Ethics in U.S. Foreign Policy: Spymaster Jack Devine on the CIA

May 26, 2015

Introduction

STEPHANIE SY: Good evening. Welcome to Ethics Matter. I'm Stephanie Sy. I'm an anchor at Al Jazeera America, which is a cable news channel that can be viewed across the United States. I'm also a former foreign correspondent with ABC News.

I am joined tonight by Jack Devine, a 32-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]. In his memoir, Good Hunting! An American Spymaster's Story, he describes recruiting agents in the dark of night and directing many of the CIA's covert operations during the Cold War. That includes being in Chile when Salvador Allende was toppled and in Afghanistan, where he helped to arm the Islamist rebels there against the Soviets. He eventually became acting chief of the Agency's Clandestine Service. He retired in 1999 and is now in the field of private intelligence with The Arkin Group.

Jack, thanks so much for being here.

Discussion

STEPHANIE SY: I am going to start out with a softball. What attracted you to joining the CIA? Did you have romantic notions about the spy trade before joining?

JACK DEVINE: I joined in 1967. If I look around, there are a few white hairs. If you were to go back to 1967, the CIA as an institution was not much of a story. You had the Bay of Pigs and then it disappeared. In the average city in the United States there was probably no discourse about it. In Washington, maybe New York, there would be an interest in it. Today, in all the major journals or newspapers in the United States, you have at least two journalists that cover CIA as the story. But then it didn't have high visibility.

I was teaching high school in suburban Philadelphia, having a really good time, and happy.

STEPHANIE SY: And then you became a spy.

JACK DEVINE: Well, I wasn't that happy. What happened was—I think it was either my birthday or our anniversary—my wife gave me a book by David Wise, who I think is still writing, believe it or not. It's called The Invisible Government. The thrust of the book is the military-industrial-intelligence complex and how it is controlling the world. It was supposed to be a scandalous book. By today's standard, it would be a cream puff. But I read it and I thought, "Wow, that's terribly interesting." I'd never thought about it.

STEPHANIE SY: So you wanted the power of being in the "invisible government"?

JACK DEVINE: Well, power didn't—that is a really interesting question. We are on ethics tonight, by the way. The thing that attracted me to the Agency was a sense of mission. I think it is what attracts young people today. What was the mission? When I was growing up, communism was a really evil, anti-American sort of phenomenon that was threatening, and there were nuclear weapons in Russia. It was, in our mind, in my generation's mind, a very serious existential threat. I thought, what better way to serve your country, feel fulfilled? In fact, I am probably not sure my thoughts were as rounded—not that they are terribly rounded tonight—but the sense of belonging to that type of institution. As I got into it, certainly the intrigue and our relevancy in the world and being part of it played a bigger part.

But I should point out that the Agency—and I think, as an individual in it, we have to be very careful about the power, because after a while you do begin to realize you have real power over events and individuals. The problem is that that can be a corrupting force. There has to be personal discipline and institutional discipline so that it doesn't become a corrupting force.

STEPHANIE SY: And I think we are going to have a lot of opportunities to get into that, but let's talk a little bit about the intrigue. Your specific job at one point in the CIA was basically recruiting agents to turn against their own governments. How many unsavory characters did you have to work with? And how did you stomach it?

JACK DEVINE: I have a good stomach. My biggest fear was reading The Washington Post in the morning. That's when you needed a good stomach, because you open you the paper and you read what you were doing—or turn on Al Jazeera.

This is counterintuitive. Men's Health is doing an article in its fall edition. I just got a question today that was something like, "How did you recruit people?" My answer is the same as it is tonight. Through all of my career, it is not just the people that I recruited, but I, at different points, was at different levels in the CIA and had a chance to look at many recruitments. I even studied them in some of the divisions. What is really fascinating is that most of the people that worked with us identified with the American dream. You may say that's hokey, but for most of the people around the world, to live in America, to have the ability to say what you want, to have not only opportunity for yourself, but your children, is an extremely powerful thing, which we must make sure—

STEPHANIE SY: But in your book, don't you say it comes down to money?

JACK DEVINE: That's a problem with reading the book. As I said when I went before the Congress, I should say "yes" and "no," and then move on.

But the first part is, you look for people who have the information you want. The second part is, can you identify people that may or may not know how much they appreciate the American dream? Then you start to develop a relationship with them. The trick is to bring them to a cognizant level where they can see that they can play on the team that they want.

The American system, good capitalists that we are, likes to cement the deal with money. Frankly, when you put your life at risk and your family's—because if an agent is apprehended in this country, it's not just him or her; it's the family members as well. So they should be compensated. But what is interesting often is that the agent will say, "No, no, no, I don't want the money." We'll say, "Look, we're going to put it in escrow just in case you change your mind." And I will tell you, at the fourth meeting, it's, "How much is in my escrow account?" So it helps cement it.

But I would like to make just a quick comparison with the Russian system. In the 1930s, in the early formation of the Soviet Union, it had appeal in the intellectual world, including in the West. You had a large communist party in most countries. There was an idealism. Then when Russia invaded Poland with the Nazis, I think it pulled the underpinnings out. Then, as the years went by, it became more and more of a stale ideology. It was a hard product to sell. I would say, by the early 1960s, it was dead. The Russians had a hard time selling it.

