|Bob Levinson - Captive in Iran? [The Guardian]|
Click here for related article [Washington Post/AP]
Robert A. "Bob" Levinson, a retired FBI agent and a US private investigator, is in the news again as the CIA admitted its involvement in his contractual employment as a spy. He was arrested in Iran in March, 2007 at an Iranian resort on Kish Island, ostensibly to meet with an "admitted murderer" -- supposedly to gather information on the Iranian regime to be turned into intelligence.
His "handler" was reportedly Anne Jablonski, a CIA analyst and an expert on money laundering, arms smuggling, and organized crime. Jablonski hired Levinson as a "contractor" for $85,000 to research the Iranian regime, sort of undercover.
To be clear, Jablonski is not, nor was she ever a trained or experienced case officer.
And, like Valerie Plame [who illegally hired her husband as a contractor] she was never a covert operative,
So, there's an interesting twist. It doesn't follow the old Mission Impossible script of:
"If you are caught, the Secretary [NFI] will disavow all knowledge" -- even though the "Secretary" obviously authorized the mission. The Secretary, in 2007, would have been General Michael V. Hayden [USAF], CIA Director and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and probably would have gagged at this Operations Plan.
In this case, it was reportedly not an authorized mission at all, and all the blame has been laid at the feet of proactive "analysts". The AP [Associated Press] reports, perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, that General Hayden was not briefed on the operation, and that the Deputy Director for Operations (DDO) - now called the National Clandestine Service Director], was not involved. Rather, we are to believe, the Directorate of Intelligence [the Analysis division] managed this operation.
Now, even though this was an incredibly amateurish operation, fraught with such massive risks which would outweigh any possible gain, we are reluctant to lay the blame fully at the Intelligence Directorate.
|Shh! We're Secret Agents|
The Deputy Director of Operations [DDO] who may have launched this ill-conceived operation would have been "Gina", notable for her alleged torture of detainees in a secret prison in Thailand, and later destruction of waterboarding videos; what she lacked in clandestine operational experience, she made up for with a vicious touch.
[Used to be, all such Clandestine Service operations were never disclosed, although the Washington Post and AP seem to have a host of details. Rest assured though, the secrets of CIA are safe with the Media, which identified Gina in full.]
We'll equate the Clandestine Service to the Keystone Kops on multiple levels, first because the level of amateurism would be laughable were it not for the repeated failure of their missions resulting in the outing, and subsequent imprisonment or death of their recruited assets, but also because far too many of the case officer cadre have been drawn from the Law Enforcement Community [e.g., DEA, ATF, FBI, etc.].
The mission of law enforcement officers is to catch the perps.
Their view of clandestine operations is to recruit a "confidential informant" [CI] to rat out the bigger fish. The concept of developing deep cover operations seems to have been lost over the years as the Clandestine Service became a paramilitary and super-police organization -- managed by political hacks.
Recent CIA chiefs have been incompetent, publicity-seeking political hacks [e.g., Tenet, Panetta, and now Bennet], and Methods & Sources have been publicized on national TV and in Hollywood scripts.
The police concept of keeping the identity of a CI secret escapes them, and the CI is generally viewed as "expendable" because the CI and all associates are regarded as criminals who should be punished. [Watch Dexter for examples of how police handle CIs.]
Today's CIA concept of "Clandestine" equates to paramilitary chest-thumping and self-aggrandizement; and then going public with details of the operation -- often via the White House SitRoom.
(Gina Bennet wrote a book about her operational role in the CIA, and even appeared on Oprah.)
The Old School operations took years, and sometimes decades to develop, and they often lasted for decades before being closed down. But, even the Old School was prone to screw-ups -- but, that's a story for another time.
There are several basic operational rules which govern the clandestine operations business;
here are two:
Rule 1: Risk vs Gain.
a) Define the Gain
b) Can the information be collected by other means?
c) How large a support network is required?
d) What special skills [e.g., language(s), appearance, education, technical training, etc.] are required?
e) How much Risk is involved in gaining the information sought?
f) Ultimately, how much blow-back can we expect if this op is compromised?
Rule 2. Limit Knowledgability
a) Define the Risk
b) Operation is planned by a small group of highly experienced professionals
c) Operational Plan is created in broad scope; details are not released
d) Compartmentation of operational components is paramount
e) Briefs are on a strict "Need-To-Know" basis only
f) When the operation is complete, share only the intelligence, but don't disclose methods or sources
-- especially to the White House, or to Hollywood!
Now, getting back to the gist of this case, which we reckon to be FUBAR!
