Commentary Magazine


Topic: Coordinator

What’s the Blockade For?

The Israeli government has decided to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip, earning it kudos from the United Nations and contempt from Hamas, which dismisses it as a public-relations stunt. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accuses Israel of manipulating public opinion by allowing more goods in, but there has been no shortage of misleading information from his side already.

Preventing Hamas from importing missiles and other sophisticated weaponry from Syria and Iran is the blockade’s primary function. There’s a secondary goal, as well, and it’s this one that has drawn the most criticism from the United Nations and Western activists. Israeli blockade-enforcement authorities have not only blocked construction materials such as cement, they’ve also been prohibiting seemingly random items like coriander, nutmeg, and musical instruments, while allowing in cinnamon, frozen meat, and medical supplies.

Critics describe the Israeli blockade as “collective punishment” against Gaza’s entire population, and it does look that way when perusing the list of prohibited items, but the items on that list aren’t outright banned. Aid organizations can import all the cement and coriander they want for reconstruction and food distribution. The restrictions only apply to private-sector importers, and even then, only “luxury” items and construction materials that can be used for military purposes are blocked.

“Humanitarian products are delivered on a daily bases to the Strip,” said the spokesman for COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “Food products are delivered almost without restriction—with the exception of luxury goods, which the average Gazan cannot afford, but which are purchased by the wealthy and corrupt leaders of Hamas.”

“Why would we want to transfer items that only Hamas members could afford?” said an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson I contacted. “International aid organizations basically get to bring in whatever they want. So if there are certain luxury food items that we wouldn’t transfer to the private sector in Gaza, the aid organizations will get them. The same applies for construction materials, which we won’t let in unless it is going to aid organizations, since we are able to know where they end up (for building houses rather than bunkers, kassams, etc.) with a higher likelihood than if they were sent in privately.”

As most Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on aid organizations for their basic needs, they are not adversely affected by the blockade. So easing the blockade won’t help much, if it will help them at all.

The Israeli government has decided to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip, earning it kudos from the United Nations and contempt from Hamas, which dismisses it as a public-relations stunt. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accuses Israel of manipulating public opinion by allowing more goods in, but there has been no shortage of misleading information from his side already.

Preventing Hamas from importing missiles and other sophisticated weaponry from Syria and Iran is the blockade’s primary function. There’s a secondary goal, as well, and it’s this one that has drawn the most criticism from the United Nations and Western activists. Israeli blockade-enforcement authorities have not only blocked construction materials such as cement, they’ve also been prohibiting seemingly random items like coriander, nutmeg, and musical instruments, while allowing in cinnamon, frozen meat, and medical supplies.

Critics describe the Israeli blockade as “collective punishment” against Gaza’s entire population, and it does look that way when perusing the list of prohibited items, but the items on that list aren’t outright banned. Aid organizations can import all the cement and coriander they want for reconstruction and food distribution. The restrictions only apply to private-sector importers, and even then, only “luxury” items and construction materials that can be used for military purposes are blocked.

“Humanitarian products are delivered on a daily bases to the Strip,” said the spokesman for COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. “Food products are delivered almost without restriction—with the exception of luxury goods, which the average Gazan cannot afford, but which are purchased by the wealthy and corrupt leaders of Hamas.”

“Why would we want to transfer items that only Hamas members could afford?” said an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson I contacted. “International aid organizations basically get to bring in whatever they want. So if there are certain luxury food items that we wouldn’t transfer to the private sector in Gaza, the aid organizations will get them. The same applies for construction materials, which we won’t let in unless it is going to aid organizations, since we are able to know where they end up (for building houses rather than bunkers, kassams, etc.) with a higher likelihood than if they were sent in privately.”

As most Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on aid organizations for their basic needs, they are not adversely affected by the blockade. So easing the blockade won’t help much, if it will help them at all.

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RE: Rep. Peter King Leads on the Flotilla

As he told us yesterday, Rep. Peter King is wasting no time introducing a resolution to urge Obama to change his stance on the flotilla and, more generally, on our approach to the UN and Israel. Today’s news release reads in part:

King’s resolution will authorize the U.S. to provide Israel with necessary weapons and supplies to enforce the Gaza blockade, and will call for U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, which last week issued a near-immediate condemnation of Israel.  In addition, the resolution will demand that the Obama Administration oppose any international effort to investigate Israel for last week’s enforcement of the blockade.

