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Are CIA Officers as Bad Ass as in the Movies? (clearancejobs.com)
15 points by burgessct on May 29, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 14 comments

Always puzzled by the fact that the US intelligence community largely is believed to have started after WW2, but a 10% of the US's federal budget from very earlier in its founding was used for spying [1] and Washington himself was a spy [2].

[1] https://www.cia.gov/kids-page/6-12th-grade/operation-history...

[2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culper_Ring

Thanks, did not know, although I knew many of the founders were spying / giving up British's move during the war, the same way how the Chinese Communist Party crippled the Nationalist's force so quickly (many of the most trusted military officials were Communists the whole time) and took over mainland China.

Here is CIA's own official acknowledgment of Washington as the first Chief of Intelligence:

[1]: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intellig...

Here's more detail on Washington's role: https://www.cia.gov/kids-page/6-12th-grade/operation-history...

There are at least some spy incidents, devices, etc, that mirror the outlandish stuff seen in movies.



Guessing that's by far the exception though.

It is crucial to understand there are ops who run clandestine operations on foot, and there are analysts who does the back office analytics.

Some movies do portray things well. The Benghazi movie "13 Hours" seems like a good portray of CIA operation. A lot of desk work, some meeting with locals and informants, and generally hiding in a secret building doing surveillance work (although I think many does the surveillance directly from U.S. embassy because of the territorial sovereignty and secure infrastructure is in place already). The drug war against Pablo Escobar also showed how CIA involved in the jungle warfare by providing weapons to the opposition, and conducting surveillance on drug lords and politicians from the sky.

But I am not going to dispute there aren't assassination attempts. See [1].

    On the basis of the investigation, the evidence shows that agents of the
    CIA were involved in planning in this country with certain citizens
    and others to seek to assassinate Premier Castro."

    Bissell also testified that there was discussion within the Agency
    of the possibility of an attempt on the life of President
    Achmed Sukarno of Indonesia which 11 progressed as far as the identification
    of an asset who it was felt might be recruited for this purpose."
In [2], there's been reporting that CIA operation in China has been compromised and crippled. Many of the CIA informants are MIA according to the report. CIA operation officers would travel to China and meet informants in cafe or local restaurants. There are CIA operatives living in China like business man. On another note, Japanese spies have been caught, according to [3].

But like in most movies where operatives kill dozens and some car chase?? Meh, I doubt.

However, one would wonder, will assassination attempt on NK's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un ever succeed? [4]. But then again, it won't be CIA who is doing the killing, it will most likely be a NK asset, or some contractor like someone said below. Although, I think it will be a NK asset.

[1]: https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/document/0005/7324...

[2]: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/20/world/asia/china-cia-spie...

[3]: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/209...

[4]: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/05/north-korea-accuses...

Met a guy recently and he recommended "The Way of the Knife":


and "Legacy of ashes"



I downloaded the ebook to WoTK -- reviews of it are good, but I haven't started reading it just yet.

The Human Factor, by Ishmael Jones is probably required reading for anyone interested in this question:

Tl;dr - The "bad ass" individual navigate constant dissonance, delivering results despite internal politics, micromanagement and bureaucratic ambition. How? Internal locus of control, humility, perspective and humor. Ambition, zealotry and need for acceptance appears to be a pervasive liability. You are more likely to experience them as highly effective salespeople than as Jason Bourne types.

A16Z had a great podcast recently where they interviewed the former Deputy Director of the CIA about how the organization works and what its relationship is with the President:


I've oft felt that there is a conspiracy to create a cognitive dissonance regarding the CIA:

Movies: Make the CIA look tough as shit, ultra competent and a bunch of hyper-bad ass martial-artist who can dismantle a gun pointed at their head with a single move in two seconds, hack a cell phone into anything MaGuyver could have a wet-dream about, manage to appear on an roof-top anywhere undetected suddenly with a massive, expensive, yet disposable kit (burner phone, binoculars, remote mics, sniper rifle, etc) - effortlessly cross international borders, never need to shower, eat and seemingly have stashes of cash and ids everywhere and can hack any fucking computer/security system they come across.


IRL: The CIA wants to remain totally silent IRL and in public they prefer to look like bumbling idiots who can't seem to do anything correctly... so we just think they are a bunch of idiots/assholes/psychopaths - and we dismiss them as either too much to think about, to evil to think about, to secretive to have enough information to think about them, etc...

The CIA is the Keyser Soze: "The best trick the CIA ever pulled, was convincing you simultaneously they were both hyper-competent-bad-assery and bumbling idiots who fuck-up every mission they undertake"


Yet here we recently find out their tech kit and zero-day library card gives them access to even more/deeper tech than the NSA.....

Yeah... I guess we don't call them "spooks" for nothing...

I am not a CIA field agent, but I know a few. Those I know tend to be risk-averse and methodical, and decidedly not overtly badass.

That said, I've never "shared a foxhole" with an agent, so maybe I just don't have a full impression.

I would guess they contract out to the military for most things that require actual bad-assery. The Zero Dark Thirty story seems to confirm that pattern.

Considering that SAD/SOG is recruiting people out of 1st SFOD-D and other tier-1 units they obviously need people with that type of expertise at least for some of their activities.

There are some interesting discussions occasionally about the CIAs previous operations of on /r/conspiracy as well:


Without knowing anything about the CIA specifically but about big organizations incl. government ones:

I suspect 99% of the employees have jobs comparable to what you see in the daily Dilbert cartoons, and they sit in aging offices with outdated equipment (unless it's just after a rare new-stuff purchase wave), and they spend 90% of their time fighting the bureaucracy, creating, filing and reading reports, and "internal politics" on all levels. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's not like they have a razor-sharp focus for each and every employee (just like any other large organization) and most of live for anybody is just to muddle through somehow.

I once participated in a big project for the foreign ministry of a big European country. We spent a lot of time thinking about how to place the icons everybody should see by default so that they didn't cover essential parts of the country's symbols shown as default background image... when I suggested to an employee with half-inch thick glasses who placed his eyes like three inches from the monitor that I could decrease the resolution of his desktop so that everything would get bigger he refused because he thought he had to cope with whatever he was told, and if the higher ups declared default screen resolution to be X * Y it was not his place to select a different one...

Anyway, I liked everybody, it was great fun. It's just a bunch of humans after all ;-)

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