Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Bourne Stupidity

I'm a middle-aged American guy; I was raised on "spy thrillers". And don't get me wrong - I enjoy the celluloid adventures of spies and counterspies as much as the next guy.It's just kind of irking when my country's spies don't seem to have watched those flicks or have forgotten the plot.

Take the case of Raymond "Not Jason Bourne" Davis.

Remember this guy? The "diplomat" who shot his way out of the holdup in Lahore, Pakistan?Okay; first off - I have no idea what the hell happened in the streets of Lahore on January 27th. It seems very plausible to me that the guys Davis slotted were robbers, bazaar badmashes intent on at least holding him up and possibly murdering him.


This discussion by a BBC reporter reports that
"investigations by the police, forensic labs and the local and international media suggest that the two men were driving away from Mr Davis when they were shot. That "no fingerprints had been uncovered on the triggers of the pistols found on the bodies of the two men. Furthermore he said that tests had shown that the bullets remained in the magazines of their guns, not the chambers."
Even more damning, far from the bad guys the U.S. has suggested,
"...the men have no criminal records as such. Both...were carrying licensed pistols (and) security sources in Lahore say that they were part-time or low-level operatives for the local intelligence services. Although reports are sketchy about what they were doing in relation to Mr Davis, security officials believe it could be the case of a surveillance operation gone horribly wrong."
Well, damn. So maybe it really was the case of a guy getting flaky at the wrong time and busting a cap on a couple of local snoops from the Lahore ISI Nose Patrol.

But, whatever, you've seen the movie and you all know what happens now, right? Our hero disappears into the crowd, makes his way to the "safehouse" where he changes his appearance and his identity cards and then slips out of the country one step ahead of the dictator's secret police (or his own agency, whichever is cooler...). Every spy has seen this part and knows what to do now.Or not.

Seems that the guy gave himself up on the spot, and was thrown into the local carcel.

Now this is the part where the CIA activates its cunning plan, sends its mole into the Lahore cop shop while the suave State Department spokesmodel spins a seamless web of denials and diversions that baffles the locals, enemies, and reporters alike. Our boy is whisked out of the country as if he had never existed, right?

Or not.

Of course this gentleman was not a "legal" CIA officer, accredited as a U.S. diplomat; he was another damn contractor, more of what appears to be the "secret" side of the war in central Asia which is about as secret as Lady GaGa's underwear. Instead of a cunning plan the U.S. government began by loudly beating the stupid drum by demanding his release AS a diplomat, despite the fact that it seems that both the State Department and the Pakistanis knew from the get-go that he was not.What's worse, the U.S. has insisted in doubling-down on this lie from almost immediately after he was arrested until just this past week after everyone from The Lahore News and Advertiser to the Onion published the truth. Finally, after several British news outlets stated the truth, the U.S. 'fessed up.

Well, damn.

So now what?

I doubt whether this guy is going to rot in a Pakistani jail; he'll get some public spankings to placate the Paki mobs and then quietly slip out of the country.But in the meantime, again, the U.S. ends up looking both foolish and deceptive, reinforcing the Dubya image of the idiot cowboy, shooting up the surroundings and bagging nothing but a couple of cottontails and the local schoolmar'm. And looking incompetent; the bumbling spy is a classic staple of movie comedy from Buster Keaton to Peter Sellers.

Don't get me wrong; I'd prefer that my country not be sneaking around other people's countries unless there was a hell of a good reason for it. But I'm realist enough to understand that all sorts of spying happens for all sorts of reasons, and many of those reasons are too secret for me to know. So I know my country is going to spy all sorts of places for all sorts of reasons, good and bad.But is it too much to ask that if we're gonna sneak around the globe making real-life spy films my country tries to spy more like Jason Bourne and James Bond than Phil Moskowitz and Inspector Clouseau?


  1. Hey, ya gets what ya pay for . . . looks like Davis was more your "Walmart" quality spook . . .

    FB Ali has a nice post on this over at SST . . .

  2. The irking thing about this is the whole "Giving-Francis-Gary-Powers-a-suicide-pill-AND-a-parachute" quality of the tradecraft involved.

    I mean, if the guy is all that, accredit him the frigging third undersecretary for immigration at the embassy. That way he has the diplomatic protection he needs to just get kicked out of the country.

