From Iran-Contra to 9/11," is measured in tone and often generous to former colleagues and CIA leaders. But she also declares that the CIA became "totally focused on its own innards" in the 1990s and then proved unwilling to hold itself accountable after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Too often, Mahle writes, the agency has been hamstrung by "the rise of the committee, the anointing of bureaucracy, and the crowning of process."
She praises former CIA director George J. Tenet's management vision but denounces what she describes as his "total denial of failure" after Sept. 11.
Mahle writes that she and her colleagues at first thought that when Tenet defended himself in public after the attacks, he was just following "our mantra, 'Deny Everything.' " But as time passed, Mahle came to believe "[o]bviously something went wrong: why could the CIA not admit this?"
She concluded that Tenet "played it safe and played politics" and failed "to take the actions necessary to wage a real war on terrorism."
Her criticism echoes the recently reported findings of the CIA's inspector general. The IG's unpublished draft report on CIA leadership failures during the run-up to Sept. 11 is threatening to reopen debate about individual blame at Langley -- issues that congressional investigators had avoided, arguing that the failures were systemic.
Tenet, who is writing his own book, remains adamant that his record will be vindicated by investigators and by history. "Even a casual reading of the public testimony George Tenet gave before Congress, going back to the mid-1990s, would demonstrate that his was the loudest and clearest voice on the threat that al Qaeda presented to the United States," said his spokesman, Bill Harlow.
Mahle said she began her book project initially with far less pointed questions in mind. There were no good, recent guides for new CIA employees. After serving a tour in the hiring center, Mahle said, she feared recruits might labor under the mistaken belief that their new office would be like those depicted on television shows such as the Fox Network hit "24," where glamorous intelligence officers equipped with matchless technology make crisp, bold decisions to take down terrorists.
Reality, Mahle said, too often resembled her own experience at a West Bank restaurant in the mid-1990s. Eating at the next table was convicted terrorist planner Abu Abbas, mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, from which hijackers killed and pushed overboard wheelchair-bound, 69-year-old American tourist Leon Klinghoffer.
"You should go arrest him," Mahle recalled her Palestinian lunch companion urging. But Mahle had no authority to do so. Instead, she wrote a cable to headquarters and touched off a months-long interagency debate in Washington about whether Abbas had been granted amnesty under Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, and whether the United States had sound legal and foreign policy reasons to indict him.
Abbas later found refuge in Baghdad. U.S. forces arrested him after the 2003 invasion of Iraq but had still not resolved his legal status when he died of natural causes last year.
After Sept. 11, Mahle said, experiences like her lunch beside Abbas led her to wrestle with questions about CIA reform "down in the weeds," far beneath the top-line wiring diagrams debated during the recent push for legislative reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community.
If that new law, which vests power in a centralized director of national intelligence and mandates other sweeping administrative changes, "is the end of the process, we're in big trouble," Mahle said.
Part of the trouble in the CIA's trenches, she argues, arises from the agency's hermetically sealed office culture, where secrecy and security can become excuses for avoiding risk.
She cites the agency's continuing struggles to recruit Arab Americans, Asian Americans and other second-generation immigrants with native speaking ability who might blend more successfully into Third World societies than someone who looks like her.
As a CIA recruiter, Mahle said she sent many well-qualified, diverse candidates on for security review, only to see large numbers wash out. While some were rejected for straightforward reasons, such as lying about past drug use, others were turned away because their "psychological profile" did not match the CIA's abstract ideal or because their family and social contacts overseas made their backgrounds hard to scrub.
"Security has no incentive to take risks," Mahle said.
The result "was best illustrated by a panoramic view of the swearing-in of the first class to enter on duty . . . after September 11; it was a sea of white faces."
A spokeswoman said the CIA "is actively pursuing individuals who have traveled abroad, have strong or native foreign language proficiency, prior residency abroad, particularly individuals with a background in Central Eurasia, East Asia and the Middle East. While we do encounter challenges in conducting security checks on some individuals, having family members who reside abroad is not an impediment to agency employment."
Mahle describes her own struggles as a woman in the male-dominated Directorate of Operations, which runs covert action abroad. Because the CIA has no provision for maternity leave, "while I was in labor delivering my first baby . . . I fielded calls on threat information from U.S. Secret Service agents" preparing for a visit by President Bill Clinton to Gaza and Bethlehem.
She said she cannot describe the field mistake that led to her forced departure from the CIA because the agency has warned her "in a very threatening letter" that the details are classified. She said only that her error involved "an unauthorized contact" overseas that was "not reported in a timely manner," and that her loyalty unjustly came under suspicion. She also said that during her years in the field, she saw men make the same kind of mistake, but they were not punished as severely.
Without making clear whether the question applies to her, Mahle asks in her book, "Why is a male operations officer not censured for having a personal relationship with an agent, and a female operations officer is fired for doing the same?"
A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment on Mahle's departure but said agency guidelines on "unauthorized contacts" are applied equally to men and women.
