by Suzanne Kelly
If the devil is in the details, then Matthew M. Aid, author of “Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terrorism,” has written a devilish book indeed.
Widely praised for his previous look at the history of the National Security Agency, this time Aid is divulging details about the current intelligence efforts around the world.
"Someone showed me the principle national security objectives for 2012," he says over lunch in a Georgetown cafe. "It’s a list of all of the top targets for this year, and virtually every country in the world is on it."
It's an indicator of just how important intelligence relationships with other countries are if the United States is to be able to carry out its intelligence goals - all the more cause for concern as Aid carefully lays out the underlying reasons why many of those relationships are ineffective, or strained, at best.
He describes the troubled relationship with Afghanistan, saying that the Afghans, many in positions of power, have little, if any interest in advancing the U.S. intelligence effort there.
"When I was in Kabul, the former head of the Afghan Intelligence Service, told me that a new station chief had just come in," Aid recalls. "I said, 'How do I get in touch with the new CIA station chief?' And he reached into his rolodex and wrote down his home address, office address, phone number and said, ‘Tell him I said hello.’"
It takes a few moments for Aid to contain his laughter as he recounts the story. The identity and home address of a station chief in a foreign country is supposed to be a closely held secret. But then Aid sobers up when he talks about the prevalence of such attitudes in some of the world's most volatile regions. "It tells you that with the Afghan Intelligence organization, the perception is like 'we'll never be able to trust these people.'”
On the whole, “Intel Wars” is a highly researched look inside the decade's most important intelligence efforts, and while sobering at best, it's not always bad news. You just have to look harder for the good news.
Aid opens by describing the CIA's crowning achievement of the decade: the killing of Osama bin Laden. But where he goes from there when it comes to the future of the global intelligence effort is bleak at best.
"Frankly, I'm scared," he says as he describes the way other non-U.S. intelligence agencies - even those we count among our closest allies - view the United States.
Some of his observations have been heard before.
"The Germans don't trust us," he says, "because we don't share all of our information."
And some of them, like the Afghan example, are just scary.
"I think we're in trouble," he says. "Come hell or high water, all forces are going to be out (of Afghanistan) in three years. We have no trust or confidence in the Afghan military, police, or intelligence."
Aid cites his mostly unnamed intelligence sources as saying that the U.S. intelligence relationship with Jordan "is now critical because we've lost Egypt, which prior to the Arab Spring was the predominant intelligence relationship in the region."
Aid doesn't pretend to say that these are his own assessments. He carefully points out that these are the assessments, as relayed to him, by his sources in the intelligence community.
"Unless we can get the Pakistanis to cooperate, we'll never be able to eliminate al Qaeda. That's the professional opinion of the intelligence community. We need the Pakistanis. Al Qaeda is spreading," he adds. "Our efforts last year were disastrous. But you don't hear about this."
Of course, official U.S. agencies would prefer to focus on the positive strides being made in strengthening some of these global relationships, but as Aid leaves the cafe, he shares much of the insight he leaves with readers: when it comes to the intelligence effort around the world, victory is a long way off.
"If anyone is expecting an expression of victory in the intelligence community, like the one President Bush made on the deck of the aircraft carrier, it’s not going to come anytime soon."
“Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror” is published by Bloomsbury Press