    If he really needs to be a genuinely undercover spook, well, in that business you fuck up, you get fucked. You maintain your cover identity as Joe Blow, private security thug, and you go meet your new Pakistani prison husband.

    It's the sheer incompetence here; seems like this guy was a covert as a big pink balloon; the Pakis were on to him as CIA apparently within hours or days of his arrest. And we either thought that we could hide that little fact or...I don't know what other reason we could have had for doing this the stupid way. But it sure is frustrating to read about.

    We have lots of smart officers working both openly and covertly overseas, and we will never hear about their successes. But every GI knows perfectly well the ancient Rule of Departmental Success: one awshit cancels out ten thousand attaboys.

  3. Andy: So do I - mostly because I remember the sickness that infected the Army after Vietnam, when the officer corps turn in on itself, more concerned about "protecting" the Army than serving the nation, more concerned about image than truth, more concerned that the American people were as much the enemy as the NVA. It took a generation to purge that sickness, and in some ways we never have. This is not a good sign.

  4. FDC,

    Obviously a LOT more to this one, there is a game that has been played in PK for about 8 years now. I won't try to equate it to West Berlin, but there is a lot of "tit for tat" going on. This is just another round.

    This guy was a security contractor (GRS), not a spy of any kind. I won't try to defend the CIA, I've met good ones and bad ones (mostly not so good). But usually the guys in PK are among the better ones. But I would say that the actions this guy took when he got rolled were the actions he was probably trained to take in this situation. Unfortunately for him, the rules changed and no one told us. Bottom line, the Pakistan Federal government is losing almost all control of the local governments. That country is a time bomb, and our actions are working as a catalyst towards change (for good or for bad, only time will tell).

    IRT to LTG Caldwell using former "psy-ops", now IO guys, to prepare for strategic engagements, I am doubtful the LTG gave that order. He is a solid guy who knows better. I've learned over time that unless you actually hear it come out of a GO's mouth, don't believe it. Staffers use GO's names all the time to get things done. Unless I hear a GO say it or read a document they signed, I always doubt the word of staffers.

    Seriously? An official reprimand? Any and all official reprimands will be reviewed by a JAG (especially if it is going to a LTC). A JAG will be the first one to defend this LTC if what he is saying is legally correct. No GO is going to buck the JAG's advice, not if they want a career. This story just doesn't sound right, something is being left out. Again, seen it too many times...

  5. I have to agree with bg in regards to CIA officers. My experience as well was about 50/50 with some of them positively dangerous for anyone around them. For those it was very much the "A-team" mentality, but with sadly little skill or sense to back it up.

    It looks like Davis simply panicked, but why did that lead to Washington panicking as well? Was it that they were afraid of what Davis would tell the Pakistanis?

    As to Andy's link, it's interesting, but Psyops/IOs directed against the American people have been something of the norm since 2003. Sam Gardiner's excellent study is a must read in this regard . . .

    What makes this one different is that it was directed at the big cats, not just the rubes, which is what may get Caldwell fired if there is anything to the charges . . .

  6. bg: I get that this was probably some sort of "spy vs. spy"; the whole business with the dead guys being ISI or local spooks. But I'm sorry, when your "security contractor" is snooping and pooping around in injun territory (as this guy seems to have been) then he's a "spy" for all intents and purposes. He either needed to be brought in from the cold with a diplomatic cover or sanitized so his CIA connections were, at the very least, difficult to suss out. That doesn't seem to be the case.

    And in terms of catalyzing "change" in Pakistan, have a desperately poor and backward country full of people with little experience or evidence of capability of rational democracy that has been under the heel of a fairly vicious entrenched, corrput oligarchy AND a brutal and rather incompetent military (that has a tradition of grabbing power at the slightest opportunity).

    Tell me how any "change" under those circumstances becomes "for the good" and I'll carry your A-bag from here to the Halls of Montezuma and kiss your ass when we get there.

  7. seydlitz: here's "FB Ali"'s take on the Washington reaction (from Lang's site):

    "The second mystery in the affair relates to the very odd US reaction. The SOP in such cases is to say nothing in public while working backdoor channels to quietly sort out the affair and get your Joe back (even in kidnappings this is the standard practice). Why did the US adopt such a public and heavy-handed approach? Conspiracy theorists incline to the belief that the US was petrified at the thought of what Davis might reveal under interrogation, and wanted to have him released immediately. Or, failing that, to at least make him feel that they were fully on his case, thus fortifying his resistance to questioning.

