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THE HUMAN FACTOR is an important book which describes the dysfunctional organization which happens to be America’s foreign intelligence service — the Central Intelligence Agency. Written from an insider’s perspective — that of a CIA case officer with a stellar record of achievement in his career with the agency — the book portrays the Agency as a huge self-serving risk-adverse bureaucracy totally incapable of accomplishing its mission.

Most readers of this book will be shocked, as I was, to learn the truth about the sorry shape this nation’s premier intelligence agency is in. The only thing the CIA is good at, apparently, is lying to Congress about the progress it purportedly is making in rectifying past deficiencies and charting a new course for the future.

From being caught off guard by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall to being totally wrong about Iraq’s possessing weapons of mass destruction — an error which was the justification for a war — the CIA’s intelligence “product” has been shown to be worse than worthless. In an interesting analysis, the author shows how bad intelligence from the CIA (or none at all) has led to America’s greatest foreign policy fiascos, constituting the worst crises every president has faced from Truman to Bush. The book not only identifies the widespread problems within the Agency, but also makes it clear that the problems cannot be solved without sweeping change at the Agency. Fortunately, the author provides us with a blueprint for change at the CIA.

The Human Factor is not a spy thriller, although the author does spice the story up with interesting anecdotes and an occasional reference to some of the more spectacular intelligence failures in the Agency’s history (all gleaned from public sources, cited by the author.) All CIA employees and contractors are bound by non-disclosure agreements and restrictions on publication and must submit all documents to an Agency review board for prior approval, ostensibly to prevent unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It almost goes without saying that a book that is critical of the Agency will never be approved for publication, as was the case with this manuscript. In the end the author went ahead and published the book without the requisite approval, but only after carefully reviewing the manuscript to be sure there was nothing the Agency could claim was properly classified information.

Unlike other writers critical of the CIA (many are cited in the Bibliography) the author does not find fault with the American economic or political system; it is not his intention to expose the inner workings of the Agency in hopes of undermining its mission or reducing its effectiveness. It is important to bear in mind that this author is one who believes in the supreme importance of good intelligence in support of the governance of this great nation and the defense of liberty. The author is a true believer in the mission of the intelligence service(s). Thus his well thought out suggestions for improvement bear special significance.

The most controversial area of the CIA’s operations, covert actions, are not addressed in this book. The author does not get mired in the mud, so to speak, with the philosophical question of whether the Agency should be conducting covert actions. Being a veteran, a marine who served in the infantry, and a career intelligence professional, the author certainly has seen both sides of the question. I think it is good that the author avoids this subject, for the question of covert actions is best resolved at the policy level by the government and the people it serves; and it tends to distract us from the fundamental issue of reforming the CIA so it can focus on INTELLIGENCE.

This book is must reading for policy makers tasked with the onus of reforming the intelligence services. The author has a web site dedicated to intelligence reform, and is actively involved in
efforts to reform the CIA.

From the Wikipedia entry for ISHMAEL JONES:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ishmael Jones (born 15 December 1961) is the pseudonym used by a former CIA officer. He resigned from the CIA and became a leading proponent of American intelligence reform, with special emphasis on the improvement of human source intelligence collection (Humint). He is a former deep cover case officer (or clandestine officer) for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He is the author of the book The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture and many articles on intelligence reform. He believes that improvement of American intelligence capabilities is necessary to protect Americans and American allies.[1]

External links

Articles by Ishmael Jones

    Ishmael Jones’ Intelligence Reform site
    “Ishmael Jones: On the CIA Lawsuit” by Ishmael Jones, Powerline, October 20, 2010.
    “Bureaucracy Kills” by Michael Ross and Ishmael Jones, National Post, January 11, 2010.
    “Intelligence Reform is the President’s Urgent Challenge” by Ishmael Jones, Washington Times, January 7, 2010.
    “Flight 253” by Ishmael Jones, National Review, December 30, 2009.
    “Abu Omar rendition” by Ishmael Jones, National Review, November 5, 2009.
    “Reforming the CIA (High Value Interrogation Group)” by Ishmael Jones, National Review, August 25, 2009.
    “Where are the Responsible Individuals” by Ishmael Jones, National Review, June 15, 2009.
    “Dismantle the CIA’s Station Chief System” by Ishmael Jones, National Review, June 12, 2009.
    “CIA Dysfunction Bite Pelosi” by Ishmael Jones, National Review, May 18, 2009.
    “Human Rights and Wrongs” by Ishmael Jones, National Review, May 13, 2009.
    “Waste and Fraud at the Central Intelligence Agency” by Ishmael Jones, Citizens Against Government Waste, February 26, 2009.
    “What the CIA’s Censors Can Teach Us About Plans to Muzzle Talk Radio” by Ishmael Jones, The American Thinker, January 29, 2009.
    “Jones: Where Loyalty is Vital” by Ishmael Jones, The Washington Times, January 8, 2009.
    “President-Elect Obama’s First CIA Briefing” by Ishmael Jones, The American Thinker, November 7, 2008.
    “The CIA: Billions of Dollars, No Accountability” by Ishmael Jones, WorldNetDaily, October 1, 2008.