The Cubans were able to extend it longer because they were revolutionary and they were able to bring it to Latin America. But they were stale by the 1980s.

My point is, at the end of the day, they didn't have the American dream. They ended up having more often than not to use what I would call more coercive means. Blackmail would be one example of that.

STEPHANIE SY: Ideology as a recruitment tool is very interesting. Do you still think that the American dream is an effective recruiting tool? Contrast that with, say, ISIL's [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] ideology.

JACK DEVINE: If I would jump forward, I am not worried about ISIS controlling the world. I think it has a losing ideology, just like the communists had. I don't think it's something that is going to embrace mankind.

It is interesting. Currently you hear a fair amount of commentary about how America is viewed around the world and that its stock is going down. I'm sorry, I don't sign up to it. I believe, as you travel around the world, such a large percentage of the world's population would love nothing better than to be here. Now, do they disagree with some of our policies? For sure. So do I. But is this still a magnet for opportunity? You bet.

STEPHANIE SY: Let's talk about policy for a minute. Your first assignment was in Chile, shortly after Nixon ordered a failed coup. You were there when the military actually overthrew Allende. In one of the first chapters of your book, you set the record straight. You say the CIA ultimately had no role in Pinochet coming to power. Why did you feel it was so important to clarify that point?

JACK DEVINE: It's interesting that Foreign Affairs magazine had the serial rights on Good Hunting, the book, and they chose the Chile chapter. I thought, well, they will go with Afghanistan and the Russians, they will go with something else. They chose Chile because it remains—and it still surprises me—a hot-button issue in a large part of academia, in writings. Also, one of the things that is interesting with journalism is that many of the journalists that were around and found that situation appalling later became editors and they remained in the media. So there is a strong fixation that persists today about it. It is used as sort of an example of what goes wrong in covert actions.

The problem with it is that it is not factually accurate. When I was in Chile—it was my first assignment. I actually was on the desk in Washington when the first failed coup took place, but then I was assigned to the field. I was in the station. I went with the chief of station to many of his meetings. At that time, the thought that what I wrote and what took place—the fact that it would occur [be made publice] in my lifetime was unthinkable. I thought secrets were meant to be kept secret.

If I have the year right, around 1975, the Church Committee looked into Chile, what took place. I found it abhorrent that Congress would be reviewing it in the public domain. But what is interesting is that, as the years go by, and in the process of writing the book, I went back and re-read the Church report. It is actually a very good report. I think they did a good job describing—I was having trouble about having secrets in the public.

In 2000, the U.S. government decided to declassify the CIA's role in Chile, and all the cables, my cables—some of them are in the book—literally what I wrote is in the book and what took place. What you see is that the Church Committee and what is in the declassified documents, is that there was a bad attempt, at the direction of the White House, despite the local chief's disagreement. It was a failure. But what people don't realize is that right after that the White House sent a cable saying, "Try and support the opposition media, the opposition political parties, any interest group that is opposing Allende. Stop it from turning communist. But do not plot with the military." Most people don't realize that that was a golden rule.

How did the CIA find out that the military in Chile was going to move? It wasn't from the military. I was enjoying a wonderful Italian lunch in downtown Santiago, and my agent, who was not a military officer, but was close to them, couldn't reach me. So he reached Pat, my wife, my staunch ally, and he said to her, "Tell Jack I'm getting out of town. I'm leaving. But there is going to be a coup in three days. It will begin in Valparaiso. There will be an announcement on Radio Agricultura."

When you look at the book, there is that cable.

Later in the afternoon, I got another source, also not the military. Even as late as three days before the coup, the CIA did not know what the military was up to.

There is a question where reasonable people can disagree: How much did CIA's working with the parties and the media influence the environment? Again, there is room for reasonable people to debate. I honestly believe—where I stand—that at the end of the day, it was, more than anything else, Allende's economic policies that brought the collapse of the economy.

The second thing was that the military as an institution started to fall apart. Then you had at that point junior officers plotting to overthrow the government. There was a small group of tank commanders that moved on the palace. That was in June.

The CIA's reporting said, "They were talked back into the tank by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so Allende is going to last until the election, and we need to prepare for that."

What we didn't know was that the generals went back after that and said, "Our own institution is falling apart. Therefore, we're going to take charge of the coup."

So it was those two principal considerations, I think, more than anything, that drove the military to move.

STEPHANIE SY: I just want to take a step back and ask you, what would the world look like if the CIA did not go around plotting and influencing the destinies of other countries?

JACK DEVINE: What a horrible world that would be. I can't imagine living in that world.

It's interesting. Eisenhower—remember, that is the military complex—he approved 300 covert action operations. There was a little—I don't want to say duplicity, but at that point he also denied that we were flying the U-2. It's more like what Putin does today. He does terrible things and just lies about it, and two-thirds of the world—or let's say half—sort of gives him a pass.

In the book I am an advocate for covert action. I probably should define this just quickly. When you think of the CIA, there are two dimensions when you get into the operational part. One is spying, meeting agents, as you were saying earlier, Steph, and recruiting them, finding moles inside your place. That is le Carré's George Smiley. The other side is the action part. That is, the James Bond runs around and disrupts—

STEPHANIE SY: Tries to assassinate foreign leaders, plots to overthrow—

JACK DEVINE: All of that, on behalf of the queen. If you meet Sean Connery, you will find out that if you mention the queen, he gets irate, because he is at core a Scotsman.