As a bravado-filled field officer, Mahle said, she had always dismissed discipline cases as the fault of the employee, not the CIA. Then she discovered "a special room in hell reserved for 'problem employees.' "
"Most Agency officers do not know anything about this part of the Agency," she writes. "Stories are dismissed as falsifications. . . . It is just too hard to reconcile the unfair practices, official dishonesty and purposeful humiliating treatment with the CIA that officers think they 'know.' "
After she left Langley, she went through a prolonged catharsis. She not only wrote her book, she also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a blizzard.
The farther away from Langley she got, the more she came to believe that at the agency, "the system feeds upon itself, creating 'true believers.' Those who leave the CIA, and with the passage of time and distance become nonbelievers, are often surprised by the sheer intensity of the culture they left behind."
For Mahle, at least, "the world outside-looking-in was very different than the world inside-looking-out."
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
How We Learn
January 16, 2005
How We Learn
By ALISON GOPNIK
o here's the big question: if children who don't even go to school learn so easily, why do children who go to school seem to have such a hard time? Why can children solve problems that challenge computers but stumble on a third-grade reading test?
When we talk about learning, we really mean two quite different things, the process of discovery and of mastering what one discovers. All children are naturally driven to create an accurate picture of the world and, with the help of adults to use that picture to make predictions, formulate explanations, imagine alternatives and design plans. Call it ''guided discovery.''
If this kind of learning is what we have in mind then one answer to the big question is that schools don't teach the same way children learn. As in the gear-and-switch experiments, children seem to learn best when they can explore the world and interact with expert adults. For example, Barbara Rogoff, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, studied children growing up in poor Guatemalan Indian villages. The youngsters gradually mastered complex skills like preparing tortillas from scratch, beginning with the 2-year-old mimicking the flattening of dough to the 10-year-old entrusted with the entire task. They learned by watching adults, trying themselves and receiving detailed corrective feedback about their efforts. Mothers did a careful analysis of what the child was capable of before encouraging the next step.
This may sound like a touchy-feely progressive prescription. But a good example of such teaching in our culture is the stern but beloved baseball coach. How many school teachers are as good at essay writing, science or mathematics as the average coach is at baseball? And even when teachers are expert, how many children ever get to watch them work through writing an essay or designing a scientific experiment or solving an unfamiliar math problem?
Imagine if baseball were taught the way science is taught in most inner-city schools. Schoolchildren would get lectures about the history of the World Series. High school students would occasionally reproduce famous plays of the past. Nobody would get in the game themselves until graduate school.
But there is another side to the question.
In guided discovery -- figuring out how the world works or unraveling the structure of making tortillas -- children learn to solve new problems. But what is expected in school, at least in part, involves a very different process: call it ''routinized learning.'' Something already learned is made to be second nature, so as to perform a skill effortlessly and quickly.
The two modes of learning seem to involve different underlying mechanisms and even different brain regions, and the ability to do them develops at different stages. Babies are as good at discovery as the smartest adult -- or better. But routinized learning evolves later. There may even be brain changes that help. There are also tradeoffs: Children seem to learn new things more easily than adults. But especially through the school-age years, knowledge becomes more and more engrained and automatic. For that reason, it also becomes harder to change. In a sense, routinized learning is less about getting smarter than getting stupider: it's about perfecting mindless procedures. This frees attention and thought for new discoveries.
The activities that promote mastery may be different from the activities that promote discovery. What makes knowledge automatic is what gets you to Carnegie Hall -- practice, practice, practice. In some settings, like the Guatemalan village, this happens naturally: make tortillas every day and you'll get good at it. In our culture, children rich and poor grow highly skilled at video games they play for hours.
But in school we need to acquire unnatural skills like reading and writing. These are meaningless in themselves. There is no intrinsic discovery in learning artificial mapping between visual symbols and sounds, and in the natural environment no one would ever think of looking for that sort of mapping. On the other hand, mastering these skills is absolutely necessary, allowing us to exercise our abilities for discovery in a wider world.
The problem for many children in elementary school may not be that they're not smart enough but that they're not stupid enough. They haven't yet been able to make reading and writing transparent and automatic. This is particularly true for children who don't have natural opportunities to practice these skills, learning in chaotic and impoverished schools and leading chaotic and impoverished lives.
But routinized learning is not an end in itself. A good coach may well make his players throw the ball to first base 50 times or swing again and again in the batting cage. That will help, but by itself it won't make a strong player. The game itself -- reacting to different pitches, strategizing about base running -- requires thought, flexibility and inventiveness.
Children would never tolerate baseball if all they did was practice. No coach would evaluate a child, and no society would evaluate a coach, based on performance in the batting cage. What makes for learning is the right balance of both learning processes, allowing children to retain their native brilliance as they grow up.
Alison Gopnik is co-author of ''The Scientist in the Crib'' and professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.
Seeing the headline made me disdain Bush and the Repub. propaganda machine. Seeing the Kennedy remarks in the article made me wonder how many ordinary people and democrats realise Kennedy is the best weapon the Bush Admin has. So many in the general public are replused by Kennedy that it would seem he helps the cause of anything he speaks out against.
I know that there are consultants who are paid to figure out these PR issues. Here's my question: Couldn't the Dems let Barack Obama or some other spokesperson lead the way? Does Teddy really need to feed his ego, his Edler Statesman status, his re-election bid, or something else I don't understand with this suicidal PR?