Friday, May 26, 2006

"Belgrade Burndown"

Most of this Newsweek article is just anti-Goss spin by pampered sources with CIA. But two quotes say something about the Tenet-era CIA.

After President Clinton ordered the bombing of Belgrade to begin in the spring of 1999, the American Embassy in the Serbian capital was evacuated of all personnel, including the entire CIA station. Before leaving the building, allegedly in haste, CIA officers were supposed to destroy all secret documents. Current and former intelligence officials called this procedure a "burndown" or "burnout." When they believed they had burned everything, CIA officials left the Belgrade embassy, but not before locking the heavy vault door at the entrance to the office suite that housed the CIA station.

American diplomats and CIA officials didn't return to the embassy until around nine months later, after the U.S. bombing of Belgrade stopped. When they opened the vault door into their suite, however, CIA officials were alarmed to discover that some secret documents had not been destroyed. Instead, they were found left lying either behind desks and file cabinets or in open sight, depending upon which version of the story is being told. According to some accounts, the unburned material included papers or microfiche identifying undercover informants—the kind of information that is among the most sensitive of all secrets the CIA is supposed to protect


The CIA continued to insist there was no security breach; officials pointed out that it was virtually impossible to "prove a negative," namely to prove 100 percent that no sinister forces got into the Belgrade CIA station. Goss's aides pressed for the CIA to fire or discipline the CIA's station chief in Belgrade, but Kappes, heading the CIA's internal investigation, refused. Goss's team grew more and more irate at the agency's attitude. Eventually, Goss's aides persuaded him to sign a secret letter cutting the CIA's counterintelligence budget by $3 million; this was intended as a deliberate rebuke to the agency's handling of the Belgrade incident and its aftermath, according to former and current intelligence officials familiar with the matter. But CIA management, under Tenet, ignored the budget-cut order, and the agency eventually returned to business as usual, with no officials being fired over the Belgrade incident (or nonincident, depending on whom you believe).
This is not a case of "no harm, no foul." CIA operations may or may not have been compromised. But it is clear that the Belgrade station failed to follow procedures and ran great risks. Yet, Agency leadership took no forceful action.

I wonder if Newsweek would feel the same way about a drunk driver? "Although Sally Jones had a BAC of 0.12%, there is no evidence that she caused any accidents while on the road. Therefore, it is right and proper that the police filed no charges."

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