King said:  “By enforcing its blockade, Israel is defending itself.  Israel does not deserve condemnation for the events of last week, nor does it need to apologize.  Israel’s protective blockade of Gaza is a reasonable approach to prevent weapons from reaching the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas, which controls Gaza and is intent on destroying the State of Israel.  Israel must have the right to defend itself by enforcing this blockade.  Israel has been managing the blockade so that humanitarian goods and medical supplies are provided to the people of Gaza.  Israeli authorities — through its Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories — have transferred over a million tons of humanitarian supplies into Gaza since 2009.  It is well within Israel’s rights to scan and inspect all cargo going into Gaza, where Hamas continues to smuggle Iranian and Syrian rockets, mortars, and other weapons for use on Israeli civilians. Instead of continuing to apologize to the world for U.S. support of Israel, President Obama must stand firmly behind Israel.”

Later today, King will circulate a “Dear Colleague” letter to other House Members seeking support for his resolution.

We’ll see what sort of reception he gets. I suspect he will find near-unanimous support from his Republican colleagues. As for the House Democrats, they keep saying they are pro-Israel, and now we can see if they really are. Which is it — partisan fidelity to the president’s unseemly stance toward Israel or full support for the security interests of Israel and, in turn, ourselves?

As he told us yesterday, Rep. Peter King is wasting no time introducing a resolution to urge Obama to change his stance on the flotilla and, more generally, on our approach to the UN and Israel. Today’s news release reads in part:

King’s resolution will authorize the U.S. to provide Israel with necessary weapons and supplies to enforce the Gaza blockade, and will call for U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, which last week issued a near-immediate condemnation of Israel.  In addition, the resolution will demand that the Obama Administration oppose any international effort to investigate Israel for last week’s enforcement of the blockade.

King said:  “By enforcing its blockade, Israel is defending itself.  Israel does not deserve condemnation for the events of last week, nor does it need to apologize.  Israel’s protective blockade of Gaza is a reasonable approach to prevent weapons from reaching the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas, which controls Gaza and is intent on destroying the State of Israel.  Israel must have the right to defend itself by enforcing this blockade.  Israel has been managing the blockade so that humanitarian goods and medical supplies are provided to the people of Gaza.  Israeli authorities — through its Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories — have transferred over a million tons of humanitarian supplies into Gaza since 2009.  It is well within Israel’s rights to scan and inspect all cargo going into Gaza, where Hamas continues to smuggle Iranian and Syrian rockets, mortars, and other weapons for use on Israeli civilians. Instead of continuing to apologize to the world for U.S. support of Israel, President Obama must stand firmly behind Israel.”

Later today, King will circulate a “Dear Colleague” letter to other House Members seeking support for his resolution.

We’ll see what sort of reception he gets. I suspect he will find near-unanimous support from his Republican colleagues. As for the House Democrats, they keep saying they are pro-Israel, and now we can see if they really are. Which is it — partisan fidelity to the president’s unseemly stance toward Israel or full support for the security interests of Israel and, in turn, ourselves?

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Debunking Flotilla Lies, One by One

Based on the information available three days ago, honest people of goodwill might truly have believed that Israeli soldiers perpetrated an atrocity on innocent peace activists aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara. The information that has since emerged precludes any such belief.

Anyone who still believes, for instance, that these “peace activists” actually had peaceful intentions should study new video footage (see below) uploaded by the Israeli army yesterday. Taken from the Marmara’s security cameras, it shows the “activists” preparing for battle by taking their weapons out of storage and putting them in easily accessible locales on deck, and occasionally brandishing them to get in the proper mood. In short, they did not attack the Israelis in self-defense; they had planned from the outset to do so. That is why they were able to launch the attack the moment the first soldier hit the deck, as a previously posted video shows.

The convoy’s Turkish organizer, Bulent Yildirim, also admitted today that the “activists” indeed seized the soldiers’ pistols, just as Israel claimed.

And anyone who still believes that Hamas cares a fig about the people of Gaza and their “humanitarian crisis” should study its decision not to let Israel transfer the flotilla’s aid cargo to Gaza. Hamas’s social welfare minister, Ahmed al-Kurd, said Hamas wouldn’t let the aid in unless (a) “Israel met all of the group’s conditions” and (b) it got permission from Turkey, where the flotilla was organized. A senior Israeli official from COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) asked the obvious question: “If the aid is so urgent, my question is, why are they not allowing it into Gaza?”