It is the action part. In the book—I want to be really clear on this—my intention isn't really to defend the CIA, although I feel very close to it. I say, rather dramatically, that part of my heart—most of it is for my wife, let's get that straight, my kids, with probably a little piece left for the CIA. I really feel passionately about it.

The spying part there is almost no dispute about. It's age-old. It is the action part. It is not just a defense or explaining it. I am advocating that we use the CIA—when diplomacy runs its course and before you put boots on the ground, draw on the CIA to see if it can make events change.

If I were just to take the world today, just so we can throw gasoline on the audience, in Afghanistan, I think it was great that we went in and brought the Taliban down. I would have gone after bin Laden, and I would have left the CIA and left Special Forces together there under the radar. I would never have gone into Iraq in the first place. If I felt the need, I would have made a serious and ample—it is very important. Sometimes Congress gives conscience money to the CIA: "Here's a covert action program and we are going to give you $10 million. Rock the world." That's not what happens. If you are going to dabble, don't do it.

In Syria, we are going to be training 5,000 troops. I am not sure what that is going to do.

Anyway, coming back to it, I am an advocate of using this tool, but I am also—and, Steph, you brought this up yourself earlier tonight—there have to be principles. It is just not an open-ended, give the CIA a carte blanche (blank check).

I should make one note on that. The biggest thing that people don't realize when they think of the action part, more than any other confusion—I spent 32 years at the CIA and I studied all the covert action before it. I believe it's true today, but I don't have firsthand knowledge. But the part that I have firsthand, I know of not a single case in history where the CIA conducted a covert action without not only the approval of the president of the United States, but the signed approval of the president of the United States. People often confuse—

STEPHANIE SY: But is signed approval the same as oversight? At this point I just want to bring up the Senate report on enhanced interrogation, which actually says that Congress was misled about how that interrogation program was going on. Isn't it different to sort of authorize something than to actually have oversight over it?

JACK DEVINE: I am a strong advocate for oversight. Now you are going to say, "Oh, my god, how did the CIA let him out in the public?" Well, I am a free citizen today. But those have been around a long time. If you have a secret agency inside a democracy, there need to be checks and balances on it. What is the logical check and balance? You cannot have a secret agency that is publicizing and we are voting on the issues. It has to be through the representatives of the people in Congress.

I am outraged by the torture report, but not the way you would think. I am just categorically opposed to enhanced interrogation, period. The report is terrible in that we are better when we have bipartisan participation. It is a report written by a minority. I blame the Republicans as much as the Democrats. The Republicans walked away. The Democrats ran with it. It is not true that the Congress wasn't briefed. The chairmen and vice chairmen of the relevant committees were briefed on the program.

STEPHANIE SY: There were literally tapes of interrogations destroyed by the CIA. Those were never shown to Congress.

But I want to ask you this, Jack. If you were in the Agency at the time of the enhanced interrogation program, would you have felt empowered to have said something? You clearly are morally opposed to torture.

JACK DEVINE: I think the challenge for you—and this got to the very first point about what the principles are—you have to be careful when you say it that it doesn't sound like bravado. There was only one time in my career when I got close to thinking I would have to resign. It was a policy issue. It wasn't an ethics issue. It was a policy issue. That was the Iran-Contra affair.

I think this gets to the ethics issue. I would say I would hope that I would have stood up and said, "I can't do it," and take the consequences.

STEPHANIE SY: And you did speak up during Iran-Contra.

JACK DEVINE: It's true, but Pat also points out to me that—well, if we go there, I can elaborate, if you want to talk about the Iran-Contra affair.

STEPHANIE SY: You knew it was happening. Did you know it was illegal?

JACK DEVINE: No. I'm not sure how many people followed the Iran-Contra affair. People don't realize that it almost brought the Reagan administration down. That's how lethal it was.

What had happened—I was the branch chief for Iran. I was in charge of Iranian operations. I got a call saying to go up and see the director, Bill Casey. The director said, "Jack, I want you to go out and meet this fellow Ghorbanifar, because he really has as lot of information. He's in touch with the White House, a contractor there."

STEPHANIE SY: This was an arms dealer, correct?

JACK DEVINE: He not only was an arms dealer; we had a file on him this thick. There were two burn notices saying, "Never meet this guy." But the White House and its contractor felt that that wasn't an issue.

I went out and I had the meeting, and they talked about the first shipment of missiles that were not tied to the U.S. government. But the White House, off the books, ran its own operation. I was stunned. I had never heard of anything like this. So I went to the chief of the Middle East and then we went up to brief Bill Casey. Bill just looked at me. The chief of operations—the job I had years later—put his hands between his legs. I think it was like a body blow that this was taking place.

We had a meeting with the director and some folks who later became cabinet members. I said, "Look, why don't we polygraph this guy?" We had polygraphed him twice before, and I knew the results before we polygraphed him. He missed every question. I believe it was his name that he missed as well, because he probably had some variation of it. When that happened, I was told, "Look, don't go up and brief Casey. It's over. It's done. We're not going to deal with this person." I was a lowly GS-15, a major or whatever in military terms. I thought, "I won one for the Gipper."

George Shultz once said, "No bad idea dies in Washington." The Iran-Contra affair was the classic example of that.

