Mass Shootings: The Military-Entertainment Complex’s Culture of Violence Turns Deadly




Posted 10/04/2017 – by

“Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that relies on violence to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. Given the profits made by arms manufacturers, the defense industry, gun dealers and the lobbyists who represent them in Congress, it comes as no surprise that the culture of violence cannot be abstracted from either the culture of business or the corruption of politics. Violence runs through US society like an electric current offering instant pleasure from all cultural sources, whether it be the nightly news or a television series that glorifies serial killers.”—Professor Henry A. Giroux


This latest mass shooting in Las Vegas that left more than 50 people dead and more than 500 injured is as obscure as they come: a 64-year-old retiree with no apparent criminal history, no military training, and no obvious axe to grind opens fire on a country music concert crowd from a hotel room 32 floors up using a semi-automatic gun that may have been rigged to fire up to 700 rounds a minute, then kills himself.


We’re left with more questions than answers, none of them a flattering reflection of the nation’s values, political priorities, or the manner in which the military-industrial complex continues to dominate, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.


For starters, why do these mass shootings keep happening? Mass shootings have taken place at churches, in nightclubs, on college campuses, on military bases, in elementary schools, in government offices, and at concerts. This shooting is the deadliest to date.


What is it about America that makes violence our nation’s calling card?


Is it because America is a gun culture (what professor Henry Giroux describes as “a culture soaked in blood – a culture that threatens everyone and extends from accidental deaths, suicides and domestic violence to mass shootings“)?


Is it because guns are so readily available? After all, the U.S. is home to more firearms than adults. As The Atlantic reports, gun fetishism has become mainstream in recent decades due in large part to “gun porn in music, movies, and TV, [and] the combination of weapons marketing and violent videogames.” (Curiously enough, the majority of gun-related deaths in the U.S. are suicides, not homicides.)


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Is it because entertainment violence is the hottest selling ticket at the box office? As Giroux points out, “Popular culture not only trades in violence as entertainment, but also it delivers violence to a society addicted to a pleasure principle steeped in graphic and extreme images of human suffering, mayhem and torture.”


Is it because the government continues to whet the nation’s appetite for violence and war through paid propaganda programs (seeded throughout sports entertainment, Hollywood blockbusters and video games)—what professor Roger Stahl refers to as “militainment“—that glorify the military and serve as recruiting tools for America’s expanding military empire?


Is it because Americans from a very young age are being groomed to enlist as foot soldiers—even virtual ones—in America’s Army (coincidentally, that’s also the name of a first person shooter video game produced by the military)? Explorer scouts are one of the most popular recruiting tools for the military and its civilian counterparts (law enforcement, Border Patrol, and the FBI).


Writing for The Atlantic, a former Explorer scout described the highlight of the program: monthly weekend maneuvers with the National Guard where scouts “got to fire live rounds from M16s, M60 machine guns, and M203 grenade launchers… we would have urban firefights (shooting blanks, of course) in Combat Town, a warren of concrete buildings designed for just that purpose. The exercise always devolved into a free-for-all, with all of us weekend warriors emptying clip after clip of blanks until we couldn’t see past the end of our rifles for all the smoke in the air.”


Is it because the United States is the number one consumer, exporter and perpetrator of violence and violent weapons in the world? Seriously, America spends more money on war than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil. America polices the globe, with 800 military bases and troops stationed in 160 countries. Moreover, the war hawks have turned the American homeland into a quasi-battlefield with military gear, weapons and tactics. In turn, domestic police forces have become roving extensions of the military—a standing army.


Or is the Second Amendment to blame, as many continue to suggest? Would there be fewer mass shootings if tighter gun control laws were enacted? Or would the violence simply take a different form: homemade bombs, cars driven into crowds, and knives (remember the knife assailant in Japan who stabbed 19 people to death at a care home for the disabled)?


Then again, could it be, as some have speculated, that these shootings are all part of an elaborate plan to incite fear and chaos, heighten national tensions and shift us that much closer to a complete lockdown? After all, the military and our militarized police forces have been predicting and preparing for exactly this kind of scenario for years now.


So who’s to blame for the violence?


This time, in Las Vegas, it was a seemingly nondescript American citizen pulling the trigger.