Incidentally, the aid totaled “between 70 and 80 truckloads,” the official said. COGAT oversees the transfer of “between 80 and 100 truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza every day.”

And anyone who still believes those “peace activists” aboard the Marmara actually care about the people of Gaza and their “humanitarian crisis” should ask himself why they have yet to protest Hamas’s refusal to let the aid in. After all, if their whole purpose was to help needy Gazans, shouldn’t they be a trifle upset that the aid isn’t reaching its intended destination?

Instead, they are actively assisting the obstruction: COGAT said convoy organizers have refused to tell it who the aid’s intended recipients are — information needed to ensure that the cargo reaches its intended destination.

Finally, anyone who still has doubts about which side in this story cares about human life and which doesn’t should ponder these statements by Nilufer Cetin, one of the Turkish activists aboard the ship. Cetin insisted that she was justified in bringing her baby along, even though “we were aware of the possible danger.” She also said that though her husband refused deportation and was thus still in Israel, she opted to return “after Israeli officials warned that jail would be too harsh for her child.”

So who was showing greater concern for the child’s welfare — the woman who deliberately brought him into danger, or the Israelis who persuaded her not to take him to jail?

Based on the information available three days ago, honest people of goodwill might truly have believed that Israeli soldiers perpetrated an atrocity on innocent peace activists aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara. The information that has since emerged precludes any such belief.

Anyone who still believes, for instance, that these “peace activists” actually had peaceful intentions should study new video footage (see below) uploaded by the Israeli army yesterday. Taken from the Marmara’s security cameras, it shows the “activists” preparing for battle by taking their weapons out of storage and putting them in easily accessible locales on deck, and occasionally brandishing them to get in the proper mood. In short, they did not attack the Israelis in self-defense; they had planned from the outset to do so. That is why they were able to launch the attack the moment the first soldier hit the deck, as a previously posted video shows.

The convoy’s Turkish organizer, Bulent Yildirim, also admitted today that the “activists” indeed seized the soldiers’ pistols, just as Israel claimed.

And anyone who still believes that Hamas cares a fig about the people of Gaza and their “humanitarian crisis” should study its decision not to let Israel transfer the flotilla’s aid cargo to Gaza. Hamas’s social welfare minister, Ahmed al-Kurd, said Hamas wouldn’t let the aid in unless (a) “Israel met all of the group’s conditions” and (b) it got permission from Turkey, where the flotilla was organized. A senior Israeli official from COGAT (the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) asked the obvious question: “If the aid is so urgent, my question is, why are they not allowing it into Gaza?”

Incidentally, the aid totaled “between 70 and 80 truckloads,” the official said. COGAT oversees the transfer of “between 80 and 100 truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza every day.”

And anyone who still believes those “peace activists” aboard the Marmara actually care about the people of Gaza and their “humanitarian crisis” should ask himself why they have yet to protest Hamas’s refusal to let the aid in. After all, if their whole purpose was to help needy Gazans, shouldn’t they be a trifle upset that the aid isn’t reaching its intended destination?

Instead, they are actively assisting the obstruction: COGAT said convoy organizers have refused to tell it who the aid’s intended recipients are — information needed to ensure that the cargo reaches its intended destination.

Finally, anyone who still has doubts about which side in this story cares about human life and which doesn’t should ponder these statements by Nilufer Cetin, one of the Turkish activists aboard the ship. Cetin insisted that she was justified in bringing her baby along, even though “we were aware of the possible danger.” She also said that though her husband refused deportation and was thus still in Israel, she opted to return “after Israeli officials warned that jail would be too harsh for her child.”

So who was showing greater concern for the child’s welfare — the woman who deliberately brought him into danger, or the Israelis who persuaded her not to take him to jail?

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UN “Peace” Coordinator: Jewish Heritage an Invalid Concept

Earlier today I wrote about the implications of an important new archeological discovery that highlights the 3,000-year-old Jewish heritage in East Jerusalem. Such finds have political significance specifically because the whole focus of Palestinian nationalism has been to deny Jewish ties to the land and to attempt to rewrite history in such a way as to expunge the historicity and continuity of the Jewish presence.