    “Interview with an ex-spy” by Greg Levey, The New Yorker, October 26, 2010.
    “Interview – Ishmael Jones” by Takashi Arimoto, Sankei Shimbun, February 11, 2009.
    “Interview – Ishmael Jones” by Editors, Foreword Magazine, 2008.
    “Interview with Ishmael Jones” by DRZZ editors, DRZZ, January 13, 2009.

Articles about Ishmael Jones

    “Memoirs, mistakes converge as CIA promises reform” by Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2010.
    “The Future of Capitalism – The Human Factor” by Ira Stoll, The Future of Capitalism, October 19, 2010.
    “CIA sues ex-Agent” by Jeff Stein, Washington Post, October 19, 2010.
    “CIA sues ex-agent for book’s breach of ‘secrecy’” by Bill Gertz, Washington Times, October 18, 2010.
    Drudgereport, 19 October 2010.
    “Unlearning the CIA” by Christopher Ketchum, CounterPunch, October 23, 2009.
    “Attack on CIA Base” by Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic, December 30, 2009.
    “Gutting the CIA” by Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 30, 2009.
    “Reforming the CIA” by Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic, February 5, 2009.
    “Panetta a Brave Choice, Says Former CIA Agent” by Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review, January 6, 2009.
    “Panetta Faces Steep Challenges at CIA” by Ken Timmerman, Newsmax, January 5, 2009.
    “Obama Warned on CIA” by Bill Gertz, Washington Times, December 4, 2008.
    “The Human Factor” by Karl Helicher, Foreword Magazine, 2008.
    “Bonded to Dysfunction” by Michael Ledeen, National Review, September 12, 2008.
    “Tripping Over CIA’s Hurdles” by John Weisman, The Washington Times, September 7, 2008.
    “No Intelligence: How Good is the Information Provided by the CIA on Iran?” by Michael Ross, Maclean’s, August 6, 2008.
    “CIA Veteran Rips Agency, Tests Limits of Right to Publish Without Permission” by Jeff Stein, Congressional Quarterly, August 2, 2008.

The author’s suggestions for reforming the CIA, outlined in an
appendix to the book, might be seen as a “checklist for change”
at the Agency . . . .

Appendix — Solutions for reform of the clandestine service

(Pages 355 -361)

Solutions for reform of the clandestine service within the current system:

1 Define the mission. Create a clear, one-line mission statement. Current CIA mission statements are multi-page documents, written by committees, which nobody ever reads. A clear statement, such as, “Provide foreign intelligence that will defend the United States,” would help employees measure and direct their efforts.

2 Focus on the mission. Recruit and handle high-quality human sources; avoid trivial, easy targets.

3 Cut layers of management ruthlessly to speed operations and to put more spies on the street. (See further comments below.)

4 Get rid of the gatekeepers. Abandon the geographical station system. Station chiefs are not captains of ships; they are employees located within fortress embassies, seeking to ensure that no flaps occur on their turf. Terrorists and nuclear proliferators don’t have geographical boundaries.

5 Get the CIA out of the United States. Most CIA employees live and work in the United States. Get the CIA spying on and in foreign countries, where it belongs.

6 Clarify the chain of command. Every employee should know his or her direct supervisor, and each employee should have only one supervisor. Supervisors should be senior in grade to their employees. Spouses of supervisors should never be inserted into the chain of command. An employee’s annual evaluation should be written by a single supervisor.

7 Account for the money. Make certain that the taxpayers’ money is spent properly. Don’t let secrecy get in the way. Don’t he afraid of verifying receipts written in foreign languages in faraway places.

8 Create a one-line cultural statement: Do not lie, cheat, or steal unless required to do so in an intelligence operation. Spies need to lie, but only when necessary for operational success. The organization’s efficiency and reliability will improve when employees can trust one another to speak the truth.