At other times, it’s organized crime syndicates or petty criminals or so-called terrorists/extremists.


Still other times, it’s the police with their shoot first, ask questions later mindset (more than 900,000 law enforcement officers are armed).


In certain parts of the Middle East, it’s the U.S. government and the military carrying out drone strikes and bombing campaigns that leave innocent civilians dead and their communities torn apart.


Are you starting to get the picture yet?



We’re caught in a vicious cycle with no end in sight.


Perhaps there’s no single one factor to blame for this gun violence. However, there is a common denominator, and that is a war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex that has invaded almost every aspect of our lives.


Ask yourself: Who are these shooters modelling themselves after? Where are they finding the inspiration for their weaponry and tactics? Whose stance and techniques are they mirroring?


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In almost every instance, you can connect the dots back to the military.


We are a military culture.


We have been a nation at war for most of our existence.


We are a nation that makes a living from killing through defense contracts, weapons manufacturing and endless wars.


In order to sustain the nation’s appetite for war over the long haul in spite of the costs of war in lives lost and dollars spent—and little else to show for it—the military has had to work overtime to churn out pro-war, pro-military propaganda. It’s exactly what President Eisenhower warned against (“the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”) in his 1961 farewell address.


We didn’t listen then and we’re still not listening now.


All the while, the government’s war propaganda machine has grown more sophisticated and entrenched in American culture.


Back when I was a boy growing up in the 1950s, almost every classic sci fi movie ended with the heroic American military saving the day, whether it was battle tanks in Invaders from Mars (1953) or military roadblocks in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). What I didn’t know then as a schoolboy was the extent to which the Pentagon was paying to be cast as America’s savior.


By the time my own kids were growing up, it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s blockbuster film Top Guncreated with Pentagon assistance and equipment—that boosted civic pride in the military.


Now it’s my grandkids’ turn to be awed and overwhelmed by child-focused military propaganda in the X-Men movies. Same goes for The Avengers and Superman and the Transformers. (Don’t even get me started on the war propaganda churned out by the toymakers.)


All of the military equipment featured in blockbuster movies is provided—at taxpayer expense—in exchange for carefully placed promotional spots aimed at indoctrinating the American populace into believing that patriotism means throwing their support behind the military wholeheartedly and unquestioningly.


Even reality TV shows have gotten in on the gig, with the Pentagon’s entertainment office influencing “American Idol,” “The X-Factor,” “Masterchef,” “Cupcake Wars,” numerous Oprah Winfrey shows, “Ice Road Truckers,” “Battlefield Priests,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Hawaii Five-O,” lots of BBC, History Channel and National Geographic documentaries, “War Dogs,” and “Big Kitchens.” And that’s just a sampling.


It’s estimated that U.S. military intelligence agencies (including the NSA) have influenced over 1,800 movies and TV shows.


And then there are the growing number of video games, a number of which are engineered by or created for the military, which have accustomed players to interactive war play through military simulations and first-person shooter scenarios.


This is how you acclimate a population to war.


This is how you cultivate loyalty to a war machine.


This is how, to borrow from the subtitle to the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, you teach a nation to “stop worrying and love the bomb.”


As journalist David Sirota writes for Salon, “[C]ollusion between the military and Hollywood – including allowing Pentagon officials to line edit scripts – is once again on the rise, with new television programs and movies slated to celebrate the Navy SEALs….major Hollywood directors remain more than happy to ideologically slant their films in precisely the pro-war, pro-militarist direction that the Pentagon demands in exchange for taxpayer-subsidized access to military hardware.”


Why is the Pentagon (and the CIA and the government at large) so focused on using Hollywood as a propaganda machine?


To those who profit from war, it is—as Sirota recognizes—”a ‘product’ to be sold via pop culture products that sanitize war and, in the process, boost recruitment numbers….At a time when more and more Americans are questioning the fundamental tenets of militarism (i.e., budget-busting defense expenditures, never-ending wars/occupations, etc.), military officials are desperate to turn the public opinion tide back in a pro-militarist direction — and they know pop culture is the most effective tool to achieve that goal.”


The media, eager to score higher ratings, has been equally complicit in making (real) war more palatable to the public by packaging it as TV friendly.


