Death to spies? Oh, please. The Brits, who invented modern espionage, are now hilariously leading the Western media mentionables into the latest scandal: the electronic eavesdropping on Kofi Annan in the left’s Holy of Holies, the UN. Clare Short — Paul O’Neill in drag — served as minister for post-it notes and paper clips in Blair’s government before indulging her ego by resigning in protest against the Iraq war. Last week she spilled some highly classified information by telling Parliament that whilst a member of Mr. Blair’s cabinet she’d been privy to transcripts of Annan’s private conversations during the UN’s Iraq debates. The Beeb and CBS had a severe case of the vapors, and His Excellency the Secretary General lectured us peons about the illegality of such spying, and the mistreatment of diplomats.
I’m shocked, shocked to find espionage at the UN. (“Pardon me, Mr. Babbin,” said the young analyst. “Here’s the latest set of transcripts from the French ambassador’s cell phone. He was placing an order for more nuclear centrifuge parts for Iran.”) Now, where was I?
Ambassador Richard Butler — who led the Iraq WMD inspection teams until Kofi sold him down the river in 1998 — was asked if he was aware that his office might have been bugged. “Of course I was bugged,” said he. By at least four of the Security Council members, he added. “I was well aware of it. How did I know? Because those who did it would come to me and show me the recordings that they made on others to help me do my job of disarming Iraq.”
For the briefest while, during Butler’s tenure, a flare of reality burst over the Third World rabble of the UN. Now Butler and reality are gone but the espionage remains, as it bloody well should. Ask yourself: Why is Hans Blix declining to comment on the probable interception of his cell phone transmissions in Iraq? Maybe his silence at the report that the Aussies were bugging him may mean that he’s more concerned with the publication of what he said to his pals Saddam and Tariq than he was about the bugging.
We bug them, they bug us, and everyone has a grand old time trying to counter the last counter-move from the other guys, and deciphering the meaning of whatever their spies manage to get. It’s bidness as usual. Which it is in all our intelligence agencies, with the exception of the Defense Department’s. When the CIA was doing its job in Afghanistan — relatively well, but clearly not up to the challenge — Defense formed its own apparatus under a new undersecretary for intel. But that is only one step in a process that has to be broader, and quicker. What to do?
I HAD TO CONSULT WITH my dear friend, the late Sidney Reilly. You may remember Sidney, who was called the “Ace of Spies.” To summon Sidney, all I have to do is pour a generous portion of single malt, light a good cigar, and recite his favorite part of Kipling’s “Spies March”:
Trained to another use,
We march with colors furled,
Only concerned when Death breaks loose
On a front of half a world
Only for General Death
The Yellow Flag may fly
While we take post beneath
That is the place for a spy
Where Plague has spread his pinions
Over Nations and Dominions
Then will be work for a spy!
“So, Jed, we haven’t spoken in quite a while,” said the always meticulously groomed Mr. Reilly.
“My apologies, Sidney. I’ve been busy writing a book and have neglected many friends.”
“It’s no problem, really. I’ve been quite busy watching the CIA’s descent into madness and fending off your Mr. Stimson, that Secretary of State of yours who said, ‘Gentlemen don’t read each others’ mail.’ He’s anxious to recant that silliness, but he doesn’t have a friend to talk to. Would you speak with him?”
“I did, a while back. He’s a bore. What about the spying on the UN?”
Reilly smiled. “There are few places easier and better to spy than the UN. It’s a gabbling gaggle of diplomats, each trying to make political points and hide his own country’s intentions. About half of them don’t even guard their communications. If the CIA and MI-6 weren’t spying on them, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs. Were I you, I’d be more concerned about Paul O’Neill and Clare Short.”
“Sidney, you’re pulling my leg again. Neither is more than a clown. What danger are they?”
“Neither is a danger any longer, because they will never again be privy to classified information. But you need to be more careful in selecting your ministers. You Americans even give highly classified information to your Congress. Like that fellow who leaked the fact that your people were monitoring bin Laden’s cell phone. What was his name?”
“Well, we don’t speak of that publicly, but the CIA is pretty sure it was Senator Shelby. I agree we need to keep better tabs on the Congress and the Cabinet. But what else should we be doing?”
“Strange you’d ask just now. I was sitting around with our little group when you called. You know, the regulars: Francis Walsingham, Allen Dulles, and Reinhard Gehlen. We all agreed there were a few things you have to do immediately.”
I raised an eyebrow, and Reilly continued. “First, you have to get rid of Tenet. President Bush’s loyalty to his people is admirable, but only as long as they perform well and are loyal in return. Tenet fails both tests. Next, you need to integrate the CIA with the NSA, the DIA, and all the other intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the intelligence arm of the State Department. To do that, you need to lift the legal barriers to their all operating together, not just sharing information.”
“But that would mean the CIA would have spies working actively inside the United States.”
“As your sons would say, ‘yeah, so?’ Are you serious about stopping terrorists before they strike again or not? If you are, you have to be serious about reforming how the intelligence agencies operate. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic like Senator Kerry wants to do won’t change a bloody thing.”
“Hmm. I see what you mean, I think. But we’d have to get over the objections of all the civil libertarians.” Reilly started tapping the arm of his chair. His patience was wearing thin.
“Jed, Jed, Jed. I thought you were a serious man. You don’t need to remove the Constitutional barriers to search and seizure to do this the right way. You needn’t reduce your citizens’ inalienable rights, and your courts and Congress will still be there to protect those rights. When you force the joint operation, you must put someone on top of these combined agencies who can actually lead them. How about Paul Wolfowitz?”
“Sidney, I’m sure Wolfowitz would rather slash his wrists than take that job. The same goes for General Myers, who I’d choose if Wolfowitz turned the job down. What else should we be doing?”
“Sorry, old man. I need to go. My new lady friend is waiting for me.” He smiled broadly. “Don’t ask. All I’m going to tell you is that Ingrid Bergman looks as good now as she did in Casablanca.”
With that Reilly faded away, though his grin lingered in the air for a long time.
TAS Contributing editor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and now often appears as a talking warhead on radio and television.