Two months went by and I got a call saying, "Jack, we know you won't deal with Ghorbanifar, but can you organize the flights and the money?"

STEPHANIE SY: So the Agency decided to deal with this arms dealer who had failed multiple polygraph tests.

JACK DEVINE: The president of the United States decided. The president of the United States decided and then instructed the CIA to make that happen.

So I did. When I was going up to the seventh floor to say Ghorbanifar was a bad idea, I told my wife, and I wrote a memo, which is in the record, saying, "I believe the trading of missiles for hostages is inimical to the U.S. interests." It's in the file somewhere—in the report, the Walsh report. I thought that at that point I might have to resign. It was the only time in my career that I thought I would have to resign.

This is a policy dispute. This is not an ethics dispute. In other words, the fact that I disagreed that we should be doing this is a policy. My job is to carry out the mission, but I disagree with the policy. The important thing to realize is that—we will arbitrarily say that for the TOW missiles, they were charged $2 million, the Iranians; $1 million dollars went to the account I controlled; the other $1 million went to the Treasury and into Central America.

There was the Boland Amendment, which said no money can go to Central America. That was illegal. That's the part that—where do the principles become involved? When it becomes illegal, you have to step up and/or step down.

I just want to make a distinction here. There are policies you can disagree with and then, when it gets to the law and to whatever your sense of ethics is—if your ethical sense is being challenged, then you have to get out all the way.

STEPHANIE SY: I am going to change topics for a second. You will see why in a moment. I want to talk about Aldrich Ames. He was perhaps the biggest mole in CIA history. He was a colleague of yours. I think he was a direct report to you at one point. What do you think goes through the mind of someone like that who decides to betray his country?

JACK DEVINE: That is an issue that, inside, we have often debated. It was interesting—if that is the right word—when we caught Ames, the executive director decided it would be nice to have buttons, "Never Again." Clearly he was never in operations, because the spying business is about betrayal. Why you would think we would have Russians working for us, on our payroll, and not have anybody in the CIA or in Western governments escapes me.

But it wasn't just arrogance that I refused to wear it. I knew that when Rick Ames was arrested—and when he defected mentally—he stayed in place, but when he went to the Russians—he gave up the names of 11 CIA people in the Kremlin. All of them were executed. But I knew there were others that there was no way he could possibly have known about. Therefore, even at that moment, I knew we had another mole. That turned out to be Hanssen, who was with the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation].

We are going to take it off-track, but let me come back to the point. Rick was very well-read, one of the better-read people that I had met early in my career. He was an advocate, a strong believer in the CIA's mission. He believed in the counterintelligence part of it. He and I would disagree. We exchanged books. But I don't want to go off on a tangent. His father was a CIA officer. Rick lived in Thailand. He grew up understanding this. But he was the laziest CIA officer I ever ran into. His father was a failed officer. His father had drinking problems. Rick developed them.

Here is where the recruitment process comes into play. When you think that you are smarter than everybody and you are egotistical and you are narcissistic, and you decide you are not going to work very hard, I guarantee you, what happens in the system is that all your peers start to pass you by. It is in the system where there is a gap between your self-esteem and how the institution looks at you. It is in that space that betrayal rests.

I would say, just so we don't leave it untouched, I don't believe Snowden was recruited by the Russians. They are good. They are very good, but they are not that good. Finding Snowden would have been a hard thing.

STEPHANIE SY: Do you think Snowden has the same character flaws?

JACK DEVINE: That's what I was getting at. In that space, the mental gap, disaffection doesn't mean you are necessarily going to be a recruited agent. That is what we hunt for, and it can lead to it. Snowden goes to Russia. Once you go to Russia and you become their guest, every meal you have, every room you sleep in, every moment of entertainment and public expression is controlled by the state. They will let you run with it as long as it does grave damage.

I am not making a parallel that he is an agent. He is an unwitting, at minimum, agent now. I don't think he left in that. But it is in that personality trait. He thought he was really smart, dropped out of school, had a really low-level job. I think it is in that space that he became disaffected.

STEPHANIE SY: But some would say Snowden's ends justified the means—

JACK DEVINE: I don't believe in "ends justify the means."

STEPHANIE SY: Snowden felt that it was an ethical conviction that led to his disclosures about the NSA's [National Security Agency] collection of phone data of ordinary Americans. A federal court has agreed that the NSA overstepped the authorization by Congress. So is he really in the same category?

JACK DEVINE: There are a lot of different arguments in there, but let me start with the very first one. If you as an employee of the U.S. government have signed the secrecy agreement—it's the only way it can work; you can't have an open-ended thing—and you believe that you have exhausted all possibilities of relief, when you look at Snowden—the NSA rarely parts with anything—they parted because he kept saying he tried to appeal it. They produced the one message where he raised an issue, where the NSA came back, in a very nice tone to him, and said the law is more important than anything else.

Snowden, if he had a deep principle—then you go to the inspector general. Then you go to the Congress. Congress will receive you. If that doesn't work, then you take the chance and you stand up before the American people and say, "I am standing on a principle," and then you go to court. If you don't believe that, then you know you don't have a really good case.

So I don't have a lot of respect for—I respect people who stand up. I think we have maybe too few people who stand up and put their jobs on the line. But you do that in our system. I don't think he will ever come back—that is all nonsense—because he knows when he comes back, he is going to jail for a long time.

STEPHANIE SY: Jack, we are going to get to the question-and-answer session soon, but I want to ask you one more question. You brought up the Church report. In 1976, as a response to the Church report, President Ford banned political assassinations. I want to ask you about drone killings, targeted drone killings, which many have called assassinations—

JACK DEVINE: I love the drone.

STEPHANIE SY: Do you think they are any different than political assassinations?

JACK DEVINE: Sure. The operative word is "political." I totally agree with Ford's pronouncement. You could not use the word "assassination" inside the CIA up until 9/11. In other words, between that order—it wasn't that there wasn't any assassination operation. You could not use the word. It was that rigid.

But the word is political, taking down a political figure. When I look at the drone, why do I like the drone? We are here in New York, the scene of 9/11. I'm sure a lot of folks here were caught in that. I was down there in that white cloud.

Everybody was saying, "How do you deal with this asymmetrical threat? We have the most powerful army in the world, the best fighting machine in history. That is more true today than ever. How do you deal with this?"

It gives me great relief to think that there is a drone hovering somewhere over Afghanistan and there is a terrorist in a hut not sure whether he is going to finish his cup of tea. We have destroyed three-fourths of the leadership of al-Qaeda through drones.

If you think about the drone—I am having trouble understanding the morality of a mortar attack. You know the terrorists on the other side. They are in the same building. You fire a mortar at it. You drop a bomb from the sky. What is there intrinsically about the drone that is not part of the justification of war?

STEPHANIE SY: The CIA's own internal report, as exposed through WikiLeaks, said that there were drawbacks to the drone program, that it actually could support insurgencies. For every terrorist killed, in other words, there might be more terrorists that want vengeance as a result. So is it an effective strategy?

JACK DEVINE: I think when you kill three-fourths of the leadership, it is pretty effective.

There are more overarching issues. The drone isn't what is creating ISIS. Our problems in Iraq are not drone-driven. These are huge sectarian issues that are being fought out before our very eyes. The drone is—I think it is an overdrawn point.

Questions

QUESTION: Jack, you left the administration when the son came on board and became president, and we were on the verge of invading Iraq. Was it a question of ethics, policy? What was it that made you not agree with the Iraq War?

JACK DEVINE: I think it is a question of principle and ethics. I would start with the first point. When you enter into a preemptive strike, you are breaking new ground. I would say that the American people, the media were largely mute on that point. Where we decide that we are going to preempt and take a strike, you have to have, in my mind—you are obligated to have intelligence that is so solid that you know that you are going to be attacked. I want to underscore that point.

The weapons of mass destruction, in my view, is a ruse. This is an argument without the key point of it. I don't think anybody that I knew doubted that there were weapons of mass destruction. We know that before—and I am not talking about before we invaded, a few years before—our inspectors went in and destroyed what they believed were half of them. They thought there were still weapons of mass destruction. What was missing was the intelligence to say that whatever he had was going to be used against U.S. national interests. I remain—there isn't any such intelligence, because it didn't even have the weapons of mass destruction, let alone the intent.

When you go to the arguments for a just war, the ethical core of tonight's discussion, this has been debated through the centuries. It begins with Indian philosophers, and then you get Aristotle and you get Augustine and Aquinas. You go through the arguments for a just war. You have an implacable enemy that is against your national interests. You have exhausted all other possibilities. You have a reasonable chance of success. You have minimized the damage to the civilians. There is proportionality in it. You don't nuke a village to rescue somebody.

These are basic time principles and why I am an advocate for covert action. I couldn't have said it stronger.

QUESTION: I'm Sameera Khan. I am Miss New Jersey United States. I am studying international relations at Rider University, so this subject is of interest to me.

This is my question to you. In regards to the drone strikes, you did say you didn't believe in the Machiavellian philosophy that the ends justify the means. But how do you feel about the thousand civilians dying as a result of these drone strikes?

JACK DEVINE: War will lead to civilian casualties. One of the principles which I just delineated was that you need to minimize the damage to civilians in conflict. When you use the drones, there is a huge obligation on those using them to make sure that you have done everything you can to validate that target. I don't know what more can be done. And it is true not with just the drones; it is any aspect of war fighting.

QUESTION: James Starkman is my name.

Could you just give us a brief refresher course on the Mosaddegh overthrow in Iran in 1953? What was the role of the CIA? Was it a good idea at the time? What was the policy behind it? If you had your druthers, would you do it again? I know it preceded your—

JACK DEVINE: I was just going to say, I needed to get to that right away. I was a freshman in high school, so my role in policy was rather limited.

But I knew people who were instructors that actually went in with the shah. Rocky Stone, who is a person of keen interest in history, had to dress the shah because he was so nervous [Editor's note: apparently Stone actually buttoned the uniform of the nervous Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, the CIA's man in the Iranian military and the shah's newly designated prime minister].

This comes back to my earlier point. It isn't whether the CIA did it or didn't do it. That was a presidential directive. The president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, decided that he should go. On that basis, the CIA was instructed to carry it out. I am trying to get away from the rogue CIA.

Mosaddegh—it still lingers. It's like the Chile thing. It just lingers in history. When this Foreign Affairs article came out with the Chile story, they had four stories. They decided, "We like the Chile one. Now we are going to do Iran, we're going to do the Congo," and I forget the fourth one. But if you read the arguments, one side makes the case that Mosaddegh was moving in the direction of the communists. As part of the general containment strategy, the White House believed that to be true and eliminated Mosaddegh.

What would have happened if he didn't? That is a hard card to play out for me.

The main point that I wanted to make is that you elect the president of the United States and you elect the Congress, which does the oversight. If you don't like the policy, then you have to get rid of them. The CIA will carry out those instructions as long as they are legal and, on a personal basis, ethical.

QUESTION: Thank you for coming out tonight.

You mentioned you started in about 1967. I was just wondering, the big Bill Donovan people—William Casey, E. Howard Hunt—did you know them well? Do you have any stories about the tail-end of the big Bill Donovan people?

JACK DEVINE: Again, when Donovan was around, I was a baby in the womb. I knew Bill Casey well, because Bill Casey was the director when I was running not only the Iran branch; when I ran Charlie Wilson's war, Bill Casey was the director. I will just give you a couple quick blurbs on him.

He was chief of Europe during World War II for OSS [Office of Strategic Services]. During the 1970s, there was a depreciation in the value of CIA and there was a depreciation in the national security issues. This happens—you like to blame a single party, but usually it's because the American people believe that the world has turned that way. The 1990s were very similar, but I would point out very quickly that CIA's budget was cut by 25 percent in the 1990s, but it was because the whole world thought we had won and it was all over.

Coming back to the 1970s, it was the same—cutting CIA, cutting, cutting, reducing its strength.

Then in 1980, when Bill Casey took over, he breathed new life into the covert action program. Now you can't breathe new life, no matter who you are, unless there is a decision, starting with the American people, that that is what's going to happen. But he did a great deal to revitalize it. I think he got wrapped around the axle on Iran, but on Afghanistan—I had a really good working relationship with him. He was extremely well-read. We were talking earlier. He fell asleep in one meeting—and I go into it in the book—not, I would hope, because of me, but because the person I was with thought he was so important that I think Casey decided to fall asleep to give him a lesson. It is very humiliating—

STEPHANIE SY: I think it was a tactic.

JACK DEVINE: If you fell asleep on me, I am not sure how I would feel about that. I think I do know how I would feel.

STEPHANIE SY: I could never, Jack.

I should mention here that one of the first chapters of Jack's book is about his time as the head of the Afghan task force. Jack played a crucial role in bringing the Stinger missile to the mujahideen, which was a turning point, a lot of historians would say, in that war.

QUESTION: I'm Bill McGowan, a journalist and author.

I am working on a book about the U.S.-Israel special relationship. I would like to get a sense from your experience, from your point of view, of what kind of relationship American intelligence had in your years with Israeli intelligence. Would you characterize their abilities as good as the mythology of the Mossad?

Secondly, if you were to look at the history and contemporarily, do things like the Lavon Affair, the Liberty, Jonathan Pollard still have traction? Is that still a craw? Thanks.

JACK DEVINE: Those are good questions, all of them.

The first thing I would say is that America's relationship with foreign intelligence services depends on the relationship between the government and that country. There is an old axiom, which is a slight overstatement: There are no friends in the intelligence business. But we have been friendly with the Brits for a long time. We have been friendly with Israel since 1947. So there are allies that have been long-time.

There are many allies in this world that are very good and work with us closely, but you worry about what they are doing at night.

Coming back to it, we have a very close relationship with Israel. Therefore, we have a very close relationship with the entire Israeli security system. Remember, they are a democracy in an area that is not noted for that.

What are their capabilities? You would say, "What is the best service in the world?" and unhesitatingly I would tell you, "The United States." Why? It's because of its breadth. It is a worldwide service that has huge signals intelligence, even though many people want to weaken that. But it is a huge, worldwide capability.

The Russians in their day were quite formidable, but they have shrunk. The Brits are good, but they have only a small part of the world they are interested in. Israel is very good, but it's really only in its neighborhood. I wouldn't count on their reporting—

STEPHANIE SY: Does Israel have better intel on Iran than the United States?

JACK DEVINE: Certainly not during my experience.

STEPHANIE SY: What about now on the nukes?

JACK DEVINE: I would hope someone asks us about that. I have been in a state of evolution on the nukes. I don't think it is that big of a secret. At this point I think we agree on how much the Iranians have and what the timeline is. I think the question is, so what? Now what? That is where there is room for disagreement.

Just to whet the appetite, I think it is the right thing to be in negotiations with them. We need two things. We can't lift the sanctions until they prove themselves, the Iranians, and we have to have full access. If we get that, it is a really good deal. The rest of it is manageable. I worry that we are not going to get that deal. I worry that we may want this deal too much. The Iranians know that.

For a while, I was thinking, if Iran has a nuclear weapon, isn't it an existential threat? I thought maybe two years ago—because the Israelis, I think, were actually ready to go a couple of years ago—I thought maybe we could live with it, that they are never going to use it. But I will tell you—and I found Netanyahu's position more extreme than I would like—I am working towards an op-ed myself, and I am becoming more and more concerned about the nonproliferation issue. It's not just Iran. This country was very worried about proliferation. We had Brazil, we had South Africa, we had Argentina all working on nuclear weapons. We have had great success.