This is what Dr. Stahl refers to as the representation of a “clean war“: a war “without victims, without bodies, and without suffering”:


‘Dehumanize destruction’ by extracting all human imagery from target areas … The language used to describe the clean war is as antiseptic as the pictures. Bombings are ‘air strikes.’ A future bombsite is a ‘target of opportunity.’ Unarmed areas are ‘soft targets.’ Civilians are ‘collateral damage.’ Destruction is always ‘surgical.’ By and large, the clean war wiped the humanity of civilians from the screen … Create conditions by which war appears short, abstract, sanitized and even aesthetically beautiful. Minimize any sense of death: of soldiers or civilians.”


This is how you sell war to a populace that may have grown weary of endless wars: sanitize the war coverage of anything graphic or discomfiting (present a clean war), gloss over the actual numbers of soldiers and civilians killed (human cost), cast the business of killing humans in a more abstract, palatable fashion (such as a hunt), demonize one’s opponents, and make the weapons of war a source of wonder and delight.


“This obsession with weapons of war has a name: technofetishism,” explains Stahl. “Weapons appear to take on a magical aura. They become centerpieces in a cult of worship.”


“Apart from gazing at the majesty of these bombs, we were also invited to step inside these high-tech machines and take them for a spin,” said Stahl. “Or if we have the means, we can purchase one of the military vehicles on the consumer market. Not only are we invited to fantasize about being in the driver’s seat, we are routinely invited to peer through the crosshairs too. These repeated modes of imaging war cultivate new modes of perception, new relationships to the tools of state violence. In other words, we become accustomed to ‘seeing’ through the machines of war.”


In order to sell war, you have to feed the public’s appetite for entertainment.


Not satisfied with peddling its war propaganda through Hollywood, reality TV shows and embedded journalists whose reports came across as glorified promotional ads for the military, the Pentagon turned to sports to further advance its agenda, “tying the symbols of sports with the symbols of war.”


The military has been firmly entrenched in the nation’s sports spectacles ever since, having co-opted football, basketball, even NASCAR.


Remember, just before this Vegas shooting gave the media, the politicians and the easily distracted public something new to obsess over, the headlines were dominated by President Trump’s feud with the NFL over players kneeling during the national anthem.


That, too, was yet another example of how much the military entertainment complex—which paid $53 million of taxpayer money between 2012 and 2015 to pro sports teams for military tributes (on-field events recognizing military service members, including ceremonial first pitches, honor guards and Jumbotron tributes)—has infiltrated American culture.


This Trump-NFL feud is also a classic example of how to squash dissent—whether it’s dissent over police brutality or America’s killing fields abroad. As Stahl explains, “Supporting the troops is made synonymous with supporting the war. Those who disagree with the decision to send soldiers to war are thus identified with the enemy. This is done through a variety of associations… Dissent becomes synonymous with criminal activity.”


When you talk about the Las Vegas mass shooting, you’re not dealing with a single shooter scenario. Rather, you’re dealing with a sophisticated, far-reaching war machine that has woven itself into the very fabric of this nation.


As Stahl concludes, “War has come to look very much like a video game. As viewers of the TV war, we are treated to endless flyovers. We are immersed in a general spirit of play. We are shown countless computer animations that contribute a sense of virtuality. We play alongside news anchors who watch on their monitors. We sit in front of the crosshairs directing missiles with a sense of interactivity. The destruction, if shown at all, seems unreal, distant. These repeated images foster habitual fantasies of crossing over.”


You want to stop the gun violence?


Stop the worship of violence that permeates our culture.


Stop glorifying the military industrial complex with flyovers and salutes during sports spectacles.


Stop acting as if there is anything patriotic about military exercises and occupations that bomb hospitals and schools.


Stop treating guns and war as entertainment fodder in movies, music, video games, toys, amusement parks, reality TV and more.


Stop distribution weapons of war to the local police and turning them into extensions of the military—weapons that have no business being anywhere but on a battlefield.


Most of all, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, stop falling for the military industrial complex’s psychological war games.



Budapest and Warsaw Under Attack Because ‘Hungary and Poland are Standing in the Way of George Soros’

by Jack Montgomery1 Oct 2017

The Hungarian government says that conservative Central European countries — particularly their own and nearby Poland — are being attacked by the European Union because they are “standing in the way of George Soros”, the billionaire financier and open borders activist.