But the reason why this issue is so important was brought home again today by a statement coming from Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. In it, Serry went out of his way to condemn the recently announced National Heritage Plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because two ancient Jewish religious shrines were included in the list of sites to be preserved and protected. Serry objected to the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the list of essential places in Jewish history, because the two are in the West Bank and thus, in his view, “occupied Palestinian territory.” The fact that they are located on land that is subject to dispute between the two parties is of no interest to the UN official who, despite his status as a peace mediator, is ready to dictate where the borders of a putative Palestinian state must be. But Serry’s argument is not merely one of borders, because in the same statement he claimed that the sites “are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well.”

It is true that Christians and Muslims have an intrinsic interest in any biblical site. And since Muslims, like Jews, consider Abraham to be one of their patriarchs, they have a religious stake in the Cave of the Patriarchs. But Muslims have never been willing to share this most ancient of Jewish shrines with other faiths. Throughout the history of Muslim control of the land of Israel, through the Ottoman era and even during the time of British rule, Jews were forbidden to enter the cave and were, instead, constrained to ascend no higher than the seventh step of the entrance to the sacred place. Jewish prayer inside the cave only resumed in June 1967, after the Israeli conquest of Hebron, after which the two religions have shared the place despite the history of tension and bloodshed in the Hebron area.

As for Rachel’s Tomb, it is simply a lie to consider it anything but a Jewish synagogue. No faith but Judaism has ever held worship services in the place or considered it a shrine. Palestinian propaganda that has attempted to portray it as some sort of a Muslim site are of recent vintage and utterly false.

But much like the history of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where Jews were forbidden even to visit while it was under Muslim sovereignty from 1949 to 1967 during Jordan’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the only thing that has guaranteed Jewish access to both the Hebron and Bethlehem sites has been Israel’s control of these areas. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, the only time in the history of Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Hebron that these religious sites have been kept free and open to all visitors of all faiths has been the 42 years since the Six-Day War. Netanyahu’s Heritage Plan is no threat to other faiths, because only Israel is committed to religious freedom and the protection of all religious shrines.

Should the UN coordinator have his way and Rachel’s Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs ever fall under the control of the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, we know very well what would happen. Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a longtime site of Jewish worship and study, was sacked and burned by a Palestinian mob aided and abetted by PA policemen in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada. The PA has prevented the reconstruction of the site. An ancient synagogue in Jericho, also under PA control, met the same fate.

By opposing the Jewish Heritage Plan, the UN isn’t merely sniping at Netanyahu. It is signaling its backing of a Palestinian and Muslim approach to the history of the land in which Judaism is systematically erased. If indeed Serry and the UN are actually interested in preserving these sites for members of all faiths to visit, rather than in merely chasing the Jews out of them, the only formula for their preservation lies in continued Israeli control.

Earlier today I wrote about the implications of an important new archeological discovery that highlights the 3,000-year-old Jewish heritage in East Jerusalem. Such finds have political significance specifically because the whole focus of Palestinian nationalism has been to deny Jewish ties to the land and to attempt to rewrite history in such a way as to expunge the historicity and continuity of the Jewish presence.

But the reason why this issue is so important was brought home again today by a statement coming from Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. In it, Serry went out of his way to condemn the recently announced National Heritage Plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because two ancient Jewish religious shrines were included in the list of sites to be preserved and protected. Serry objected to the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the list of essential places in Jewish history, because the two are in the West Bank and thus, in his view, “occupied Palestinian territory.” The fact that they are located on land that is subject to dispute between the two parties is of no interest to the UN official who, despite his status as a peace mediator, is ready to dictate where the borders of a putative Palestinian state must be. But Serry’s argument is not merely one of borders, because in the same statement he claimed that the sites “are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well.”

It is true that Christians and Muslims have an intrinsic interest in any biblical site. And since Muslims, like Jews, consider Abraham to be one of their patriarchs, they have a religious stake in the Cave of the Patriarchs. But Muslims have never been willing to share this most ancient of Jewish shrines with other faiths. Throughout the history of Muslim control of the land of Israel, through the Ottoman era and even during the time of British rule, Jews were forbidden to enter the cave and were, instead, constrained to ascend no higher than the seventh step of the entrance to the sacred place. Jewish prayer inside the cave only resumed in June 1967, after the Israeli conquest of Hebron, after which the two religions have shared the place despite the history of tension and bloodshed in the Hebron area.

As for Rachel’s Tomb, it is simply a lie to consider it anything but a Jewish synagogue. No faith but Judaism has ever held worship services in the place or considered it a shrine. Palestinian propaganda that has attempted to portray it as some sort of a Muslim site are of recent vintage and utterly false.

