BREAKING: Intelligence Agencies Act Like Intelligence Agencies


A Pakistani man approached CIA officers in Islamabad last year, offering to give up secrets of his country’s closely guarded nuclear program. To prove he was a trustworthy source, he claimed to possess spent nuclear fuel rods.

But the CIA had its doubts. Before long, the suspicious officers had concluded that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, was trying to run a double agent against them.

I’ll keep the penetration references to a minimum. But for lots of examples of the CIA running game on allies of the United States, read Tim Weiner’s excellent Legacy of Ashes. This is just what intelligence agencies do.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Army killed a TTP leader in South Waziristan yesterday. It’s enough to make you say, “Why, Pakistani policy appears incoherent and internally conflicted!” Why, indeed. Should anyone expect otherwise? Outsiders attempting to view American foreign policy, for decades, might very well draw the exact same conclusion. Factions develop within every government. Unity of political effort is an elusive thing. Strategy is hard to come by, and most coherent strategies fall apart upon contact with the complexities of the world. Knowing all that, we should resist the analytic temptation to infer coherence when viewing an inscrutable series of actions by a foreign power, particularly within a government we know to be embroiled in internecine power contests. None of that is to excuse any behavior contrary to American interests — it’s just to contextualize it.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman