Bayard & Holmes
~ Jay Holmes
Bayard & Holmes created Love-A-Spook Day eight years ago on October 31 to honor the contributions of those in the clandestine services. In previous Love-a-Spook Day articles, we have focused on remarkable individuals who have made great contributions to our national security, usually at great personal risk. This year let us consider a group of spooks who will likely never receive a medal, a handshake from a US president, or even much of a “thank you” on their way out the door after decades of hard work and loyalty.
You may have met some of these spooks, and unless you are in their “need to know” zone, they probably never told you what they did.
You might live next door to one. They will discuss gardening, sports, PTA meetings and lots of other topics with you, and they will be happy to tell you about their “job,” just not their real job. The higher they are in their field and the more critical their work is, the less you will know about it. The chances are that long after they retire, they will hold to their “cover story.” The more exciting their career was, the more mundane their cover will be.
The spooks that I am referring to are those that we collectively refer to as “analysts.” They sound every bit as humdrum as Wall Street bond analysts. They aren’t.
In the military aviation world, bomber pilots are fond of saying, “Fighter pilots make movies; we make history.” Intelligence analysts might say, “Covert operatives make movies; we make history.” They would be fairly well-justified in saying it.
We in the covert operations side of the business may at times undervalue the work of analysts, and at times we become impatient with them.
From our point of view, we found it, saw it, recorded it, photographed it, and at times even blew it up. It might seem like the intelligence picture in front of us is as clear as a sunny day. If not that, then at least as clear as the best technology will illuminate a dark night or see through a fog-filled day in Beijing. So why, then, would the analysts fret or question our interpretations?
For example, when standing at a window in a foreign country observing a major terrorist come and go day after day, we operatives might wonder why action has not been taken.
From where we stand at that moment, we cannot see that the analytical team is also receiving valid information from a wide range of other sources. We may have solidly identified a nasty and dangerous jihadi skumbag. We may have a team in good position to gift said skumbag his seventy-two virgins—which are probably Chinese blow up dolls. We may even be in a position to make sure that the local cops report it as an attack by a rival group of jihadi skumbags. At the same time, some drone pilot sitting in a cargo container thousands of miles away might also be wondering why he can’t go ahead and fire. Let’s get this party started!
More experienced field spooks know better than to make assumptions about what’s going on “back at the office.”
While we in the field are ready to rumble, an analytical team may have good reason to believe that the skumbag in question is soon going to attend a meeting with a dozen higher-ranking skumbags, and if we are all patient, then we can arrange a much more profitable use of a $25,000 JDAM bomb or a $110,000 drone-fired Hellfire missile. At any price point, why settle for one dead bad guy if you can kill or capture a dozen? More experienced operatives have learned that there is always more at stake than what is in front of a single team or even entire groups of teams in a region.
It can be difficult to remain patient when suffering from a few exotic and unpleasant diseases in a filthy, dangerous corner of the world where cruise ships don’t visit while wondering how the wife and children are doing at home. We can’t contact them. It would be nice to go home. We might start telling jokes amongst ourselves about the analysts,* deputy directors, and various politicians. We have to keep ourselves laughing somehow. But let us assume then that in spite of our jokes, our team and other teams remain patient.
If the risks and the patience pay off, and a dozen jihadi skumbags find themselves trying to inflate plastic blowup dolls in hell, we will all be happy, and that happiness traces back to the analysts.
If the success story is shared with the media, the public will envision Navy SEALs, Green Berets, fighter pilots, cranky ill-mannered spooks, or any other manner of heroes as having scored another victory. Few members of the public and even fewer members of the government will stop to consider that without long hours, days, weeks, months, and in many cases years of very difficult work on the part of anonymous analysts in the background, the success would not have been possible.
Let us dispel a few popular myths about analysts.
- They are analysts because they couldn’t cut it in “the field.”
No. They are analysts because they have very high IQs, a strong work ethic, stable egos, trustworthiness, the ability to remain objective at all times regardless of their passions, and a dogged devotion to the pursuit of the truth.
- Analysts are all alike and all do similar work.
No. Analysts are quite varied in education, skill sets, personalities, and jobs. Some might be brilliant scientists, engineers, or computer experts. They might analyze scientific data collected in the field, or they might invent new methods of analysis. Some might specialize in the personalities of foreign leaders, such as Vladimir Putin, and spend years examining every available piece of information about them. Others might specialize in counter-terrorism or counter-intelligence. There are about a dozen main types of analysts and various groups within each type. They work together as needed to meet the day’s demands for intelligence.
- Analysts spend their careers doing the same thing on the same team.
No. The CIA and other agencies are certain that it is best for analysts to change teams after a few years so that they will not lose perspective or start missing valuable clues. A career analyst will have worked in several different areas of focus.
- Analysts never go to the mythical and glorious “field.”
They sometimes do, and some more than others. At times, a particular analyst might be the best person for a meeting with an agent or potential agent. Analysts also may take assignments at US embassies or other foreign locations.
- Analysts never face danger.
I wish that were true. It is not. What do you think Team Jihadi would pay for the location of the person that led the hunt for Bin Laden? What do you think they would do with that information? Before SEAL Team Six could fly to that compound in Pakistan, a large and very dedicated team led by a brilliant man worked for years to get a solid location on Osama. Many lunches were skipped. Nights at home were skipped. Vacations were missed. Sleep was lost, and who can even calculate the thousands of hours of unpaid overtime that those team members worked? They wouldn’t call it “overtime.” They wouldn’t call it anything. They won’t even tell you they were there doing the work.
So as we celebrate our 8th Annual Love-a-Spook Day, let us remember the thousands of unsung heroes that dedicate their lives to the difficult process of turning data and evidence into useful intelligence with which the president can make better decisions—the analysts.
Happy Love-A-Spook Day, Analysts,
and thank you for your dedication and hard work.
*To all the analysts out there, I am 90% certain that I take back 90% of the unkind jokes that “me and mine” have told about you over the years. Thank you. ~ JH