But much like the history of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where Jews were forbidden even to visit while it was under Muslim sovereignty from 1949 to 1967 during Jordan’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the only thing that has guaranteed Jewish access to both the Hebron and Bethlehem sites has been Israel’s control of these areas. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, the only time in the history of Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Hebron that these religious sites have been kept free and open to all visitors of all faiths has been the 42 years since the Six-Day War. Netanyahu’s Heritage Plan is no threat to other faiths, because only Israel is committed to religious freedom and the protection of all religious shrines.

Should the UN coordinator have his way and Rachel’s Tomb or the Cave of the Patriarchs ever fall under the control of the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, we know very well what would happen. Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a longtime site of Jewish worship and study, was sacked and burned by a Palestinian mob aided and abetted by PA policemen in 2000 at the outset of the second intifada. The PA has prevented the reconstruction of the site. An ancient synagogue in Jericho, also under PA control, met the same fate.

By opposing the Jewish Heritage Plan, the UN isn’t merely sniping at Netanyahu. It is signaling its backing of a Palestinian and Muslim approach to the history of the land in which Judaism is systematically erased. If indeed Serry and the UN are actually interested in preserving these sites for members of all faiths to visit, rather than in merely chasing the Jews out of them, the only formula for their preservation lies in continued Israeli control.

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Which Is The Good War, Again?

Iraq is the good war, Afghanistan the bad. So says State Department coordinator for Iraq, David Satterfield, according to timesonline.com. The evidence is substantial. The past six months in Iraq have brought not only a semblance of order to the chaos, but also the beginnings of political cooperation. The violence that continues to flare is restricted to a much smaller region than the country-wide theatre of one year ago. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan effort grows ever more hobbled by a self-restrained NATO, resilient Taliban, and political bedlam. From the Times:

It is the nature of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has many deficits not present in Iraq. Iraq is a wealthy country, it has resources, badly used, but it has resources,” he said. It is rich. Iraq, for all its difficulty in unifying politically, has many quasi-democratic, recognisable political forces. Afghanistan has warlords,” he said.

Funny how Satterfield’s description of Iraq recalls the very points made by those of us who were optimistic about that country’s chances for democracy when the war began. Surely, this counts as pre-war intelligence of the non-laughable variety.

Satterfield also points out: “today more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq were more secure than at any time since the US invasion in 2003.” One should add that with pre-war estimates of state-murdered civilians at between 20,000–25,000 annually, more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq are more secure than at any time in the past thirty years.

One wonders how this novel flip-flop will play out politically. Will Hillary Clinton insert Afghanistan for Iraq in all her upcoming speeches? Not likely. That would be an acknowledgement of the fact that she’s based her withdrawal rhetoric on a sense of defeat rather than on having been lied to. But then, if public sentiment shifts, she’ll be sure to follow.

However, it’s most useful to think of these wars not in terms of good and bad, but as improving and waiting to improve. If General Petraeus moves to Central Command (as Max Boot suggested), he could inspire the clarity and ingenuity allowing us to call them both good wars.

Iraq is the good war, Afghanistan the bad. So says State Department coordinator for Iraq, David Satterfield, according to timesonline.com. The evidence is substantial. The past six months in Iraq have brought not only a semblance of order to the chaos, but also the beginnings of political cooperation. The violence that continues to flare is restricted to a much smaller region than the country-wide theatre of one year ago. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan effort grows ever more hobbled by a self-restrained NATO, resilient Taliban, and political bedlam. From the Times:

It is the nature of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has many deficits not present in Iraq. Iraq is a wealthy country, it has resources, badly used, but it has resources,” he said. It is rich. Iraq, for all its difficulty in unifying politically, has many quasi-democratic, recognisable political forces. Afghanistan has warlords,” he said.

Funny how Satterfield’s description of Iraq recalls the very points made by those of us who were optimistic about that country’s chances for democracy when the war began. Surely, this counts as pre-war intelligence of the non-laughable variety.

Satterfield also points out: “today more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq were more secure than at any time since the US invasion in 2003.” One should add that with pre-war estimates of state-murdered civilians at between 20,000–25,000 annually, more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq are more secure than at any time in the past thirty years.

One wonders how this novel flip-flop will play out politically. Will Hillary Clinton insert Afghanistan for Iraq in all her upcoming speeches? Not likely. That would be an acknowledgement of the fact that she’s based her withdrawal rhetoric on a sense of defeat rather than on having been lied to. But then, if public sentiment shifts, she’ll be sure to follow.