The Hungarians believe that EU officials — who have met with Soros at the highest level — have adopted the so-called ‘Soros Plan’ for mass immigration into Europe more or less wholesale, including recommendations to accept an influx of some one million migrants per year, and to redistribute them throughout the bloc through a mandatory quota scheme imposed by Qualified Majority Vote.

“The Hungarian Government absolutely and resolutely rejects every point of the ‘Soros Plan’, and continues to be against allowing one million migrants into Europe every year, the demolishing of the border security fence, the 9 million forints in aid to be provided to every migrant and the mandatory resettlement quota, in addition to which it also rejects the punishment of Central European countries [by the European Union],” declared Bence Tuzsonm, Hungary’s Minister of State for Government Communication.

Soros spokesman Michael Vachon recently alleged that “the claim that Soros is promoting a scheme to import a million illegal immigrants into Europe is Viktor Orbán’s fantasy,” — but as Prime Minister Orbán’s spokesman Dr. Zoltán Kovács has pointed out, Soros himself did insist that “the EU has to accept at least a million asylum seekers annually for the foreseeable future” in his September 2015 manifesto on the migrant crisis.

“Hungary and Poland are standing in the way of George Soros because of the opinions they have put forward with relation to migration, and as a result he wants to achieve his result by applying pressure to both countries”, noted Tuzsonm.

Tuzsonm said that “political attacks must be launched against countries that are against immigration” in service of the Soros Plan, both through mainstream media and the organs of the European Union — which has pledged to begin ‘infringement proceedings’ against those countries which are not co-operating with its quota regime.

Tuzsomn also believes the EU will attempt to hit recalcitrant member-states with “tough fines”, and that Soros is pushing the bloc to reduce agricultural and cohesion funding to Central Europe — impacting its rural conservative heartland.

“In view of the fact that we cannot count on the opposition parties in this battle here in Hungary, the Government is again turning to the people of Hungary and asking everyone who cares about the country’s independence and sovereignty, and for whom Hungary’s security and national culture is important, to take part in the National Consultation on the Soros Plan”, he asked.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery
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Multiple shooters: not the first time

by Jon Rappoport

October 4, 2017

Update: I have three separate reports that shots were fired through the front door of the Vegas Bellagio Hotel at roughly the same time as the concert shooting, late Sunday. For example:

(Update 2: The video — “YT /watch?v=AKv8KrJBAxg” — has been taken down. If/when it is re-posted on YT, I will update the link.)

(Update 3: Here is the new link: “YT /watch?v=6V_gS9ythDQ”. Some YT key words are “bellagio hotel shooting,” “Rene Downs”)

According to one report, the Bellagio was put on lockdown. I can’t verify the reports with further evidence at this time.

In a crime, multiple shooters often imply political purpose—on the other end of the spectrum from “crazy man acting alone.”

In recent articles (archive here), I’ve been assembling a case for multiple shooters in the Las Vegas mass murder at the concert.

Here is a very brief historic survey of multiple (or other uninvestigated) perpetrators. It’s certainly not meant to be all-inclusive. For instance, I omit 9/11 and the mind-boggling series of egregious lies that continues to this day.

James Holmes, the Colorado theater shooter. 2012. One witness, Corbin Dates (aka Dayton), told Aurora news outlets a man sitting in the front row of the theater took a cell phone call and went to a side exit, propped the door open with his foot, and seemed to be signaling somebody. Ten to 15 minutes later, James Holmes (?) appeared in full gear with weapons as the exit door swung open. Another witness (no name revealed) stated that, during the massacre, a gas canister was thrown from a direction where Homes wasn’t standing. The police brusquely discounted these testimonies.

The Oklahoma City Bombing. 1995. Analysis (my interviews with bomb experts) concluded that the ANFO bomb in the Ryder truck, parked at the curb of the Murrah Federal Building, could not have caused the degree or profile of the damage to the building. The takedown of a portion of the building was far more sophisticated. Tim McVeigh, if he was involved, could not have acted alone.

Robert F Kennedy, assassinated in 1968, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, in Los Angeles. Suppressed evidence makes it clear that Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted killer, who was standing in front of RFK, did not fire the shots that killed him. Those shots came from behind Kennedy. A count of the number of shots that were heard reveals more shots were fired than Sirhan had in his clip. There was no investigation of a second shooter.