    An alternative explanation is that the US thought that Pakistan and its government were so “bought” that an order (Jump!) would be enough to obtain compliance. When this didn’t happen, they got angry (!) and tried to browbeat them into submission. Considering some of the other US foreign policy moves, especially recently, this may not be too far from the truth. Viewed from the pinnacle of Washington, the world often looks very different from how it appears at ground level."

  8. I am concerned that we seem to be accepting at face value a lot of information on this case that the ISI is very easily in a position to control. For example, do we really _know_ that the dead guys were shot in the back, or just that someone the ISI could easily get to says that?


  9. Chief,
    Was this guy NOC? As a contractor it's kinda hard to say he is official or even Agency.Further- was he authorized to carry concealed in PAK?
    These would be nice to know, before thinking further on topic.

  10. andredb-

    You're right, we are operating with the Pakistanis able to control the information, but then it is their country.

    FB Ali's been a reliable source with no love lost in regards to the Pakistani government. I read essentially the opposite of his view in a London Daily Telegraph article today, but what was the source of their info?

    The US of course has our own narrative here which would include Davis being essentially squeaky clean, but then why have things turned out the way they have?


    FB Ali also mentioned the rumor that Predator Drone strikes ended in Pakistan after Davis's arrest . . .

  11. I am pretty sure this guy was a GRS security guy, not NOC or even a "spy". (Ir read somewhere he was Army white SOF, and used to work for Blackwater). These guys are essentially body guards for case officers. Problem is that the Agency has no real way to vet these guys, it is contract and there is some trust between the vendor and the government that the vendor can meet the requirements. But the contractor is not agency school trained or really even validated. Not saying if this guy was right or wrong, just saying there is an inherent danger in hiring contractors in this role.

    Why is Washington panicking? My guess, because perhaps they are losing some freedom of maneuver in Pakistan because the weak federal government (who supports US goals) may not able to convince, or force, a small local government to release the guy. I don't know, but that is what it feels like. It seems like some rules have changed, and that caught someone off guard.

    Again, my guess, is that no one actually believes the govt of Pak will truly help us hunt down senior AQ (why would they, then we might actually leave and stop giving them money). Therefore, there has to be some expectation that we have to pursue AQ leadership unilaterally, without support or knowledge of the Pakis. If this case demonstrates that unilateral won't work, then there may be reason for the USG to panic. That is my assessment of the situation based on the open source reporting out there.

  12. He is not a player. He is a security guy.

  13. On Security guys:

    If, as Bg states, this guy is a security type assigned to protect case officers, does this latest, buffoonish kabuki not scream out that the present trend, in regards to the privatization of every new job not nailed down, is a bridge too far?

    If the AfPak AO truly requires the services of these particular security players, might it not be wise to pick, plant and harvest same at the farmhouse? In this way the select few can practice their tradecraft?????? in a test tube enviro with the humanoid assets they are to shepherd.

    Can no one here play this game? Or, alternatively, has the game degenerated to the extent as to render all but the chairborne, connected overseers pawns expendable to the Nth degree?

  14. And here's a nasty little complication, courtesy of someone who bills himeslf as a retired O-7 in the Pakistani Army:

    Here's his money graf:

    "Despite the numerical increase in what used to be an infinitesimally small number of Islamic extremists, I have argued forcefully that there is, for the immediate future, no fear of Islamic forces becoming dominant in Pakistan. I have frequently cited the unanimous support for the military in the use of force against TTP--support which persists to date, despite suicide attacks. In fact, each suicide attack increases the determination of the people to fight terrorists.

    Davis, however, could change that. Granting him immunity, in my opinion, could be the sole act that could provide an excuse for militant Islam to become dominant in Pakistan.

    So, tread carefully, Mr Obama. You have already made one blunder by stoking unrest in Pakistan, using Raymond Davis, or whatever his name is, and his ilk, and have been caught with both hands in the cookie jar. But in trying to avoid the repercussions of this blunder, you could commit another of even more disastrous proportions--one that would reverberate around the world. You could create the realization of your own worst nightmare: a nuclear Pakistan dominated by religious extremist forces.

    It might still not happen this way, but the path you are treading certainly is one that leads in the direction of converting that nightmare into reality."

  15. To All,
    Has anyone else noticed that this event has dropped off the radar screen?