There are two parts to that. One, if Iran ends up, what happens to the rest of the world? But the thing that troubles me most—and again, I am coming back—I think you will be surprised to find out that I have come to the point—my concern about Iran is that it is stable today—I can't imagine this group using it—but it is sufficiently unstable as a country that if it started to fall apart, you won't know who is the last person standing with his finger on it. We can't have weapons in the hands of any country that is viewed as unstable. The ingredients in Iran lead me to conclude that they cannot have nuclear weapons. That is not where I was even as late as a year ago.

STEPHANIE SY: I could go on with you on that and the fact that Pakistan also has nuclear weapons, but I am going to let this gentleman ask his question. Then maybe we will have time to go back to that issue. And we haven't even hit on Syria.

QUESTION: I'm Don Simmons.

We have mentioned the Bay of Pigs and the weapons of mass destruction not found in Iraq. Some other major big-picture intelligence failures that I am remembering are the misestimates of the Soviet strategic capability in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the misestimate of the Soviet economic health in the 1980s. These and other episodes seem to have one common factor, which is poor human intelligence, or a lack of it. No quarrel that we have wonderful signals intelligence, but knowing what is going on on the ground—perhaps poor language skills is part of the answer—do you agree that human intelligence has been a weak point of our intelligence? If so—

JACK DEVINE: Of course I can't agree with that. Are you kidding?

First of all, of the four points, let me take the first two. The first two, I want to underline, are policy disputes. With the Bay of Pigs, they had a pretty good idea of what they had. Again, I wasn't there, but I have read carefully, because I wanted to avoid some of the same mistakes. The mistake they made, in my view, was that the CIA, when they were putting the Bay of Pigs together, knew they needed the Air Force. Without the Air Force, it wouldn't work. But they made an assumption, which I have ever after, when I talk to young people at CIA going out to run offices abroad—they thought for sure that the White House would change its position once it started to bring the Air Force to bear. You don't make policy—you don't do that. Now you are trying to design policy. If you didn't have the Air Force, you should have said to the president, "Yours. We're done. We're out."

In the case of Iran, I said it was a White House thing.

The economic estimates—remember, every day you are doing estimates on China and you are doing—so you do get some wrong. I had a problem—and I go into this in the book—with the Russian analysts on Afghanistan. I had Middle East analysts, and we had a dispute. The Russian analyst felt the Russians were 10 feet tall. They fell in love with their client. That is not what you are supposed to do. They were convinced the mujahideen could not win that conflict. The Middle East analysts felt they could. You should have healthy disputes.

You pointed to a couple of failures. There are dozens more I could probably—I did an estimate on heroin at one point. I was chief of the counternarcotics area. We had the community together. We said we were looking at the growing and we were going to have a surge in heroin. The rest of the community said, "No, no, we can't have that." "Why?" "Because it means if you are in the Navy, you need to put more ships." Nobody wanted a two-front war.

So sometimes you lose debates. The most important thing is to have those debates. But you will get it wrong. The CIA people have an expression. I used to use it: Intelligence is not a science; it's an art.

STEPHANIE SY: But what—

JACK DEVINE: But wait. I have to correct myself. I believed that for years. I have gone around saying intelligence is an art. But then I thought, "Wait a minute. That means you are an artist, so anything goes and you can't be evaluated." So during my time, I was more interested in the metrics and the measuring.

I am sure we can point to failures, but I just was surrounded by such talented, tough-minded people in intelligence. Again, I am not defending weapons of mass destruction. I have a real problem with it.

STEPHANIE SY: The stakes are high, aren't they, Jack? Intelligence in the case of the Iraq policy was used to justify intervention. You present intelligence to the American people. It's sort of like when a doctor diagnoses you and you accept that he or she knows what they are talking about.

JACK DEVINE: What I want to say is, we didn't go to war because they had weapons of mass destruction. We knew that for years. We know there are many countries that have weapons of mass destruction. It was a policy-conscious decision that we are going to go against Iraq. It wasn't the weapons of mass destruction.

I don't know anybody, including within Saddam Hussein's immediate circle—it was interesting. When they debriefed the generals, they all thought some other general was in charge of it. Then there is the madness of Saddam Hussein, which is, "I would rather go down in the ship than stand up and say, 'Hey, look, I don't have any. Come in and look at them.'" I mean, it is counterintuitive.

My problem—I can't stress it enough—is, where was the intelligence saying he was going to use it? I haven't seen that. I don't believe CIA produced that report.

QUESTION: I'm David Hunt.

I just want to add a couple of comments. Vali Nasr, who was an Iranian-born American citizen who was head of the policy planning staff at the State Department during the Obama first administration, said in a talk at a club last fall, when asked about who overthrew Mosaddegh, "The Iranian army overthrew Mosaddegh. The CIA did not overthrow Mosaddegh."

JACK DEVINE: Rocky Stone would disagree. But he had a few drinks in him—

QUESTIONER: People take credit where they can.

The second comment is about the Bay of Pigs. We had the reporting from Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, who was a GRU [Main Intelligence Directorate (Russia)] colonel who gave us all the TO [theater of operations?], all the weaponry that the Soviets had leading up to the Bay of Pigs, so JFK could order a quarantine and be absolutely confident that the Soviets had no way of retaliating.

Thank you.

JACK DEVINE: The Missile Crisis—I was in university at the time. I thought, "This is one of those things that will blow over." But when you read it, what the Russians were putting in Cuba at that point—they were much closer to war than I think I would allow myself to think about.