Recent reforms demonstrate what happens when change is attempted at the CIA. Congressionally-mandated reforms, following the intelligence failures of 9/11, did the three worst things possible, by:

a) Adding extra layers of management. They created a new office of the Director of National Intelligence. No successful organizations have as many layers of management as the CIA.

b) Accepting the CIA’s ploy that it just needs a few more years to hire the right people. The CIA has used this ploy for decades. The CIA has all the qualified people it needs. The problem is that they arc poorly led.

c) Showering the CIA with billions of dollars in additional funding without transparency or a system of accountability, leading to fraud, waste, and mismanagement.

The CIA is a failed organization that has proven resistant to reform. Therefore, the CIA should he broken up into its constituent parts, and (hose parts assigned to organizations that already have clear missions and defined chains of command, as follows:

1 Transfer CIA offices and personnel operating within the United States to the FBI. The CIA was never intended to be a domestic spy agency. The FBI is designed to handle domestic intelligence
operations. The FBI is measured and held accountable by its ability to catch criminals, and this accountability provides the motivation for the FBI to perform.

2 Transfer all CIA embassy activities overseas to the US Department of State. The State Department is designed to handle diplomacy. Much of what the CIA now does in its embassies involves diplomacy, such as handling relationships with liaison services. State Department officers are able to make contacts with other foreign government representatives in diplomatic venues. The State Department handled these functions prior to the creation of the CIA in 1947.

3 Transfer overseas human intelligence collection efforts to the US military. Focus case officers exclusively on the gathering of human intelligence. The fundamental motivation of the American military—to win wars and to protect the lives of its soldiers— will provide the motivation to ensure that its case officers provide the necessary intelligence and do not become distracted by soft targets or by designing programs meant to look busy and spend money. The US military already has a large corps of trained case officers, graduates of the CIA’s own training course. The US military already has a better ability to place case officers overseas in non-State Department positions. The military’s command structure is clearly defined and much flatter than the Agency’s.

We should recognize the scope of the problem:

The lack of human sources of intelligence has haunted American Presidents since the foundation of the CIA in 1947. The lack of human sources has been the greatest threat to the presidencies and the historical legacies of American Presidents, and to the American people.

1 The Chinese invasion of North Korea in 1950 was a complete surprise and the subsequent handling of the war by President Truman led him to cancel his re-election campaign.

2 The handling of the U-2 incident was President Eisenhower’s greatest regret as President”.

3 Lack of Cuban human sources contributed to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, which was President Kennedy’s greatest failure.

4 The lack of human sources in Vietnam” haunted President Johnson in the conduct of the Vietnam War.

5 The Vietnam War was one of President Nixon’s greatest challenges as well. The outbreak of the 1973 Arab/Israeli war also took the Agency by surprise.

6 Throughout the Cold War, the Agency’s top program, recruitment of Soviet human sources, was a shambles. Lack of intelligence on Soviet intentions nearly led to war on several occasions.

7 President Carter’s humiliation and the destruction of his presidency were caused by the Iran hostage crisis and the subsequent failed rescue attempt, both of which featured a lack of human sources.

8 President Reagan’s humiliation involved hostages and the ensuing Iran-Contra scandal, both featuring a lack of human sources.

9 President Clinton’s legacy was tarnished by the lack of human sources, who could have transmitted information that might have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Lack of human sources led to a nuclear arms race in the Asian sub-continent.

10 Lack of human sources on Iraqi WMD and on the Iraq war poisoned the George W. Bush presidency.

The greatest vulnerability to the President elected in 2008 and future Presidents will be the lack of human sources of intelligence. Terrorists armed with nuclear weapons will kill hundreds of thousands of Americans if we do not improve our human intelligence capability.

Comments on mission drift:

1 Recruiting human sources isn’t easy or fun. For the case officer, rejection, humiliation, and loneliness are the byproducts of human intelligence operations. Sitting in a hotel room meeting a man with bad breath for hours at a stretch is hard work.

2 Recruiting human sources does not appear to lead to career advancement. It is the lowest form of work within the Agency, and few top managers have ever recruited a good human source. To have recruited human sources in al Qaeda and in Iraqi WMD, a case officer would have had to be in the field for years, away from Agency stations and HQs. He’d have returned to a dead career, with no management experience and with none of the connections at HQs necessary for personal advancement. A person who wants to advance in the organization does so through lengthy service at HQs, with rare assignments overseas.

3 This leads to mission drift: officers prefer fun things that lead to promotion, such as creating layers of managers, handling liaison operations, building boondoggles, Potemkin offices and elaborate cover mechanisms, and elaborate covert action schemes.

