Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spies, Secrets and Sexy Women

Mata Hari would have been mortified, and James Bond might have been stirred, even shaken. Here last night was Valerie Plame, the kind of elegant woman you meet at a Washington cocktail party, talking to Jon Stewart about what the CIA has redacted from her new book in a section about breast-feeding her baby.

Spying is not what it used to be and, from newly released figures, getting more costly and complicated all the time. This year the government is spending $43.5 billion on spy services, up from $26.6 billion a decade ago, according to Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence.

What's more, since 9/11, most of it has been outsourced to civilian contractors in what amounts to a Blackwatering of national spy operations.

The Washington Post has quoted a former senior Pentagon intelligence official about the difficulty of military efforts in Iraq to provide human intelligence sources to forces that rotate out after tours of a single year. "That is hardly enough time to develop serious, dependable Iraqi sources," he said.

As with so much of what goes on in our Iraq adventure, we have no way of knowing who is being paid how much to do what to whom. Are we employing exotic dancers to seduce officials, as Mata Hari presumably did during World War I? Or are most of our spies office-bound matrons like Valerie Plame Wilson?

Unless or until Dick Cheney gets teed off at one of their husbands, we may never know.

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