STEPHANIE SY: We have a few more minutes. I wanted to touch on a couple of things, including Syria. You were in Afghanistan. You helped to get the mujahideen those Stinger missiles. Do you think there are lessons from history on unintended consequences of arming certain groups? In other words, to ask it more directly, do you think that the United States and the CIA should be choosing the so-called moderate opposition Syrians and arming them with weapons?

JACK DEVINE: You have some really tough, interwoven questions there.

If we knew unintended consequences, we might not do certain things. There is an article in the World Policy Journal that I wrote. The whole journal was about the unknown. They said, "Well, Jack, how can we get in front of the unknown?" I said, "If we could, it wouldn't be an issue."

When you are in the policy arena—let's take Afghanistan—you had bipartisan support for what we did in Afghanistan. It wasn't just the president of the United States. The speaker of the House was a Democrat, Jim Wright from Texas. The House and the Senate—I briefed them—really wanted us to get the Russians as part of the strategy of containment during that timeframe. The American people were outraged by Russia's invasion. So you had that "get the Russians out."

It is interesting that at the end, when I was running it, Charlie Wilson and I were talking. And it's not Charlie Wilson's war. I have to explain that, as much as I like Charlie. But when we were looking at the endgame, Charlie said, "Look, we need to get more money. We need to stay behind to continue support," I thought he had a point and I started to do planning. Charlie couldn't get the money out of Congress. All of the experts said, "Look, this is the Middle East. It's the graveyard of—get out of there." I thought they were wrong.

As the years passed, I began to realize that I was wrong. We could have dumped hundreds of millions of dollars after the departure in Afghanistan. It would not have mattered.

My concern today is, I am very much opposed to nation-building. I wish the whole world was a democratic/civil libertarian world. But it isn't. The people on the ground—the key with the Afghan program is that the Afghans wanted to fight for something. We also wanted that. When you have that, you can work with them. But don't stay around doing nation-building. In that is part of the message as it relates to Iraq and Afghanistan today.

STEPHANIE SY: The CIA has changed dramatically since the events of 9/11. There is the torture report, as you called it; there are reports that the CIA has outsourced assassinations—that is actually in your book—that they outsourced parts of the torture program. Is this a CIA that today, as a young man, you would want to be a part of?

JACK DEVINE: You bet. Someone said, what attracted me to the CIA in the first place? It was our struggle against a communist world that was hostile to the United States. Today I think a young person looking at the world might say, "I want to be in the fight to protect this country against terrorism." Institutions make mistakes. Hopefully you learn from them. It is inconceivable to me that there will be a resurrection of enhanced interrogations. I don't see that happening again.

I wouldn't hesitate, in a heartbeat. Part of it is, are you going to get in the game to make it better? If everybody stands on the sidelines, who is going to go in there? Who is going to go into the Navy SEALs? Who is going to go into the Marine Corps? Who is going to go into the CIA, cutting edge in the State Department?

So yes, you betcha, as a famous vice presidential candidate once said.

QUESTION: The Sykes-Picot treaty divided up the Middle East after the First World War. We are still living with that. Today, in addition to Sykes-Picot, as an American, I look upon it that we have a division between the Shia and the Sunni. Can we really control the religious affiliations and attitudes of what is going on in the Middle East or should we do what we did in Vietnam—declare victory and leave?

JACK DEVINE: First of all, the treaty was designed with their eyes open. They wanted to mix Sunnis and Shias. They wanted to keep the Middle East unstable. In other words, there was a method to their plan.

STEPHANIE SY: You mean the French and the British?

JACK DEVINE: Yes. They drew the map so that you would end up with mixed communities.

I have started to ask people, what is the solution today? There is a long silence. Nobody seems to—it is going to be interesting, the presidential campaign. I don't care which candidate, he or she is going to have trouble on this. It is partly because we cannot control developments, particularly when there are deep religious sentiments.

My own sense is that at some point—how many years I don't know—there will probably be a reconfiguration that is more Sunni-Shia. I would be surprised if Iraq 20 years from now is delineated and Syria is delineated.

I think we could fix the problem, but I am not recommending it because the cost is so huge. I think if we put the size army that we put in Vietnam, you probably could subjugate the region. But to what end?

I stumbled into where I think we are, at least in my mind. We have reinvented the containment strategy of the Cold War. It is not enunciated, because it doesn't sound dynamic enough: Just hold it together. Don't let the Ukraine get out of hand. Keep Syria contained.

It is not a criticism; it is an observation, although where I would differentiate between the current policy and my own would be that I would be more robust in covert action. Coming back to Syria, I would have left the dictators in because the stability—tried to work with them, cut the aid, tried to make them more humanitarian. But a basic principle of covert action is, don't knock over something unless you have a reasonable chance of success, as I said earlier, and you know what's coming. Why we felt the need to push out Mubarak or Qaddafi. He was hiding in his tent and giving us information on the—why we felt all of that was such a good thing to do and had no game plan the day after escapes me.

Nation-building in that part of the world is—I am pessimistic.

STEPHANIE SY: Well, we did not solve the Middle East crisis tonight, Jack.

JACK DEVINE: I thought I did.

STEPHANIE SY: But I appreciate the frank and candid answers to what were very probing questions, particularly from our audience.

Jack Devine, the original American spymaster, thank you so much.

JACK DEVINE: Good hunting!

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