We'll take a different view of this goat rope which seems to have been managed by amateurs.
a) Never send an individual with a visible record in the Intelligence Community [e.g., the FBI] into a hostile environment -- no matter what his cover (private investigator?).
|Super Spook Archibald [FaceBook]|
No matter how clever we may be, foreign intelligence services are quite adept at tracking spooks, active and former. They know and have extensive dossiers on all known intelligence/security operatives since this information is collected by both friends and foes -- who frequently change sides.
Within hours of his appointment as the new head of the Clandestine Service, Francis Archibald was outed by the Pakistanis and the Washington Post, complete with his home address and history of previous assignments -- and his Facebook page.
b) Coordinate with the country or regional CIA Station Chief [COS].
He/she would like to know what's going on in his/her area of operations [AO] since any intelligence activity -- clandestine or covert, may need support, or may impact on other, ongoing operations.
[Notably, Valerie Plame (a self-proclaimed covert operative) followed none of the rules, nor did she consider using available CIA assets to collect the intelligence for which she contracted her husband.]
b) When you do send in an asset, provide back-up surveillance and a rescue team in the event things go sour. [The local COS can handle such support.]
c) Develop a plan that includes a communications link so that the back-up team can maintain contact.
d) Have a back-up plan to rescue your asset if he/she gets rolled up.
There's a lot more to the process, but, if you watch any of the spy shows, you know the routine.
[Actually, don't watch 24, easily the least credible of any intelligence program on TV.]
In the Levinson case, the operation appears to have been the most slipshod in recent history!
But, we digress. There's more to this fiasco that doesn't add up, so,
as Ricky used to say to Lucy,
"You got some 'splainin to do!"
Levinson was reportedly contracted to collect data on the Iranian regime.
This violated all the rules, but most of all "Risk vs Gain".
-- Every month, thousands of folks visit Iran who could be debriefed after they return. If they are rolled up and interrogated by Iranian Intelligence, there is plausible denial since no one from USI contacted them prior to their visit. On their return and debrief, they could give informed and detailed information far more accurate than a retired gumshoe could since they had both placement and access - and a clear understanding of the Iranian culture and government, which Levinson did not.
-- Levinson was a known entity among the international law enforcement and intelligence communities, meaning that he was highly visible from the moment he bought his international airline ticket with his passport until the moment he mysteriously "disappeared." Assume all foreign agencies are populated with double agents who service their governments, opposing intelligence services, and the criminal element -- much the same as in the good old USA.
Levinson couldn't have been more visible if he had worn an international orange jumpsuit with a giant FBI badge pinned on his back. AND, he was meeting with a declared criminal on Iranian soil; chances are, Iranian security folks had this guy on their radar.
So, let's float a possible alternative to this very odd scenario.
Was it, Is it a scam?
The CIA has reportedly paid Levinson's wife, Christine, at least $2.62 million for her plight.
How is it that "an unknown source sent the family a 54 second video of Levinson" dressed in an orange jump suit, holding up a series of professional looking signs, one of which declares:
"This is the result of 30 years serving for USA" -- although his FBI career was only 28 years, which indicated he was adding a few years as a contractor. Oddly exact for an Iranian propaganda video.
Now, if Levinson HAD been captured by the Iranian Intelligence Service [VAJA], propaganda videos would have been published early on in which he'd have been made to declare all sorts of things, to include statements condemning the US, and of course Israel. The Iranians would have had a field day exploiting this capture, but, that didn't happen.
Instead, we are to believe he was held incognito since 2007, without any effort to exploit him.
Makes no sense.
Possible scenario [purely speculative, of course]:
Levinson concocts this scheme, perhaps with his analyst "handler" to fake a capture; disappear, and then pop up via an odd video begging for help from the US government -- but, with no real propaganda theme other than a reference to "Guantanamo".
The profit comes in US Government payments to his spouse in the amount of $2.62 million.
Oh, and the CIA analyst, Jablonski, now works in the private sector [reportedly for RDC - a risk management company], while her CIA boss, Tim Sampson, now works for Homeland Security.
[Do you feel more secure now?]
It's a non-sequitur from start to finish.
1) We know first-hand what it is to be captured by the bad guys, having spent a bit of time in the hands of the Communist Pathet Lao in Laos in 1973. If Levinson actually was captured by the Iranians, we commiserate with his suffering.
2) An account referencing the decline of the CIA following the Church Committee's investigation is available in an earlier blog on the Iran Hostage Rescue operation as depicted in the movie ARGO