4 The Agency’s successes tend to be in areas outside the fundamental mission of gathering intelligence. Success in Afghanistan was a military operation, for example. Convincing Libya to end its WMD programs was a diplomatic success.

5 Mission drift causes the Agency to go after little fish, not big fish. Operations involving little fish then cause bigger flaps when something goes wrong, because the American people don’t support espionage operations aimed at seemingly unimportant topics.

6 Human intelligence operations are relatively cheap. Mission drift into more expensive non-human source missions provides openings for corruption.

Comments on the destructiveness of excessive layers of management:

Excessive layers cause delays in the dissemination of intelligence reports, often making those reports worthless. Intelligence collection is peculiar in that it is a one- on- one activity: there is no need for the layers. Management consultant Tom Peters discusses the problem of layers by pointing out that, in a chain of six layers, if each layer makes the correct decision 80 percent of the time, this will result in a correct decision by the six layers 26 percent of the time. (.8 to the 6th power = 26 percent).
Excessive layers increase risk when it becomes difficult to determine who is in charge.

Excessive layers increase the number of people who know secrets, making leaks easier and making it harder to find moles such as Ames.

Excessive layers encourage rule-breaking. I rarely conducted an intelligence operation where I didn’t have to break an Agency rule. Had I not broken rules, I would never have completed an operation.

Promote case officers by giving them more freedom and responsibility in conducting operations, rather than by making them gatekeepers. I’ve never come across the suggestion that the Agency reduce its layers. Yet that is one of the first things a businessman or management consultant seeks to do in improving the operations of an organization.

Comments on motivation:

American businesses are driven by profit, which serves as the motivation to keep their organizations functioning efficiently. It can be argued that the FBI and the US military are bureaucratic, but they too have clear missions—to catch criminals and to win wars—and this helps give them focus. It is less likely that an FBI agent, for example, can rise within the FBI without ever having been involved in catching a criminal. The US military is motivated to win wars. These motivations drive the FBI and the US military just as the motivation to earn profits drives American businesses.

The US military’s effectiveness is in part due to “civilian audit, dissent, and self-critique,” which are part of the “larger Western tradition of personal freedom, consensual government, and individualism.””

Where there is no civilian audit, dissent, self-critique, transparency or accountability, a bureaucracy will thrive, grow, and morph into a monster, such as the CIA is today.

We must acknowledge what drives humans and what motivates an organization.

If the FBI did not need to catch criminals, if the US military did not need to win wars, and if American businesses did not need to earn profits, they would fall into the same rudderless disarray as the CIA. The CIA has no driving motivation and so should be split up and attached to organizations that do have driving motivations.

Finally, the book’s bibliography is extensive, and fairly current (2009) . . . .


(Pages 371 – 377)

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Introduction xi

Prologue 3


1 Daring Greatly, Perhaps 13
2 Training Days 21
3 American Apprenticeship 47
4 Perseverance and Soothing Language 62
5 Sent to Spy Out the Land 77
6 Trying to Hustle the East 93
7 Morning in Eastern Europe 119
8 Physicists Who Knew Sin 144
9 Always Be Closing 164
10 Restless 186
11 Hazardous Microbes 221


12 Darkness and Brief Dawn 237
13 Trying 250
14 Grifters 270
15 The Way of the Weasel 280
16 Headquarters 299
17 Starting Over 307
18 Remington Raider 318

Epilogue 351

Appendix: Solutions for Reform of the Clandestine Service 355

Acknowledgments 363

Notes 365

Bibliography 371

Index 379


Copyright © 2008 by Ishmael Jones

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Encounter Books, 900 Broadway Suite 601, New York, New York, 10003.

First edition published in 2008 by Encounter Books, an activity of Encounter for Culture and Education, Inc., a nonprofit, tax exempt corporation.

Encounter Books website address:

Book design and composition by Wesley B. Tanner / Passim Editions, Ann Arbor. Manufactured in the United States and printed on acid-free paper.

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/ NISO 239.48-1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper).


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jones, Ishmael.

The human factor : inside the CIA’s dysfunctional intelligence culture / by Ishmael Jones.
   p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-1-59403-223-3 (hardcover : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: I-59403-223-8 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Jones, Ishmael. 2. United States. Central Intelligence Agency. 3. Intelligence officers—United States. 4. Intelligence service—United States. I. Title.

JK468.I6J68 2008
327.1273 – dc22


The author’s web site:


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