The Martin Luther King murder. 1968. On pages 462 and 463 of The Assassinations, you can read a list of 20 good reasons for doubting and rejecting the official story of James Earl Ray as the killer. The essay is: “Fatal Justice: The Death of James Earl Ray,” by James DiEugenio. Suffice to say, the failed legal struggle to re-retest the rifle Ray supposedly used to kill MLK shows the powers-that-be were determined to keep truth out of the investigation.

John F Kennedy, assassinated in 1963. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976-1979) made an excruciating attempt to prove that the “lightning-fast reloading” supposedly achieved by Lee Oswald, as he fired his old rifle, could account for the acoustical evidence of all shots fired at Kennedy in Dallas. The effort failed completely, but the results of clearly unscientific tests were accepted as positive proof of the lone gunman theory. (See The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, 2003, published by Feral House, p. 82-84.)

Multiple shooters or other uninvestigated shooters have played a major role in many crimes, and in each case law-enforcement finds a reason to ignore the facts.

The public is taught to believe there is wide gulf between “thorough government investigations” and “conspiracy theories.” Mainstream news provides this ongoing education.

It is a pernicious effort to undermine private citizens’ confidence in their own ability to see and know the truth.

Jon Rappoport's Blog

Multiple shooters: not the first time

by Jon Rappoport

October 4, 2017

Update: I have three separate reports that shots were fired through the front door of the Vegas Bellagio Hotel at roughly the same time as the concert shooting, late Sunday. For example:

(Update 2: The video — “YT /watch?v=AKv8KrJBAxg” — has been taken down. If/when it is re-posted on YT, I will update the link.)

(Update 3: Here is the new link: “YT /watch?v=6V_gS9ythDQ”. Some YT key words are “bellagio hotel shooting,” “Rene Downs”)

According to one report, the Bellagio was put on lockdown. I can’t verify the reports with further evidence at this time.

In a crime, multiple shooters often imply political purpose—on the other end of the spectrum from “crazy man acting alone.”

In recent articles (archive here), I’ve been assembling a case for multiple shooters in the Las Vegas mass murder…

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Depleted Uranium And The Iraq War’s Legacy Of Cancer

Depleted Uranium And The Iraq War’s Legacy Of Cancer Depleted uranium was used in Iraq warzone weaponry, and now kids are playing in contaminated fields and the spent weapons are being sold as scrap metal. An infant born with severe deformities in Fallujah Iraq, allegedly due to the heavy use of depleted uranium by US […]

via Depleted Uranium And The Iraq War’s Legacy Of Cancer — Uprootedpalestinians’s Blog

How the CIA Forgot the Art of Spying


With the war on terror came a new, more militarized way of gathering intelligence. But now, America needs the kind of spooks who can work the cocktail party circuit—more James Bond, less Jason Bourne.

March/April 2017

Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

It was in a CIA station in Europe in 2005 that I realized how much was changing about American spycraft. I was chatting with a supervisor working to set up his next assignment. He was eagerly volunteering to go to what we referred to as the War Zone, a group of countries that formed the nexus of the global war on terror. We were four years out from the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden was still out there somewhere, and stopping the next terrorist strike was paramount in our minds.

But why, I asked him, was he so eager to go in person? My colleague had no military background. In Europe, we were free to walk the streets while still contributing to fighting the war on terror. Over there, he would be separated from his family for a year, living in a shipping container on a compound surrounded by fortified walls and barbed wire, the target of mortar-shooting terrorists. His answer: In 20 years, when CIA officers looked back, serving in the War Zone in the early 2000s would be like having served in Europe in the 1980s. The Cold War had been formative for the officers who preceded us. And the global war on terror would be the defining conflict of our generation. He needed to be in the middle of it.

He was not alone in thinking this way. The aftermath of September 11 was a tumultuous time for the CIA. The agency was publicly blamed for not stopping the attacks; then it was blamed for supporting the misconception that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. To call these “intelligence failures” was unfair, in my opinion, but the critique stuck, and the agency quietly went about reorganizing itself.

