It seems to me that a great number of Congress persons who are either directly involved in intelligence committee oversight or would like to be have a very limited understanding of how the intelligence community actually works and has worked for decades.  They also seem to have little understanding of the true rules and realities of classified information. Now that may seem a bit harsh but I keep seeing public statements from them that suggest they either don’t understand or do and prefer political grandstanding.

As an example, I’ve seen a number of Congress members complain that the CIA won’t fully answer their questions and since they themselves do have a security classifications that means the CIA officers must either be stonewalling them or at best intentionally obfuscating. The thing is, all clearances are certainly not the same and there are levels of compartmentalized security controls which go far beyond general clearance levels.  A great number of those have to do with key technical assets – space intelligence collection resources and ground signals intelligence.  Its estimated that there are well over a hundred special access clearances and that is most likely far below the reality of the matter. While we may sometimes make light, justifiably so, of objections to the release of documents based on sources and methods from 50 years ago, the capabilities of contemporary technical and signals intelligence devices are fundamental to national security and its very easy to compromise such sources in a back and forth dialog.  Now of course all that can be handled but the Congressional side of the house needs to appreciate the situation and make special legislative or security provision for getting the answers they need.

Perhaps even more striking to me have been recent remarks from people like Senator McCain that really ought to know better about what CIA headquarters does and does not know at a given time. The ongoing Levinson affair involving analysts using a voluntary and paid asset without higher level authorization is not a new story at all.  We cover numerous instances of such things in Shadow Warfare and it is always a risk – both the operations side and the analysis side have made such commitments frequently over the years.  Its a matter of mission and career vs. the rules. When hip pocket (in older days vest pocket) arrangements work, they can be extremely productive and everybody is happy.  Analysts often cultivate a wide range of voluntary intelligence assets just like the FBI cultivates informants.  On occasion such folks have their expenses paid or even receive direct payment, sometimes that arrangement changes and goes back and forth as it seems to have done with Levinson. Details about his changing relationships, unsanctioned at senior levels inside the Agency, can be found in the following article:

While distance relationships with intelligence assets – voluntary or paid – works life is good.  Headquarters gets the results of the analysis, not necessarily all the source detail When an asset gets trapped in some fashion, all bets are off.  Those of you who recall the Ed Wilson story probably recall how even former intelligence agency employees get in major trouble….Wilson’s defense was that the CIA knew what he was doing (or at least one or two senior officers did) and he was providing information on an ongoing basis.  The CIA denied it and he went to jail.  Later it turned out there were records of something like 80 ongoing meetings between he and CIA personnel and he then got out of jail.  In Shadow Warfare we even cover the fact that the Agency planted at least one or more informants in his Libyan operation.

Other than a bit of a rant, there is a point to all this and its that if Congress is going to whine about oversight it needs to understand the way the CIA really works and put some pragmatic protocols in place.  In fact for this and many other reasons we discuss in the book, they really need to make some modifications in the National Security Act of 1947.  But actually I don’t think that’s going to happen…..simply because it makes better sound bytes to leave things they way they are and use it to political advantage.  Readers of Shadow Warfare will find some Presidents treated less kindly than others, however Congress …well you’ll see…

— Larry





About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

2 responses »

  1. Harton Firmin says:


    This comment has nothing to do with your current post but this is the only way I have of reaching you. I think that anyone who puts great faith in Ed Hoffman’s eyewitness report needs to read M. Duke Lane’s 2007 essay titled “Freeway Man.” Separating the wheat from the chaff difficult enough. I really am counting on good information from serious people like yourself and Jim Douglas.

    • I have read Duke’s essay and I’ve also stood by Ed at the fence and watched him sign his exact story. Ed was a super person and quite sincere, had dinner with he and his wife and met him on several occasions. Having said that, each year I’ve taken the Lancer conference walking tour behind the fence, shown them where Ed placed himself and asked them to make their own decision about what he would have been able to see. My personal view is that at the distance involved and in particular with all the cars lined up parked against the fence, its hard for me to visualize the detail he describes. On the other hand it would have been possible to see the smoke that came out from over the fence – which I have no doubt about. It would have been possible to see that there were people in the parking lot area and to see someone running away….all observations confirmed by other people. I have no doubt that something did happen behind the fence, I picture it more as a diversionary action to draw attention away from the primary firing positions, but any detail beyond that escapes me. Which of course is why I’ve focused on the nature of the conspiracy rather than the tactical details of the shooting itself. I’d love to know those details but I just don’t see how that is possible at this distance in time – on the other hand I’m convinced that it was a well structured, paramilitary type ambush with multiple shooters, and most likely only part of an overall plan involving back up attacks if the Plaza element aborted.

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