However, it’s most useful to think of these wars not in terms of good and bad, but as improving and waiting to improve. If General Petraeus moves to Central Command (as Max Boot suggested), he could inspire the clarity and ingenuity allowing us to call them both good wars.

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Behind the Barn at the CIA

Whom should the CIA hire? With the United States engaged in a war in which intelligence is the critical front, finding the best and brightest and putting them in charge of counterterrorism and related black arts is an essential task.

The good news is that the CIA is being flooded with applicants at the staggering rate of 10,000 a month. The bad news is that the process of sifting and screening these aspiring spies remains distorted.

One problem is an affirmative-action program that seeks to replicate the ethnic balance in the United States rather than focus singlemindedly on hiring men and women steeped in knowledge of our adversaries. Another is a security-screening program that remains ferociously suspicious of applicants with foreign roots. A third is an organizational culture that in some measure remains, despite radical changes introduced after September 11, risk averse.

How can we do better? One place to begin is by looking at what has worked, and/or failed to work, in the past.

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Whom should the CIA hire? With the United States engaged in a war in which intelligence is the critical front, finding the best and brightest and putting them in charge of counterterrorism and related black arts is an essential task.

The good news is that the CIA is being flooded with applicants at the staggering rate of 10,000 a month. The bad news is that the process of sifting and screening these aspiring spies remains distorted.

One problem is an affirmative-action program that seeks to replicate the ethnic balance in the United States rather than focus singlemindedly on hiring men and women steeped in knowledge of our adversaries. Another is a security-screening program that remains ferociously suspicious of applicants with foreign roots. A third is an organizational culture that in some measure remains, despite radical changes introduced after September 11, risk averse.

How can we do better? One place to begin is by looking at what has worked, and/or failed to work, in the past.

Five months before Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt established an office called the Coordinator of Information, a precursor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). When Japanese bombs fell on American territory on December 7, 1941, the U.S. had a fledgling intelligence service to ramp up.

One of the more fascinating documents in the history of American intelligence has been published under the bland title of How Assessment Centers Were Started in the United States: The OSS Assessment Program. Written by Donald W. MacKinnon, the man in charge of screening personnel at the time, it tells the story of our first efforts to screen candidates for an espionage agency in the midst of wartime.

At the very beginning, some disastrous mistakes were made. It seemed logical to some that “it takes dirty men to do dirty works.” A number of initial recruits were thus drawn from the ranks of organized crime, including Murder Inc., and the Philadelphia Purple Gang. But several clandestine operations in operations employing such underworld types ended in catastrophe. By 1943, a professional screening program at a secret installation known as Station S was put in place.

Applicants to the OSS were soon being subjected to an extended set of tests. These were not designed to measure specific skills but to assess “the man as a whole” across eight dimensions: motivation, practical intelligence, emotional stability, social relations, leadership, physical ability, observation and reporting, propaganda skills, and maintaining cover.

Many of the tests were exceptionally grueling, including especially the one designed to measure one component of emotional stability, “resistance to stress and frustration tolerance,” and which came to be known as Behind the Barn.

Candidates were required to direct two helpers in the task of building a five-foot cube structure with seven-foot diagonals on its four sides, using an immense “tinker-toy” set of materials:

The candidate had 10 minutes in which to accomplish the task. All the physical work was to be done by the helpers, junior staff members who played the role of Kippy (passive, sluggish, and something of a stumblebum) and Buster (aggressive, critical, constantly making impractical suggestions). Both were insulting, faultfinding characters.

In the history of the assessment center, the construction task was never completed in the allotted time, but that was not the point. Rather, the point was to evaluate how the applicants behaved:

Some candidates gained insight into the problem, but more often they became so involved and so frustrated that they had difficulty in handling their frustration and controlling their anger. A few physically attacked their helpers, and some asked to be relieved from the program after this exercise.

Did the men who made it through this and the many other rigorous challenges at Station S make for good spies? The answer to that questions is by no means uncomplicated, as Mackinnon shows. All told, it remains doubtful that the initial OSS approach is the right one for the challenges before us today.

But there is no question that in the years running up to September 11, too many mediocrities and dangerous misfits came to occupy pivotal positions in the CIA. Preventing a recurrence of such organizational decay is a critical task.

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