The new threat demanded a new way of spying. What the classic Cold War spycraft officers had painstakingly learned didn’t help in this new mission. Attending soirees and rubbing elbows with international VIPs wasn’t how you tracked down terrorists, who hid in hillsides and remote compounds in hostile territory. Chalk marks on a street lamp to signal a meeting; dead drops in a park, filled or emptied after hours traipsing through a bustling city to determine whether you were under surveillance—these techniques now seemed obsolete. The new kind of spying, the kind my colleague was jumping into, was done by officers based in military compounds, only able to leave with a Glock on the hip, in armored personnel carriers, guarded by armed men and women in uniforms with the American flag sewn on the arm.

Over the past 15 years, this “global war on terror” mindset has become the default at the CIA. After accusations that it was stuck in the Cold War, the agency began to trade concealment devices and human sources for military hardware. Under a directive from President George W. Bush, it expanded its ranks to fight terror. It bulked up its abilities to track and target a dispersed enemy fighting an asymmetrical war. Gone were the days, it seemed, of risky brush passes in a heart-pounding, adrenaline-filled four-second period when an officer was “black”—meaning free, just for a moment, from hostile surveillance and able to pass a message to an asset. The Cold War was over; we had a new enemy to defeat.

But here’s the unfortunate irony of that transformation: Our Cold War adversaries hadn’t actually gone away. While American attention was turned elsewhere, Russia had quietly continued applying its formidable knowledge of traditional spy tradecraft.

Using old propaganda techniques, and its usual modus operandi of dangling potentially compromising material on subjects of interest, Russia has spent the past several years slowly rebuilding its great empire and quietly undermining the foundations of Western democracy.

Russia has conducted some of its malfeasance through digital means—the U.S. intelligence community publicly accused Russia’s intelligence services of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. America’s response in the years ahead will certainly need to grapple with the Russian cyberthreat. But figuring out who is ordering such attacks—and why, and who is financing them—requires good old-fashioned human intelligence. The rubbing-elbows kind. Indeed, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said publicly that the intelligence community’s report on Russia’s intervention in the election was based, in part, on information from human sources.

I fear the CIA is forgetting how to cultivate those sources at a time when Russia’s well-financed and ruthless government security apparatus presents an ever-growing threat. Of course, the CIA can’t take its eye away from terrorism, and from intelligence-gathering in the War Zones. But to succeed in this new confrontation with our old nemesis, the agency will need to dust off some of its old tricks, and relearn the way it used to do business.

Now, after rebuilding itself to fight the global war on terror in militarized zones, is the CIA prepared to return to the shadows?


For decades after the CIA was created in 1947, the agency focused on providing policymakers with the best possible information about enemy plans, intentions and motivations, and human intelligence was the linchpin of that. During the Cold War, officers in the CIA’s clandestine service spent years learning how to spot, assess, develop and recruit human sources. They learned to speak foreign languages fluently and picked up tips and tricks to network with people who might have access to communist activities or information about the Soviet atomic program.

The end of the Cold War left the agency untethered. Without a well-defined enemy, the CIA couldn’t figure out its mission. In his 2007 book, Legacy of Ashes, the journalist Tim Weiner wrote that former Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms once told him, “In World War Two … we knew what our motivation was: to beat the goddamn Nazis. In the cold war, we knew what our motivation was: to beat the goddamn Russians. Suddenly the cold war is over, and what is the motivation?” Experienced officers headed for the door. By 1996, according to Weiner, the CIA’s career training center had a total of only 25 clandestine-operations recruits; by the end of 1998, the agency had lost about 1,000 experienced clandestine officers, people trained in that old-school spycraft.

During the Cold War, officers in the CIA’s clandestine service spent years learning how to spot, assess, develop and recruit human sources.

The attacks of September 11 gave the agency a clear new mission—but one that pulled officers even further from traditional tradecraft. The new enemy operated in the rough terrain of failed states scarred by years of war; the old way of doing things—hobnobbing with the international community to get information on a state actor—was no longer adequate. As a colleague once said to me, “Terrorists don’t go to cocktail parties.” The agency set about reforming itself.

