CIA Spy Program Has Been a “Colossal Flop”

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 8 2013 1:09 PM

CIA Spy Program Has Been a “Colossal Flop”

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A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the CIA began a big push to expand its spy program. Specifically, the agency wanted to increase the number of operatives working under what’s called “non-official cover,” meaning they do not work inside an embassy but rather as undercover agents in businesses and universities. The whole effort “was a colossal flop,” a former CIA official tells the Los Angeles Times. After spending at least $3 billion on the program, the Agency has little to show for the effort that increased the number of deep undercover spies from dozens to hundreds. Only a few of the deep undercover officers have actually been successful.

The program suffered from numerous shortcomings, including bureaucratic hurdles. Although the CIA paid a lot of attention to Iran, Tehran was always good at exposing operatives. But mostly the deep-undercover agents suffered from “some of the same shortcomings as other CIA officers—too few spoke Urdu, Pashto, Dari or other necessary languages, or could disappear in local cultures,” notes the Times.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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