Very quickly, the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, or CTC, grew. It had been seen as a small, almost quaint shop of analysts—one officer I know was told in early 2001 not to join CTC because, as a colleague put it, the center had no future. But then, spurred by the 9/11 Commission, which recommended strengthening the CIA’s clandestine collection capabilities to be able to prevent another terrorist attack, Bush in 2004 issued a presidential directive ordering a 50 percent increase in the number of operators and analysts at the CIA. The increase also aimed to bring in officers proficient in “mission-critical languages” like Arabic, and to recruit new research and development officers “to find new ways to bring science to bear in the war on terrorism,” as the directive put it.

The CIA doesn’t release figures on how many employees are assigned to work on terrorism, and an agency spokesperson declined to comment for this article. But for those of us on the inside at the time, the new focus was clear. The agency went on a hiring spree and created new cadres of officers tasked with tracking and targeting the enemy. From my own experience, it seemed everyone I met who was coming out of training was set to join CTC, and many of my colleagues in other divisions were pulled from those assignments to help in its mission.

Over the years, as the terror threat spread, the demand grew for agency officers to focus not just on Afghanistan and Iraq, but on Syria, Yemen, Libya, Mali and other countries facing off with the Islamic State and various Al Qaeda offshoots. Nearly everyone, it seemed, was working some counterterrorism angle. Farewell parties for colleagues heading off to serve in the War Zones became routine. While promotion didn’t explicitly depend on serving there, let’s just say it looked better if that box was checked. Your next tour might depend on it.

There was a perceptible change in the culture inside the agency, too. Espionage is traditionally a nebulous practice that creates what the intelligence community calls “a wilderness of mirrors,” and that thrives in a foggy, less-defined environment. Spies tend to like working in the shadows. In the War Zones, CIA officers were constantly partnering with military personnel, who generally prefer a more precise definition of the battlefield and want to maintain a strong show of force. As more and more CIA officers spent time with their military counterparts, I watched a more military-style mentality seep into the agency. Back at headquarters in Langley, we started to see CIA officers show up dressed in cargo pants and Under Armour shirts. Buzz cuts seemed to appear everywhere.

As more and more CIA officers spent time with their military counterparts, I watched a more military-style mentality seep into the agency.

Out in the field, the CIA increasingly aimed to locate and track high-value targets like bin Laden. Given the physical risks, intelligence officers required high, and very visible, security. Wandering the streets to learn the culture and meet people was simply too dangerous. The nature of the target also required working with new allies, particularly Middle Eastern partners who better understood the culture, terrain and languages of the enemy. Combined, the new approach was a radical departure from traditional clandestine operations.

In 2004, Bush also signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which officially created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or DNI—another 9/11 Commission recommendation meant to help the intelligence community’s disparate agencies communicate better. But to many throughout the intelligence community, the DNI only added a layer of bureaucracy. For years after the creation of the office, agencies tripped over each other trying to figure out how to cooperate. The heavy bureaucracy became a great tool to avoid doing anything risky. New metrics put in place guaranteed that promotion inside the agency depended on not screwing up. Some managers seemed to find it easier and safer simply to avoid intelligence-gathering operations, and certainly not any risky ones that might leave them accountable. It was far easier to trade information with friendly foreign partners, which gave the appearance that a lot was happening, even if in reality it was just a lot of paper being traded back and forth. For many, the era of high-adrenaline, high-risk clandestine derring-do to collect intelligence seemed over.

As the culture and mission of the agency changed, so did the workforce. The war on terror had created a burgeoning private intelligence, homeland security and defense industry. I saw many older and more experienced officers cash out to join the private sector. Others blasted the bureaucratic changes that seemed to hamper the flexibility the agency had previously held so dear. According to Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, “By 2005, half of the CIA’s workforce—operators and analysts alike—had five years’ experience or less.” This new generation of young intelligence officers would be greatly influenced by the new mission and the new way of doing business. Now, 12 years on, those same officers are surely moving into management positions and mentoring younger officers coming in. The war on terror mindset is all they know.

In short, the CIA looks very different today from the way it did at the height of the Cold War. The transformation was a necessary one, given the nature of the threat and the continuing evolution of groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The global risk environment is shifting again, however, and I fear that much of the institutional knowledge about running traditional espionage operations—which will be necessary in this new environment—is gone.


Despite any grand bargains that President Donald Trump thinks he can make with Vladimir Putin, those in the intelligence community surely recognize that Russia will continue to be a formidable adversary whose plans and intentions will need to be checked. And even if the new president is not interested in intelligence about Russia, he is hardly the intelligence community’s only customer; other agencies and Congress will still be interested. Finding the answers to what Putin and his comrades are up to will require using a host of intelligence tools, and developing and maintaining human sources will, in my estimation, be one of the most crucial.

It is clear now that, while we were fighting the war on terror, Russia was not twiddling its thumbs. Its security services are good—frighteningly good—and extremely patient. And they are not kind to anyone they see as opposition. Our diplomats and spooks already know this. The Russians have been harassing them overseas for years. Former colleagues who worked Russian targets have shared stories of returning home in various cities throughout the world to find a lamp moved from one table to another, or to discover their dog locked in a closet. Others were welcomed by a pile of human excrement on the rug or in a bed—all just professional courtesy from Russia’s intelligence services and their allies to remind American officers: Hi. We’re here.

In fact, the scrutiny seems to have intensified in recent years. The Washington Post reported last year that staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow have been under increasingly heavy surveillance, subject to slashed tires on their cars, routine police stops and general intimidation. In 2013, the Russians arrested an American diplomat they suspected of spying, posted embarrassing photos of bizarre and wacky items they claimed were his spy paraphernalia—including unconvincing wigs and glasses—and then kicked him out of the country. This past June, a guard for the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and physically attacked an American diplomat as he attempted to enter the building, possibly because the FSB suspected him of being a spy.

The CIA certainly already has sources it relies on. But even under the best circumstances, it is not easy for a CIA case officer to spot, develop and ultimately convince new sources to risk their reputations, families, jobs and sometimes lives, to share secret information with a foreign government. And, with the new presidential administration that’s in power, agency officers do not currently find themselves in the best circumstances.

The best sources are motivated not by money but by a righteous concept—often the very principles the United States stands for.

Why? The best sources are motivated not by money but by a righteous concept—often the very principles the United States stands for: hope, opportunity, equality and freedom. Disdain for authoritarian systems and a desire for more liberal democracy, for instance, might be particularly motivating for anyone considering taking the risk to share information about Russia. During the Cold War, the difference between the American and Soviet political systems made this an easy contrast. Today, it is hard to imagine an asset risking his or her life for an American president who has faced serious, repeated questions about his ties to Russia. Not to mention that Trump has demonstrated a penchant for flattering Putin, and for using the same talking points as the Kremlin and Russia-friendly outfits such as RT and WikiLeaks. Add these facts to a string of high-profile leak cases, including Edward Snowden’s revelations about American spying, and even the best case officer will have trouble reassuring an asset that his or her identity will truly be protected. It doesn’t help that Putin has a well-documented history of jailing and killing Kremlin opponents, sometimes even with the legal approval of the country’s parliament.

Of course, the CIA doesn’t collect intelligence alone; we have allies to help us. But now, some U.S. officials are worried that distrust of Trump and his relationship with Putin could stop other governments from sharing information with the United States. And some foreign counterparts have made it clear those concerns are well-founded. “Until we have established whether Trump and senior members of his team can be trusted, we’re going to hold back,” a British intelligence officer told the Sunday Times, days before Trump’s inauguration. “Putting it bluntly, we can’t risk betraying sources and methods to the Russians.” Around the same time, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported, “Israeli intelligence officials fear that top-secret information that has been exposed to the United States will be leaked to Russia—and from Russia to its close ally, Iran.” Hyperbole? Maybe. But if Trump continues to praise Putin and bash European institutions such as NATO and the European Union, that could affect how much other countries share with us, and how much we will be left to gather for ourselves.

The CIA finds itself in a tough spot. Having remade itself for the 21st century, it still has the 20th century tugging at its sleeve. Will the agency be able to keep tabs on Russia’s plans? Will it be able to persuade people to provide information that would put their lives at risk? Will it be able to entice those sources without anyone—particularly Russia—knowing? Although the agency has been slow to adjust to new realities in the past, its officers certainly recognize how high the stakes are now. The pivot back toward traditional espionage will be a shock to the system, but a necessary one if the United States wants to gauge Russia’s true intentions. Putin brought his empire roaring back. I hope the CIA will prove it can do even better.